Puppets?

One of the first questions people ask me when they discover that I work with puppets is, “How did you get into that?” Well, here it is:I began puppet building back in fifth grade, the result of book report assignments requiring visual aids. At the time, I wanted to be either an archeologist, a cartoonist, a paleontologist, or maybe a marine biologist. I didn’t even consider puppeteering — probably because it didn’t end with “-ist.”

I had always enjoyed art. Enjoyed it and excelled. I also did well with my studies, though, so career counselors tended to encourage me more towards academia. I still don’t understand why smart and talented people (and humble?) are steered clear of the arts, but that’s another blog for another day. Growing up, my family moved around a lot (my dad was a Navy career man), so I was exposed to new people and new places on a regular basis. My mom was (and still is) a voracious reader who always read to me and my brother. I loved stories, loved reading. My favorite books for a long time included the set of Encyclopedias my parents purchased while I was in elementary school. (Um, really.)

When it came time for college, I was at a loss as to what to major in. I was interested in way too many things. How could I combine all of these interests? Working with my hands, making stuff, reading, research, writing, animals, illustration, children, stories?

Puppetry was a sort of epiphany for me. I was walking around the Fan District (a part of Richmond), and it was Fall. The leaves were falling, the sun was shining…all of a sudden I had the thought that if I worked with puppets, I would be able to combine all of my interests into one medium. It was all in a flash, all very sudden and vivid. Suddenly everything seemed clear…well, everything except how to do anything with puppets!

Then I wrecked my car a few months later. I decided the universe might be telling me to slow down a bit; so I took some time for me.

I ended up doing a puppet pilgrimage — traveling to a puppet festival in Minnesota, visiting the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta, and spending a week on Tybee Island just thinking. At the puppet festival, I had the great fortune to meet Barry Gordemer, a long time director and producer for NPR and an amazing puppet builder. His company is Handemonium Puppets, and he builds fabulous soft sculpture and latex puppets. As it turns out, I wasn’t living too far away from him at the time, so I ended up doing an informal apprenticeship with him for a year and a half. We built a lot of puppets, and I learned so much.

In 1996, I began doing some custom building of my own. I started working on my first show in 1997, which is when I formed my own company,Barefoot Puppet Theatre. That was also the year I married Sam, the most amazing man, who now works with me. I am constantly in awe of his faith in what I do, which often exceeds my own. We have grown the company and our family. Our lives are not always simple, but we do enjoy working together and raising our daughters.

Committing to this yearlong creative undertaking is meant to challenge me in my medium — to challenge my sense of discipline with my art, to challenge me stick to something during a time in my life when I never feel like I have enough time for anything — let alone everything — I want to do. Much like in 1994 (when I did my puppet pilgrimage) I think I just need to take some time for me, but in an internal sort of way.

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