Sunday, April 20, 2008

Portland - Land of Puppets

We're not really savvy about brains yet. We don't know why certain concepts leap to mind at specific times, sometimes creating serendipitous effects. The other night, I dreamt I was scrubbing calcified salt deposits from an elephant's feet with a very long brush. The elephant was lying on her side, patiently awaiting clean feet, and of course, I don't know why this came to pass while I was sleeping.

Another strange occurrence: last Saturday on our ONE hot day of this year so far, I woke to the sound of birds chirping. For the first time in many months flannel sheets were unnecessary. It brought to mind certain mornings, eons ago, when I attended fine arts summer school back in Northern Calfifornia.

I remember dragging myself to school, wondering: WHY did I sign up for summer school anyway? I don't even know anyone at this school. It's Summer. I'm supposed to be on vacation--not going to SCHOOL. But fine arts summer school would immediately kick in its awesomeness on the first class, which could be anything from (depending on what you signed up for) performing magic tricks, dancing the Hustle, creating experimental animation with 16mm film and sharpies, or puppet-making.

Puppet-making was one of my favorite classes of all time. I took it twice. It was taught by Bruce Chessé, who informed us at the beginning of each summer session that he had worked with Jim Henson and we were going to be making some muppets, then puttin' on a show. I dreamt of working with Jim Henson. Mr. Chessé was my window into the mind of the muppet master. Within the first week, we were cutting patterns out of foam, getting high off of rubber cement fumes, rummaging through mountains of fabric and creating eyeballs from black sequins, cut-up L'egg eggs and the backs of plastic spoons.

Nothing phased Mr. Chessé. When four boys made the entire KISS army and wanted them to lip-synch KISS songs for the show, Bruce said, "Figure out how many songs you want to do and I'll set up the record player." (Calling Dr. Love performed by KISS muppets is something I will not forget anytime soon.)

He sewed all our fabric bodies on an ancient Singer machine that ran by foot pedal. He never seemed to get tired, lose patience, or forget to instill a passion for puppetry. He was a master teacher. I found myself wondering last week, on our nice hot summery day: whatever happened to Bruce Chessé?

So on (cloudy, raining) Monday, The Oregonian prints a funny story by Inara Verzemnieks about an upcoming Columbia Association of Puppeteers fund raiser, "Diamonds To Duct Tape," an adult puppet cabaret with belly dancing puppets, Carmen Miranda puppets, human/giant puppets, etc. (sorry--sold out--there may be tickets available for the day-time kid's shows still).

I thought, wait--there's a chartered puppet guild in Portland? Portland is a vastly entertaining city, but who knew there's been a puppet guild here since 1975? So I checked out their site, and there, of course is Bruce Chessé, of the Oregon Puppet Theatre. He's lived here since 1980. And not surprisingly, his family background is fascinating. His father was a famous marionettist and painter. That's why he inspired us in class--puppets were like family. I've moved to the land of puppets and it's dreamy.

- Puppet poster from Olde World Puppet Theatre's
- Shakespeare puppet by Bruce Chessé.
- Making and Using Puppets in the Primary Grades- Susan Barthel and Bruce Chessé's video on puppetry for kids.

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