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The Arts Scene: The (really cool) art of puppetry

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In September last year, I ran into an impromptu gathering of giant puppets on the street. After watching them walk around for a while, I ended up talking into the jaws of what seemed like a giant anglerfish. The puppet told me they were usually part of the Arts Parade for the Buskers in the Burg, but due to pandemic restrictions the parade had been called off.

A year later, I found many of the puppets on display in an exhibition called “What the Puppet?!” at Gallery One.

The exhibition includes the work of members of Blue Bear Puppet Lab, a 9-year-old organization of artists who have been designing, building, organizing and performing the puppets, props, floats and costumes that make up the Arts Parade for the Buskers in the Burg event. Included in the exhibition are puppets from the parade, as well as puppets from previous theater productions, photographs of events and a hands-on exhibit for those who want to “try their hand” at the art form.

In the exhibit, a didactic states that “at the heart of puppetry is storytelling. In a performance, the characters can interact with each other (and frequently the audience) in order to allow the story to unfold. In this exhibition the puppets are on display rather than actively performing. Each puppet has storytelling in them, even when they are standing perfectly still. Every puppet was built for a specific performance and includes colors, textures and sculpts that give hints of who the character is and what they might be up to. Maybe you will find yourself making up the stories.”

Blue Bear Puppet Lab has been active in Ellensburg and continually growing since 2012. Every year it engages with local schools, businesses, organizations and community members to build events that include the Buskers in the Burg Puppet Parade, Halloween Haunt, and performances at Gallery One, Central Washington University, Kittitas County Chamber events, Ellensburg High School and what they indicate as “pretty much any stage we can get our hands on.”

The Puppet Lab is a volunteer-driven organization with what they say is a “here, hold this” approach to art making. In scheduled workshops, all adult members of the community are invited to “come into the lab and see what’s on the slab.”

The Puppet Lab states that it “recruits all skill levels and actively teaches all the techniques we use in puppet making to all volunteers involved in the process. This collaborative environment bolsters creativity and teamwork for everyone from beginners to seasoned performers.”

“What the Puppet?!” will be on exhibit through Saturday at Gallery One in Ellensburg.

• David Lynx is executive director of the Larson Gallery at Yakima Valley College. He writes this weekly column for SCENE. Learn more at www.larsongallery.org.

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