There’s nothing quite as magical as puppets.
I dropped by Kathy Burks Theatre of Puppetry Arts to witness what looked like elves on a mission as they work to create the all new musical revue for the holidays, FROSTY & FRIENDS. When I asked Kathy about the process, she responded as if she was telling me about her family. She told me about how hard the elves, Barry, Surly, and Zoe have been working and how Surly gets grumpy sometimes. She then just paused, smiled and said, “This is fun. It’s always been fun.”
Many people consider puppets to be toys for children, but the true art of puppetry is an ancient and ever-evolving one. When the Master Puppeteer picks up an inanimate puppet, he can make you believe that the character truly lives. It is the result of intense training and hours of rehearsal, but the puppeteers make it look like magic. For FROSTY & FRIENDS, Kathy’s team chose to work in the styles of black theater rod puppets and marionettes, always searching for the best way to tell the story.
Several months ago, I saw Kathy in her studio creating one of the elves, precisely sculpting the face for just the right expression. She cradled it in her hand as if she was listening, waiting for guidance. Zoe’s eyebrows weren’t quite right, so she’d continue working until it was her face. Then, Sally Fiorello would take over to paint the faces, again making changes until they were just right, and then Lyle Huchton created original costumes for each of them. If Zoe was being played by an actor, she had landed an enviable gig. Actors don’t always get this kind of undivided attention.
Of course Zoe will do her part too, accepting the careful manipulation of her Master Puppeteer and propelling the energy into an audience who has been promised some holiday magic. No wonder Kathy has so much fun. She reflects, “To see these things from your imagination come to life is great fun. I’ve always liked what I do, and I hope the children are going to like it, too. We’re like the elves, working feverishly to prepare for the holidays, and laughing through the hard work. I’m just so lucky.”