Sunday, January 21st, 2018

Adult puppet shows: Re-mastering the ancient folk art for a wider audience

Courtesy of Mayo Street Arts

Posted on May 02, 2016 in Arts & Culture
By USM Free Press

By Jimmy Dority, Free Press Staff

Anyone who has had the good fortune to meet Blainor McGough can’t help but be struck by a certain gleeful, silly lightness of feeling that follows her around. Whether she’s behind the bar, on the microphone or conducting the strings of a marionette, her creativity is magnetic.

The founder and executive director of Mayo Street Arts center, McGough works ceaselessly to ensure the nonprofit organization’s mission “to strengthen its neighborhood and community by providing a haven forthe arts that is vibrant, safe, and inspiring; and to engage area youths of diverse cultural communities in robust participation in the visual, performing, and literary arts.”

Her work with puppetry has played an essential role in that vibrancy and inspiration and Mayo Street frequently invites puppetry artists from all over to participate in workshops, shows and residencies.

From one look at the upcoming events on their website (http://mayostreetarts.org/events/), it’s apparent that puppetry is a more potent and diverse artistic form than often thought. There is the Children’s Puppet Workshop, one of many outreach programs that welcome children from the diverse demographic of their East Bayside neighborhood, and part of a larger literacy program. There is the Puppet Lab, in which adult puppetry artists from “the nooks and crannies of Maine” come together to make new work.

There are the more subversive shows produced by modern troupes stemming from Vermont’s legendary Bread & Puppet Theater, through which the tradition of socially conscious art has thrived here in the Northeast. McGough spoke of the rich and largely unknown history of puppetry. Puppetry is an ancient form of art that has served a role in subjects as varied as children’s education, satire and political awareness, and has had a ubiquitous presence across all cultures. In December 2016, Mayo Street will feature a version of “Kasperle,” the Norwegian equivalent of “Punch & Judy.” From the

Kathputli puppets of India, to the felt figurines of Yo Gabba Gabba!, archetypes and roles pervade across oceans and cultures. Especially interesting was puppetry’s longstanding status “as a subversive art form.” Because the craft has always maintained a free­-spirited attitude, it lends itself to a form of expression that is free of pretension, so that even the most scathing cultural critiques take on an aura of community­ and folk-­oriented fun. As seen in the work of many modern puppeteers (such as members of Bread and Puppet), there are few more celebratory ways to engage social consciousness, social commentary and satire than through the mouth of a puppet.

In October 2016, Mayo Street will feature one such performance: Paul Zaloom’s “White Like Me: A Hunky Dory Puppet Show.” The show will shed light on themes of race, gender, and gay marriage through puppet characters like “Mr. Butch Manly” and “White­Man,” who learns of the amazing fate of white people in the year 2040.

“White Like Me” is one of many exciting upcoming events at Mayo Street. They’ll be contributing to Shoestring Theater’s annual Old Port Festival on June 12. Soon after, on June 17, they will host Puppeteers of Maine’s gathering to discuss the craft of puppetry, which the public is invited to attend. That same evening, the comedy group Improvised Puppet Project will be performing what is guaranteed to be a fun show: an abridged “The Complete Works of Jim Henson.” Mayo Street Arts is constantly buzzing with inspiring, important work, and their puppet show productions have a unique power to lift one’s spirits.