Restoring The Waters

Category Archives: Restoring the Waters Puppet Theater

Sense of Place ~ Part Three

With thanks to Douglas Wood, author of Old Turtle and the Broken Truth, who so generously offered his permission to adapt his work to an outdoor theater.

Continuing my series of reflections on Sense of Place, one of the deepest layers of place holds the beating heart of the local community. Whether or not we know it, deny it, ignore it, we are fast heading in the direction of mutual interdependence, and the relationships that can be built in our own communities will stand us in good stead.

The Transition Movement began as an imaginative activist response to the dire news about climate change and the fact that we are on the downside of oil production (peak oil) – and these realities remain at the core – yet the movement is far more than that. It is about community, about resilience; it’s about optimism and radical hope; it’s about play. It’s about healing, and it is about knowing one’s place.

My husband Jim and I live in a small village in central New Hampshire. We make giant puppets, the kind that require human engagement rather than simple manipulation, and for six years, we have had it in mind to stage an outdoor production, to introduce Restoring the Waters Puppet Theater into our own community. We see it as our our small part in the Transition Movement, but we weren’t going to do this alone.

This was our summer to do it! And it looked like this. In partnership with the Wilmot Community Association, we worked with members of our village, ranging in age from six to seventy-seven, to choose our totem animals, to make larger than life masks, to sew costumes, and – ultimately – to rehearse.

It’s fair to say, I think, that there were skeptics (I include myself among them). Every Wednesday evening over the course of the summer, we met, floundered around in buckets of flour and water, hiding chicken wire clippers from one another, cutting and sewing fabric. Wednesdays got bigger and bigger, with more and more people trying their hand at the art of paper mache.

There was more than the creation of puppets and costumes. Old Turtle and the Broken Truth is a spiritual story of conflict, ecological disregard, and the potential for healing. Each of us was invited to learn about our totem animal: its habitat, food needs, its character, and the stories of adaptation (or not) to the often wanton and selfish ways of the humans.

As the masks and animal characters themselves began to take shape, so – thankfully – did the infrastructure and supportive roles. The word was getting out, through volunteer publicity. Our favorite musician showed up, our friend Tom agreed to direct this motley group of non-actors. We had popcorn makers, a seamstress, lights, sound, and above all, we had an audience! Below is the You Tube video, in three parts. It’s a gem, even with all its warts and glitches. Sometimes it’s good to get them over with early on!

The night was magic. Ten days before the scheduled production, the forecast promised rain and thunder storms. The day itself was perfect; the people who’d come to see watched the sun – reflecting on the water of the pond – disappear, were bathed by the late summer breezes, and the sounds of the crickets. The sound system worked; we didn’t need the lights.

I think all of us – both in the production and watching the production – were a bit surprised to awaken to the power of imaginative collaboration, to the grace of risk taking, and to the possibilities for community art to deepen friendships. We were also surprised, I think, to understand the sacredness of the earth-community, to understand that we humans are part of a much larger narrative than the one we often think (and certainly act as though) we dominate.

Jim and I are grateful to have not only survived our first Restoring the Waters Puppet Theater production, but to have been so greatly enriched by all the creatures of our small village of Wilmot, N. H.







Restoring the Waters ~ Community Puppet Theater

As you may or may not know, Jim and I live in rural New Hampshire in a small village called Wilmot. For a small community, Wilmot has a big heart: our library is a treasure, with a librarian unlike any librarian you’ve met or imagined. We have a Post Office; a gazebo for summer music; a farmer’s market; a veterinarian; a quintessential New England white clapboard church; a town hall complete with stage; a restaurant whose chef won’t show up unless you’ve made reservations; a vintage clothing store; and a building supply and showroom. Most of all we have abundant wildlife including (but not limited to) wonderful wonderful humans. Artists, poets, builders, furniture makers, farmers, writers, naturalists, bikers, and we all seem to muddle along with with one another.

It’s been a long time since I introduced the Restoring The Waters Puppet Theater on this blogging site. A year, in fact. But . . this MAY be the summer we offer our first community production, an adaptation of a children’s book which really isn’t a children’s book, Old Turtle and the Broken Truth, by Douglas Wood. I use the word may in conjunction with our first summer production, because its actuality depends on the response of the community. This is not and never will be the Jim and Caroline show. We have been looking for actors (characters from the book and beyond), and offering Wednesday evening mask making and costume design workshops.

The first Wednesday we met, Jim brought in a five gallon bucket filled with surprises: netting; a frisbee, PVC pipe scraps, chicken wire, a few tools, a hard hat, wire wraps and wire clippers, and that didn’t begin to exhaust the contents. The next day, one of the young people attending went down into her basement, retrieved a now-too-small basketball hoop with net and brought it up into the kitchen. Her mom reminded her that it was for the yard sale, and this young person said, “no, I may need it for my mask. Or somebody else might.”

A friend who runs the Wilmot Transfer Station collects things he thinks will be useful: paint buckets with an inch or two of paint; wire mesh; wooden dowels; big sheets of cardboard. The wire face of an old electric fan makes a most excellent shield. Yard sales are rich in treasure! The colorful enamel buckets which perch on the heads of the Bucketheads were 25 cents apiece at a barn sale up the street.

This is a multi-generational effort ~ young people, singles and couples, groups, parents, and grandparents. We are not so attached to the outcome (the production itself) that we can’t let it go if the community engagement isn’t there. Still, we are proceeding as though there will be a show, August 24th. If it flies, it will be beyond amazing.

There is more at stake, though, than a one or two night production. Those willing to adopt animal roles (or the roles of wind, tree, mountain, or water) have an assignment beyond the making of mask and costume and showing up at a couple dress rehearsals. We are asking people to come to know the character(s) they’ve chosen. Why did you choose, say, a porcupine? How does a porcupine move? What does s/he eat? What habitat does a porcupine require? Who are his enemies? How are humans participating in making life challenging for a porcupine. What is the gift that a porcupine offers the biotic community?

At one point in the adaptation of the story, the characters will adapt a Council of All Beings, to share with the audience who they are, what they bring, and what they need. Our hope, of course, is to explore more deeply the living web and eco-systems of New Hampshire. Wendell Berry, among others, reminds us that if you love a place, you can’t destroy it. Although we’re working with New England systems, we’re expecting an exotic or two ~ perhaps an elephant or a cheetah. And what is a production without our Tundra swan (our neighbor calls her the Big Duck) and The Mother of the Waters (otherwise known as Mad Kate).

Along with the characters, we are slowly building the infrastructure: a light and sound technician; a narrator; several set designers, musicians, and enough bodies to make this happen.

The venue is a small local beach on Tannery Pond, where we will make use of everything that already exists: swing set; slide; monkey bars; trees; a foot bridge; a house across the street; a spit of land; and a snack shack.

Those of you reading this who might be local, we’re asking for your participation. And those of you around the globe, who are not able to justify a plane or train ticket to NH, just hold us in your heart and think kind thoughts as we try something new.

We all know, I think, even though we live as though we don’t believe it, that changes are coming to all our communities, whether rural or urban. We are on the downside (or very close to it) of our capacity for oil production. Communities are going to have to move more quickly than we’re ready, I think, to rely increasingly on the gifts and abilities of one another, including, for example, local food production. As life becomes more local ~ I like to think of it, paradoxically, as more (not less) spacious, we’re going to need to know one another in new ways, to trust one another, and to rely on one another.

As Jim and I consider what we might have to offer into our own community, this is it ~ an opportunity to build friendships through the arts, the experience of being at play with one another, an invitation to look at things in new ways.



Restoring the Waters Puppet Theater ~ Meet the Bucket Heads

My husband and partner Jim Sims and I have been working toward the first production of Restoring the Waters Puppet Theater. I suspect many of you know how it is when you have a plan and life kind of gets in the way. We now have three big puppets: the swan, whose image is on a previous post; the mother of the waters, who has yet to make a web appearance; and, as of Saturday, the Bucket Heads, who made their debut at the New London, New Hampshire Hospital Days parade.

Next summer, Old Turtle will make her appearance, and we will launch (we hope) our first production, based on the book Old Turtle and the Broken Truth.

Let me tell you about the Bucket Heads. Not many people know that I am a yard sale devotee. Two summers ago, I came across four brightly colored enamel buckets for fifty cents apiece. I couldn’t resist! It was a year later that I came to understand their attraction.

In the story of Old Turtle, various human collectives are fighting for what they think is the Truth, and what they know of the Truth is this: “You are loved.” Although the various warriors can see that the Truth is jagged, they don’t realize (denial!) that there is more to the message, and so they fight over it. The Truth, such as it is, goes back and forth, back and forth.

One day, on a contemplative walk with my dog Missy, it came to me. One of the warring families are the Bucket Heads, and suddenly my brightly colored enamel buckets had a purpose.

I set out to create them, in the dead of winter, using my office for a studio, and although my office is still in shambles, the Bucket Heads are live and well.

Still, there is a process I want to share. I set out to fashion the Bucket Heads as a mean, hostile, greedy, self-interested collective. I used my Google search to find expressions of anger, rage, aggression, etc. The fourth was the most difficult. I made him (I thought) pinched and mean, angry eyebrows, a pinched mouth, etc.

But something happened in the process. The Bucket Heads stepped into what I’ve been calling the space between . . . and invited me in – an invitation they knew and I knew I could not ignore or refuse.

In the space between, their hostility and my need to insist on their hostility yielded to something else, something tender and surprising. The Bucket Heads didn’t want to be fighting! They didn’t want to be stealing what was passing as the Truth. The Bucket Heads refused to go where I was trying to take them, and so I had to release my preconceptions and step into the space between myself.

There I found who they truly were. Kind. Loving. Confused. Playing roles that did not suit them. Trapped in a paradigm that they no longer understood or wanted.

I wish I could express in words how surprised and awed I was, and still am, about who they were, and who they wanted to be; about the damage and soul-killing are our expectations; about the power of deep listening; about following those who are showing you a new way. How humbling!

Apparently I heard what they were telling me, because their paint, and their costumes, came into being – yes, by my hand – but not by my intention. I started to wear the T-shirt of my friends Michael and Carrie Kline, “listening is an act of love.”

On August 6th, 2011, the Bucket Heads made their first public appearance in the parade. Jim drove a borrowed twenty year old Le Barron convertible whose name is Fang, hauling a flat bed. I rode in the back, with the Bucket Heads. I was anxious that they would need my help, but of course, they didn’t.

The response from the crowds lining the streets, was powerful: first, the question, “what is this about?”, and then understanding. The Bucket Heads elicited laughter and applause, but I think Jim and I move into our next year on their question, “What is this about?”

I know my question, as puppet maker. When does my vision yield and another entity claims his/her/their identity?

I also know that the answer emerges from the space between, and from nowhere else.