Spotlight: Penn’s Woods Puppet Theater

My exposure to puppets stopped at Howdy Dowdy and Willie the Worm.

Deedie Gustavson’s, however, went beyond marionettes and hand puppets; her well-traveled mother, years before, had purchased for her a Wayang puppet.

This Asian puppet has fabric tape attaching the shoulder to the hand. The hand connects to a rod manipulated by the puppeteer. The arms move 360°.

The puppet has another desirable feature – the head turns. The head is placed on a dowel that slides into a tube with a diameter just large enough to accommodate it.

Deedie’s charge was making puppet heads. Adept at accurately sculpting a visage having the personality of the character it portrayed, she started creating our “cast”.

I was in charge of building the bodies; my first-generation puppets were not Wayangs. The head attachments were tenuous, as we discovered during a performance of Rumpelstiltskin…

Delivering an urgent message to Queen Aurelia, the Page ran through the entryway slamming onto the proscenium.

His head flew off into a Boy Scout troop sitting in the front row; they thought it was hilarious. For the remainder of the show the puppet performed headless, which garnered even more laughter.

Things changed, however, with Deedie’s creation of six Wayang puppets, her tour de force being Hercules, horse to Lt. Col. Thomas Craig in The Walls Have Ears.

Astride Hercules, Craig can make the horse’s head rise and fall while turning his own. The entire puppet – rider and horse – has the option of swiveling while attached to the proscenium.

Puppet making has a steep learning curve.

PHOTO CAP: Puppets designed and fabricated by Deedie Gustavson

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