I've seen them on stage with My Morning Jacket and caught them trick-or-treating on Halloween. They've made appearances at many a festival, have popped in at the zoo, and may have even danced a ditty in the auditorium of your children's schools, but I wasn't prepared to see them all together, poised statuesque and lifeless along the corridor of their headquarters. It was like I was an interloper on the red carpet; I was humbled by their grandeur. Like spotting a celebrity, I thought Oh, she looks taller is person, thinner.
If this scene, entering the Squallis Puppeteers' workshop (better known as the School of Sharks Theater) at 730 Eastern Parkway in an old Catholic school building, humbled me, I can only imagine it through the eyes of my three-year-old. Eerie, staggering, awe-inspiring...she silently clenched my hand and with wide eyes took it all in. As we made our way to the puppet show theater, down the Catholic-school-marbeled hallway, she continued to glance back at the giant giraffe, Abe Lincoln, the geisha; she reached out and touched the beard of a smaller puppet, about her height, not believing it was actually there. "Mom, I love these guys," she said with a mix of awe and fear in her voice. Me too, me too.
The theater was made up of rows of mix-matched chairs, patchwork fabrics lined the walls, covered old blackboards, and scraps of vine-studded fabrics concealed the overhead halogen bulbs. The crowd was similar: colorful, diverse, sparse. As the show began, the director introduced the two short stories of the day; one she produced involving her students as children puppeteers from the Iroquois Childcare Center, the other was her creation, an underwater puppet tale about friendship, thinking outside the box, and the importance of effective communication. Each play's set was amazing, the African children's myth was simple with stick puppets acting out the narrator's story while African drum beats kept the rhythm. In the underwater scene, rubber gloves became finger coral, toilet paper rolls, pipe-cleaners, and spray paint completed the intricate entities on the coral head. A giant sponge found himself with help from his crab and jellyfish friends; Spongebob was put to shame.
Children in the audience were silent, mesmerized by the puppetry while the adults laughed at each bit of sarcasm and wit. It was truly enjoyable for all in the room. A puppet making workshop followed where children, ages roughly 2-9 were able to make a simple finger puppet out of fabric, feathers, and buttons. Puppet masters walked around the room giving their approval of the puppets crafted while the proud artists beamed.
In a little over an hour, my daughter and I witnessed something truly unique and were able to take home a piece of art, all for five dollars. I will definitely come next month, the Squallis Puppeteers First Saturday Workshop is a gem. Next month's show is on December 4th at 1:00 p.m. and is titled "Elephant's Child." See you there!
Visit www.squallispuppeteers.com for more information
Photo courtesy Squallis Puppeteers