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Puppet Shows and Blue Jays

Some of the puppets we used for the show, “The Local Wildlife”

After a few months off thanks to COVID, among other things, we resumed planning for the Pittsford Village Community Farmers Market. We revisited the idea of putting on a weekly educational puppet show that would feature some of the puppets we were selling at our booth. The effort would be another collaboration between us and Impact Earth.

We planned on running six episodes at the market. Each would feature its own theme, moral and contain educational bits, like ecology, animal behavior,  science and so on. I drew up outlines for four episodes and began writing full episodes soon after.

In my college days, I took courses on script/playwriting, stage design and puppet theater. It had been years since I had written a script that would actually be performed by a cast as opposed to just being purely for a class. It was exciting! I wanted to pack enough educational content into these as I could while balancing humor, fourth wall breaks and crowd interaction.  Each show would last between eight and twenty minutes.

The title of the show took some time to hammer down. I settled on, “the Local Wildlife,” as it took place locally and featured animals that lived in our area.

The role of the narrator was the hardest to craft. My initial thought was to have our red fox mascot, Swift, take on that role. But, I scrapped that idea literally minutes before our first show opened, opting for a raven puppet instead.  I didn’t feel like Swift was the best fit and by the end of the first show, my voice was a mess from performing as the raven.  I needed an entirely new character made just for this role.

Coincidentally, I had been developing a blue jay character around this time. When I purchased it, it was a simple boodie with a few bird features on the hood, most likely intended for cosplay. This was the perfect base to build on. I redid its tail feathers and reworked the face, adding felt feathers one at a time.

A work in progress– adding individual felt feathers to the hood/head piece of the blue jay.

The blue jay was intended to be the star of a songbird program I had been working on, but, I felt that this character might work as the narrator for the show. The bird became known as Azure, named thusly for his blue coloration.  He would hold the script and make sure all went well during the show. And through scripted fourth wall breaks, Azure would often have dialogue between the other puppet characters.

I found this format worked wonderfully for the show as a whole. Mixing mascots into the puppet cast gave the show a dynamic in which I could interact with both cast and audience freely.

Azure the Blue Jay taking on the role of the narrator.

The actors for the show were my friends from Impact Earth. Each brought their unique flare to their characters and helped build sets and props. The four actors and actresses, Paige, Elias, Becket and Colin, were absolutely amazing!

For the puppet characters, I wanted something different from what I remember seeing on TV growing up. I decided I wanted a predatory animal and a prey animal as main characters. Also, I wanted them to form a strong friendship. I picked a coyote (Caroline) and a deer (Dawson). Both would be young and still learning about the world around them, which would allow them to understand their differences but also appreciate them and grow together.

I picked an opossum to act as sort of the wise sage of the woods. He would pop in and offer advice to the characters near the third act. I personally felt this was an amusing choice as sage characters are usually depicted as being old, whereas opossums have a life expectancy of only two years in the wild. The opossum would eventually take the role as narrator in the final two episodes of the season.

The season finale took place this past weekend. We decided to have an episode follow the coyote character, Caroline and feature her older brother, Dakota, for which we used our coyote mascot. The episode circled around the premise of Caroline celebrating her birthday and Dakota showing her what it takes to survive as an adult coyote. In the end, Dakota needs rescuing after stumbling into a trap and Caroline soars into action, showing her older brother that she has already grown up quite a bit and can handle any situation.

The next phase of the show is still in the works. We hope to have episodes available on YouTube via Impact Earth within the next few months. Season two is guaranteed to follow.

This has been an amazing project. I am very happy with how everything came together, how gifted our cast was and how successful this was with our audience. I am very much looking forward to continuing with this!

Author:

I'm a geek for music whether it be on vinyl, CD, 78 or whatever. My goal is to sniff out the greated music on Earth, specializing in the obscure. I make music myself as well, mostly ambient and sound collage (1 album out and a few remixes so far). I work full time as a professional mascot (it pays the pills) but will soon retire, i hope.

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