Tanglewood marionettes in Dana Park

Posted by mholbrow on Jul 28, 2010.

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Kids Meet Puppets in Cambridge

Photo, above: Kids met puppets in person at the Tanglewood Marionettes show in Dana Park July 26. This toddler helped the snake charmer adjust his embouchure.

“Oooooh!”

Spectators gasped as the big flower flipped over and turned into a dancer in a blue gown. Johann Strauss’s “Blue Danube” played, and a courtly gentleman took the dancer's hand. A red butterfly hovered discreetly over the pair; they circled the stage and waltzed off into space.

The magical dance was part of “The Fairy Circus,” presented by puppeteer Peter Schaefer and his Tanglewood Marionettes on July 26 at Dana Park in Cambridgeport. The show drew a sizeable crowd on this bright, breezy Monday—285 people, according to a head count by Julie Madden, Director of Community Arts for the Cambridge Arts Council This was the seventh event to be presented during July in the Council's "Summer in the City" series. The programs continue through August. See the performance schedule at http://www.cambridgema.gov/CAC/Community/summer.cfm.

Slides:  1. Peter Schaefer with dancers    2. Ballerina    3. Child examines marionettes after the show   4. Kids from Camp Kaleidoscope with Schaefer; Fairy Princess is in front in pink robe   5. Fairy Princess gives hugs on request  6. She also shakes hands   7. Child examines snake charmer    8. Snake charmer with white rabbit     9. Community Arts Director Julie Madden (l) with Peter Schaefer
    
Madden introduced Peter Schaefer, the man behind the marionettes. He has been working with puppets since he was a teenager.

“I did a summer program with a puppeteer, and that was how I learned the business,” he said. “My wife Anne builds the puppets, and we work out the programs together.”

They chose the name “Tanglewood” because it sounded like it had something to do with puppets, Schaefer said.

“They’re made of wood, and there’s a lot of tangled string.”

The troupe’s home base is in Ware; they perform throughout New England. Information about them is on line at http://www.tanglewoodmarionettes.com.

The hour-long performance moved fast. A gangly clown did stunts; a ballerina pirouetted; a juggler flipped balls around (how on earth did he do that?); a big hairy spider did a shuffle step and dashed out into the crowd—with Schaefer at the controls—bringing shrieks and laughter from the audience. A gnome grabbed a hose and sprayed people with water. A snake charmer played a mysterious melody that brought his serpent swaying up out of the basket, then switched to a blast of jazz that launched the beast into a dance frenzy.

Part of the fun is being able to see the puppeteer in action. Peter Schaefer stands behind a low backdrop that lets his audience see what makes the characters move. The effect was intensified on this occasion as the brilliant noon sun cast sharp black shadows on the backdrop from his hands and apparatus. For actions involving three characters—two dancers and a butterfly, for example—he held a set of controls in his teeth.

After the show Schaefer set the racks of marionettes out on the field so people could handle them and see how they worked. He walked through the crowd, carrying the pink-robed Fairy Queen suspended by her strings. She presides over the festivities.

“Would you like to shake hands with her?” he asked as kids crowded around. “Would you like a hug?”

The queen was happy to oblige.