Puppets al fresco
by Donald Devet
Puppeteers who perform outdoors should either receive medals or have their heads examined; few venues are as challenging. The odds against a successful performance are stacked high. Heat, wind, rain, planes, jackhammers, iffy sound equipment and lurking ice cream trucks (more about this one later) are just a few of the wild cards that can bring down even the most seasoned puppeteer.
In mid-July, Allynn Gooen and Annie Hickman, a husband and wife team from Chestnut Ridge, NY, performed The Love Bugs Hug in Columbus Park in New York as part of the Arts in the Parks series presented by City Parks Foundation. Allynn and Annie are experienced pros when it comes to outdoor gigs. They come prepared-- sandbags, water bottles, publicity handouts and a ton of costumes and balloons.
As the pigeons lined up on the roof tops to watch the show, tiny preschoolers were herded into place. Snappy pre-show music helped drown out the roar of the portable generator. And after a while the annoying sound became innocuous white noise. The wireless mic was acting up so Allynn quickly switched to his back up hand held mic. That meant he had to blow up a zillion balloons with one hand while hanging on to a mic with the other- the first of many challenges.
The Love Bugs Hug serves as a vehicle to show off Annies giant woven costumes and Allynns awesome abilities of blowing up three balloons with one breath, handing a stage full of volunteers and providing a running patter to keep the story moving along. Sure, some of the balloons break, but as Allynn reassures us, These are the best balloons money can buy, I get them from Ballooningdales!
After the show, the tots swamped Allynn who continued to blow up small heart shaped balloons as souvenirs until he finally ran out of balloons or breath. Annie and Allynn seem to thrive on the spontaneity demanded of outdoor performing. They know how to relax and roll with the punches. And they know how to turn a bare patch of concrete into a magical stage.
In mid-August, Preston Froeder presented Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimy in Washington Square Park, New York. Flanked by streets and walkways, Preston was cornered into a brown grassy area under a few large trees. Park life was noisily happening all around him. But Preston persevered.
The shows premise is clever. A custodian with all his cleaning paraphernalia ends up performing stories hes reading on his snack break while waiting for the real performer to show up. The cleaning utensils are transformed into puppets and props for two of the Brothers Grimms tales, The Magic Bottle and The Frog Prince.
An eager photographer was on hand taking shots of Preston at work. And eager he was. At times he was on stage no more than two feet from Preston. I guess hes never heard of telephoto lenses. Along with a distracting photographer, Preston had to contend with a Ben and Jerrys truck parked almost directly behind him. The audience had been promised free ice cream immediately after the puppet show. They kept one eye on Preston and one eye on the truck. Talk about a carrot on the end of the stick.
And yet Preston continued to persevere. His timing was never rushed. His concentration was unwavering. Here is a professional working under some of the worst conditions and still beating the odds.
The Love Bugs Hug is definitely more suited to outdoor venues than Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimy, not because its a better show, but because it is bigger, flashier and louder. When competing with Mother Nature or Con Eds jackhammer its good to have something bigger, flashier and louder.
Copyright © 1999 Donald Devet