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L.A. Gets Animated With First Annual Puppet Fest

Kelly Belter |
May 2, 2013 | 2:33 a.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

2013 is the inaugural year of L.A.'s newest festival (L.A. Puppet Fest)
2013 is the inaugural year of L.A.'s newest festival (L.A. Puppet Fest)
It’s Sunday morning, and a crowd is making its way down Third Street Promenade. Two monsters, one with golden horns, the other sporting a feather bolero, shake hands; fantastic beings with smoothly curving features tower over the crowd; and a teal Cyclops throws a toddler a disapproving glance. What we don’t initially register are the people controlling them—huge dowels that levitate billowing creatures into the air and the hands behind the myriad of movements that animate the crowd. This is no normal weekend; it’s the finale of the First Annual L.A. Puppet Fest, and the puppets have usurped Santa Monica. 

As it stands, this April marks the induction of this new annual fest. Throughout the month, a variety of L.A. puppet troupes joined up with the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs to create a month full of dynamic events, showcasing this unique theatrical practice. And though the month culminated in the L.A. Puppet Parade, since April 2, the city has been teeming with several different kinds of acts, including puppet musicals, museum tours, and a variety of free performances. 

One of these performances was “Change the World,” a shadow puppet show at the Mercado La Paloma. In contrast to the commotion on Third Street, the shadow puppet troupe was composed of four women huddled around two projectors and several detailed cutouts. In the darkened plaza, several mumbling children scattered themselves across the floor. The room fell silent as we collectively watched a shadow-bee traverse the world—first floating on a shadow-flower but soon wandering into thick streams of smog and the dangers of industrialized society. It seemed that this wasn’t just a puppet show, but an ecological statement. A statement that Director and master puppeteer, Leslie K. Gray, elaborated on when the lights came up, discussing the dangers of fracking in local neighborhoods.

Aside from the surprise of the deeper message embedded in the night’s performance, it was equally surprising how complex the show was itself. Lights dimmed and projectors re-lit, Leslie led a workshop on this special form of puppetry, revealing the complex system of cutouts, the ins and outs of negative and positive shadows, and the difficulty of timing everything just right. 

Getting to see the mechanics behind the act, which these puppeteers seem to do so effortlessly, was a theme of the festival as, in addition to workshops throughout the month, the final celebration on April 28 included several puppet-making stations outside of Third Street’s Barnes and Noble. Prior to the parade itself, kids and adults alike were already gathered round to see what makes these creatures tick, courtesy of Rogue Artists

However, this was still just a preface to the main event: the march down Third Street Promenade. Organized by Million Puppet March, local puppeteers aimed to beat the record for biggest puppet march ever. The result was a colorful, inspiring celebration of an underappreciated art. In any case, it was L.A.’s largest puppet parade to date, and marked a jubilant end to an innovative citywide event.

Reach Staff Reporter Kelly Belter here.



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