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Gigantic puppets come to life at the Firehouse Cultural Center

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image Young children attending the free workshop at the cultural center last week made their large puppets even larger during a shadow puppet show. Judging by the size of the tiny feet under the screen, it also makes small children much larger. Mitch Traphagen

A plan was hatched to form an impromptu flash mob of gigantic puppets on the beach at the Little Harbor Resort...

By MITCH TRAPHAGEN

RUSKIN — Last week, master puppet artist and puppeteer Sara Peattie became the second artist in residence at the Firehouse Cultural Center in Ruskin. Peattie brought with her not just puppets. but the means for dozens of children and adults to make their own gigantic creations.

Over the course of the week, 53 children aged 8 to 11 attended the free Extreme Puppets workshops that were sponsored by the SouthShore Chamber of Commerce and other local businesses. The children formed puppet troupes, making their own puppets and developing a common story. Each troupe performed for the entire workshop and even the small puppets became gigantic when they were transformed by a single spotlight through a white screen in a shadow puppet show.

Older children, aged 11 to 13, became involved through the Powerstories Theatre, a new, all-girls group from a South County troupe formed from the established Tampa theater company of the same name. The 18 puppets made by the girls at the cultural center will be props they will use in performances this season, including an appearance this week at the Rollin’s Theater in Sun City Center.

In three sold-out adult workshops, participants engaged in building three-dimensional armatures and papier-mâché heads using a variety of materials and sewing, gluing, painting and assembling each to create a character with which to perform.
“There is magic in seeing stacks of cardboard, newspaper, bamboo, paint and fabric remnants transform into a larger than life, movable creature,” said Dolores Coe of the Firehouse Cultural Center.

Mitch Traphagen PhotoWith the unqualified success of Peattie’s residency, a plan was hatched to form an impromptu flash mob of gigantic puppets on the beach at the Little Harbor Resort.

“A high energy week of creative puppet design and construction wrapped up with a beachside appearance on Saturday evening,” Coe said. “About one-third of the giant puppets constructed during the week converged on Little Harbor and the adjacent beach by bus, pick-up truck, vans and overstuffed cars. The puppets were to make their debut in a ‘flash mob’ scenario. Planned to unfold over just a few minutes, a cast of giant sea creatures would lure a young nerd puppet away from his computer into a lively frolic with the crowd before sweeping him off down the beach and out to sea.”

Unfortunately, nature did not cooperate with their plans.

“Perfectly timed severe thunderstorms hit just as the puppets were taking their places,” Coe continued. “So a large nerd [puppet] with solar computers, along with a gigantic mermaid, sea serpent, frog, jelly fish and assorted other creatures took shelter with guests and musicians and did a Plan B version [of the show]. In any case, the puppeteers had the opportunity to bring to life a most basic, but highly expressive, form of animation.”

Sara Peattie lives and works in Boston and has been making puppets for more than 30 years, including puppets for parades, pageants and community events. She has built puppets for the Lincoln Center Out of Doors Festival in New York, Firsts Night Boston and other major events around the country.

For more information, visit the Puppeteers Cooperative website at gis.net/~puppetco. For more information about the Firehouse Cultural Center, visit www.firehouseculturalcenter.org. For more about the Powerstories Theatre, visit www.powerstories.com.

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