July 17, 2017
Summer in a big city can be exciting, but the farm kid in me has been starving for some greenery. Central Park will do in a pinch, but I’ve been missing the forests and fields in Oregon. As fate would have it, I was in for a reprieve from the concrete jungle this week. The Puppet Kitchen had been invited out to the Usdan Summer Camp for the Arts to perform one of their original productions, The Soldiers Tale, and I would get to go along to run tech! Usdan is about an hour away from the city by train on Long Island in the middle of a forest, the perfect place for kids to spend the summer exploring the arts and nature.
The day before the show I sorted and inventoried the props used in the performance. Then I got to watch the cast rehearse. They hadn’t done the show since last October, but I was impressed at how quickly they got back into a groove of working together and getting the blocking of the show back into their bodies. The Soldiers Tale is a Russian folk tale about a soldier who makes a deal with the devil. The composer Stravinsky wrote a famous ballet that adapted the story into dance. The Puppet Kitchen took pieces of that music and created a puppet show from the story. The show features a puppet as the main character, the soldier. The rest of the characters are played by the human puppeteers or created with everyday objects such as fabric, suitcases, and ironing boards, manipulated as puppets.
We packed up the show into a large road case and took the train out to the camp. We were shuttled from the train station to the camp. We were in the middle of the woods, it was drizzling and cool, just what the doctor ordered. The amphitheater was was huge, with seating for several hundred campers. We set up, had a quick tech rehearsal, and we were ready for the big show. We did the piece twice, for the camp cut into two age ranges. Both groups were great audiences and it was interesting to see what jokes each age group picked up on or responded to the most. The young elementary school aged kids loved the main puppet and the action packed sequences. The older middle and high school aged kids were better at picking up the subtle jokes and visual cues. Both groups were really entranced by the whole show.
After the performances we had lunch with some of the oldest campers and got to talk to them about the camp and puppetry. I enjoyed hearing their perspective on the performance and they asked really insightful questions about the show and puppetry in general. I always learn something new from listening to other people ask the Puppet Kitchen folks questions. After lunch we got a tour of the camp. We were shuttled around on a golf cart and got to see the whole campus. The camp has art, theatre, dance, chess, and nature programs that all operate out of open air buildings in the forest. A highlight was the garden, where they grow food and have a few chickens.
My time in the country was the perfect cap to a fun week of in-city excitement. I packed my evenings full of theatre, music, and puppets. Monday was concert in a tiny venue in Brooklyn. Wednesday was an opera in the upper level of the Stonewall Inn. Thursday was a performance of Assassins, one of my favorite musicals, at the New York City Center. Finally, Friday night was Puppet Playlist, a puppet cabaret that focuses on a different musician each month or so (this time it was Whitney Houston themed). All together it was an exhaustingly fun week!
Amanda is a theatre fabrication major from Scio, Oregon.