On Stage

Puppet Play

Some strings attached


What: Bellingham Puppetry and Mask Festival

Where: Alternative Library, 519 E. Maple St.


WHEN: 7:30pm Thurs.-Sat., March 21-23

Cost: $8-$15 (sliding scale); a festival pass is $20

Info: whatcompuppet.org

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Following a recent viewing of the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, I was reminded of how closely connected beloved PBS television host Fred Rogers was to his puppets—specifically, Daniel Striped Tiger, the soft-spoken resident of the Neighborhood of Make-Believe who came to life in Rogers’ capable hands.

Watch Daniel long enough, and you’ll forget he relied upon a human to interact with his surroundings. That’s part of the magic of puppetry—and one of the things Whatcom Puppet will be sharing with the community at the inaugural Bellingham Puppetry and Mask Festival taking place March 21-23 at the Alternative Library.

Fittingly, the mini-festival kicks off on World Puppetry Day. Since 2002, the event established by the Union Internationale de la Marionnette (UNIMA) has been increasing global awareness of this cross-disciplinary performing art. Bellingham’s getting in on the action with the intent of drawing attention to the artistry and technical advancement of the craft.

“Puppetry includes a wider variety of dramatic sculptural arts than the traditional hand-held, doll-like form,” festival organizers say. “Innovative expansions of the puppetry arts include marionettes, masks and large-scale costume performers such as dragon dancers and more.”

Over the course of the festival, local and regional performers will add shadow and stick puppetry to that list, beginning with an Open Stage at 7:30pm Thurs., March 21 at the Maple Street venue. Co-hosted by jazz pianist Eve Smason and local puppeteer Max Eberhard of “PappenSpiel” fame, Seattle performers “Jawbone Puppet Theatre” and Linda Comer will entertain, followed by interactive audience engagement opportunities and short sketches. Additionally, attendees can get a behind-the-scenes peek at how puppets are made and operated.

Come Friday, String and Shadow Puppet Theatre of Olympia will share how “Esperus: The Janitor” saves the world at the first of two Puppetry Cabarets. PappenSpiel, Shadow Sail Puppet Theatre, and Jawbone Puppet’s Adam Ende will also make appearances. Saturday’s lineup includes myth-making storyteller GennaRose, local author Phoebe Wahl, String and Shadow, Port Townsend-based animator Andrea Love, and more.

While the three-day festival is sure to draw interest from a variety of age ranges, organizers want to make sure people understand that puppetry goes well beyond child’s play, and some of the topics presented in the festival shows may not be suitable for young kids. That said, keeping an open mind where puppetry is concerned is something that isn’t relegated to juniors or seniors.

“Puppetry continues to feed the play of the unending child within all of us,” Eberhard says. “Puppetry and mask is one of the cornerstones of the dramatic arts and a serious communicative force created by human beings from and at the very beginning of time. It was there when voice, dance and imagination birthed culture.”

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