Sunday, June 23, 2013

GSW10: Family Programs

10th International Toy Theater Festival Family Programs

Schurzpiepegal (Like Master, Like Dog) / Berlin, Germany

This story is based on the picture book written and illustrated by Barbara Steinitz , with music direction and accompaniment by Bjorn Kollin.

The illustrations freed from the book, are lovely, telling a story about two people who oddly do not have dogs that look like themselves. They cause merriment when they go out walking, and people make fun of them. The stage is a suitcase filled with grooves, so that with each set change, pieces of scenery stand up and are removed quickly, in a graceful arc by Barbara. She speaks very clearly (which my challenged ears loved), and liked to make faces for the children. She had some moments when the story got a bit complicated and the very young children became restless. We adults in the audience were right there with her. These were short moments, and she managed to bring them back into the story every time. She is still reading from her book which slows her down some, and more performances will make her better and faster. She seems very naturally happy performing—a different world from art and illustration where you usually work alone. The music was very nicely done, and I wouldn't have minded to hear more, though Barbara can't be a puppeteer and play her odd instrument at the same time. It looks like a mixture of fiddle, steel guitar and horn. It sounds more like a fiddle with an edgy, more metallic sound when she uses her bow. Bjorn plays her straight man, and is an excellent guitarist in the bargain.

What was wonderful was the way the characters come to life, so that you want them to have a happy ending. It is true that often people choose doggy versions of themselves but in this story the odd group worked perfectly when they were ALL together. This happy ending comes after a false ending when she gets into a discussion with Bjorn who objects that all is not perfectly well when the couple first exchanges dogs. They cared too much what other people thought, and learn (for their dogs' sakes) you just can't care what anyone thinks. Here is her website.

Vrooom! / Puppet Junction Productions  (Brooklyn, NY)

Created by Serra Hirsch, Playwright B. Walker Sampson, Original Music by Arlen Hart, Puppeteers Bill Remington Hubner, Ildi Kiss, Serra Hirsch, Set by Hubner, and Sound by Ien DeNio

This was another fun show that opens with a woman vacuuming. Turns out the set is the inside of the vacuum, with a family of spiders trapped inside. They are charming puppets, each a different color so you can tell them apart. It was a very creative approach, and the bugs were not a bit scary. The little family does what families always do—help each other, sometimes argue, and try to work things out together. The star is Art, a very scared young spider who makes webs that are pretty, as opposed to webs that catch things to eat. In the long run, Art's web stops up the vacuum which frees them all. This story was very cute, though a little complicated for the youngest children. The older audience was quite charmed. The little puppets are very cute, and have a very nice movement the way their legs are strung together, but I searched their website and could not find a photograph. Check out their website.

Sleeping Beauty / You and Me Puppets (Reading, MA) 

This was a treat, to finally see Judith O'Hare do her thing. She has been an enthusiast, written books about how puppetry helps every aspect of education, performed and made incredibly beautiful toy theaters, as well as commissioned them. She sells her own design of toy theater that also can be used for shadow puppets. Her long experience is the foundation of a confident and friendly performer.

She does a different sort of Sleeping Beauty story rather than the gruesome European folktale, and it is humorous and not at all scary for the children. There are fairies, one of whom is grumpy and curses the newly born girl over a snub from the Queen, and another fairy sort of fixes it. Her stage is a large pop up book in simple designs and bright colors. Her puppets are on Rods and can stand on their own, which is very handy for multi-character scenes.

Ms. O'Hare knows how to entertain children. She always smiles, makes eye contact from time to time and even talks to some of the closer children. The story is fast-paced and I didn't hear near the restlessness in other shows as compared to the quietness of hers. Once a few of us started laughing, everyone chimed in, and the entire show seemed to flash by. Love seeing a performer who really knows how to work with children.