Green Puppetry in the Twin Cities

Jim Ouray

It is springtime. You are sitting on a hillside with thousands of smiling people singing “You Are My Sunshine,” as two dozen puppeteers dressed in white slowly turn a giant Tree-of-Life puppet on the shore of Powderhorn Lake. Where are you? At the May Day Parade and Festival, presented by In the Heart of the Beast Puppet Mask and Theatre. This annual puppet spectacle has celebrated spring and regeneration for over 25 years. The parade begins on Bloomington Avenue and continues to the pageant and festival in Powderhorn Park, where hundreds of puppets, floats, musicians and dancers join together to shout their song for creation.

It is an autumn evening. You are walking down a leafy path through the woods, where jack-o-lanterns shine on the path. As you approach the performance area you notice a crew of puppeteers crawling into their crow costumes. You take your seat on a hay bale under the stars and await the Barebones Productions’ annual Halloween Extravaganza. This event uses puppetry, masks, wild pageantry and kommedia-style performance to celebrate the season. Beginning in 1994, the Barebones Tribe has reclaimed a holiday devoted to the dead, and is reinvigorating America’s rich history of public festival events, with gusto!

Green puppetry is strong in Minneapolis. Each year, thousands of people attend the Halloween Extravaganza and the May Day Parade and Festival. Further community support is evident by the volunteers who help make puppets, perform with puppets and make music. There is a rich Green-ness to these activities, and there is a heck of a lot of good work and good fun involved too.

Celebrating the changing seasons is an ancient Green function. The May Day celebration exults the splendor of warm sunshine and spring flowers. The Halloween Extravaganza gives thanks for the harvest and explores the mysteries of darkness and decay. It is nourishing to the spirit to see the puppets and to hear the musicians performing in the trees, on the lake and on the ground. Here, nature is a guiding principle, a muse.

Part of the fun of these puppet jubilees is their Green ingenuity. Everything is built with astounding cleverness. Old newspapers become masks and old bicycles become yaks. This is remarkable recycling, beautiful and imaginative use of junk.

But wait, that’s not all that is being recycled. What about those songs and stories? The mythology of our species is not dead. Just as we do not wish for corporate interests to carelessly despoil our natural resources, we must protect our non-physical resources: our mythology, imagination and spirit. These too are being strip-mined by media and environment mega-corporations. Mermaids, titans, ghosts and monsters must live on in our own dreams, storytelling and theater in order to help us. This is our Green collective magic. Sitting in the audience you get a nice drink of it. Working on these giant puppet shows, you are stimulated and immersed.

It is vitally important for us to socialize, to imagine, to sing and to laugh. While we try to do the right thing, while we fight evil and ignorance, we must appreciate what we have. Those knights in tinfoil riding bicycles, those people dressed in red with a big Sun puppet – they are lovers of life. They remind us that it is good to be alive. May we be deeply Green. The Tree-of-Life is a gift for us all.

Theater of Wonder: 25 Years in the Heart of the Beast, Colleen Sheehy, ed., 1999

The Art of the Puppet, Bil Baird, 1965

Barebones Productions
504 Cedar Avenue S.
Minneapolis, MN 612-724-4979

In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre
1500 East Lake Street
Minneapolis, MN 612-721-2535


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