When we heard that more than 400 puppeteers were coming to the Twin Cities this week for the National Puppetry Festival, we decided to get the scoop on the event from someone uniquely positioned to give us the inside dope. Not festival director Wayne Krefting, but his furry alter ego, Otis Rabbit.
Here’s what we learned, straight from the puppet’s mouth:
Q: Wayne Krefting is a professional puppet builder and performer from Minneapolis. But who is Otis Rabbit? Where did you come from? What do you do?
A: I’m 27 years old. Oh my gosh, that’s so hard to believe. My job in Woodlands Puppets, my company, is pretty much to manage the company. I tell the other puppets what to do and where to go. Wayne thinks he’s in charge, but of course, he’s not.
Q: We’ve heard that St. Paul is going to undergo an invasion of puppets. Should we be concerned?
A: Well, I hope not. Puppets and puppeteers are going to be coming to the St. Paul campus of Concordia University to attend the National Puppetry Festival of the Puppeteers of America. It’s going to be a great time. We’ve got workshops and performances and some free public events, too.
Q: If I’m not a puppeteer or a puppet would I be interested in a puppetry festival?
A: Oh, definitely. The art of the puppet is really a conglomeration or an amalgam of all of the fine arts. The art of the puppet includes theater, it includes sculpture, it includes painting, it includes movement, it includes music. You just name it.
Q: You’re made of fake fur and foam. What other kind of puppets will be there?
A: There will be hand puppets, which is my favorite. There’ll also be marionettes, the string puppets. There’ll be rod puppets mounted on a stick. There’ll be tabletop puppets where the puppeteer is in view, but the focus is on the puppet. We’ll have a workshop on Vietnamese water puppets. There’s also some shadow puppets. We’ll have some ventriloquists. We’ll have puppets made of cardboard and found objects.
Q: Is it just kids’ stuff?
A: Oh, no. We have puppets for every age. Actually a lot of the performances that we will have as part of the festival are for, let’s just say, more mature audiences because of the thematic content.
For instance, Plexus Polaire, a Norwegian/French group, is going to be doing a show called “Ashes.” It’s really about an arsonist … it’s not a kids’ show.
However, on Saturday afternoon, we have a free family event with puppet shows out on the quad of Concordia University, with Open Eye’s “Molly and the Magic Boot.” We have a couple of different companies doing Punch and Judy — family-friendly Punch and Judy, I might add.
And we also have some shows inside if people want to attend those, too, for five bucks. The Mesner Puppet Theater from Kansas City is going to be doing “The Stinky Cheese Man” and Katherine Fahey is going to be doing storytelling shadow “crankies” (shadow puppets on hand-cranked scrolls). Plus Saturday evening, one of the evening performances is by National Marionette Theater, and they’re going to be doing “Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel.” Definitely a family show.
Q: What can a puppet do that a human actor can’t? Even Pinocchio wanted to be a real boy.
A: A puppet can’t have the facial range that a human can, but a puppet can go places in the imagination. A puppet can fly. A puppet can defy gravity. A puppet can literally lose its head. For a human that would definitely be really messy. We’re allowed to do a lot of things that humans aren’t allowed to do. We can get away with saying things that are subversive, that people can’t say.
Q: The 80-year-old Puppeteers of America is now headquartered in Minneapolis, and this is the third time the National Puppetry Festival is being held at Concordia University. Is the Twin Cities a good place to be a puppet?
A: Oh, it’s a great place to be a puppet! Oh, I love it around here. Me and my friends love the Twin Cities because there are lot of puppeteers, there’s lots of puppets.
There’s theaters here. We’ve got Open Eye Figure Theatre, with Susan Haas and Michael Sommers. We’ve got In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre. They’ve been around for quite a long time, Sandy Spieler, artistic director. She’s award-winning so I think people all around here know about her.
There’s BareBones, they do the really cool Halloween show, lots of fire and stuff. I always like that one. And there’s all kinds of just individual companies and puppeteers around the Twin Cities.
We are a puppet hub. And that’s sort of why the Puppeteers of America settled on Minneapolis and St. Paul as the place to come for our headquarters. We have a very active puppetry guild here. We are the puppet place.