Some young artists will be showing their work at a local art gallery during a First Friday event in Haines next week. The show will consist of handmade puppets and sets and is the culmination of a several-months-long collaboration between students and a local puppet group.
That’s the sound of a recent puppet performance at the Haines School.
“My puppet is Prince Nefarbi, the star of the amazing play, The curse of Equatia,” 10-year-old Maddox Rogers said. Rogers is a fourth-grader at Haines School who performed in the play. “He’s this conceded prince in the beginning who basically has locked himself from the outside world and basically doesn’t know all the troubles with he does not have to deal with.”
The prince runs a big corporation and is determined to cut down the last remaining tree to put in a parking lot. When his worker won’t cut it down, Prince Nefarbi chops it down himself. He’s therefore cursed and begins turning into a tree himself. In order to be free from the curse, he has to solve a complicated math problem.
Rogers describes his puppet.
“He looks very goofy, he has a yellow robe, a sort of royal broach you don’t see too much, yeah and a wooden hand and a purple hat,” Rogers said.
Prince Nefarbi is a complex sock puppet and one of the lead characters in the play which students wrote with guidance from educators and a local puppet group called Geppetto’s Junkyard.
Students also made all the puppets themselves and designed and built the sets, including 11-year-old Marina Loewen, whose paper mache and modeling clay puppet also had a lead role.
“She’s the nature goddess. She’s kind of like the Greek goddess Athena except she doesn’t do the hunting thing,” Loewen said.
The fifth-grader describes the puppet she designed.
“She has the head of a fox and the paws of a fox and she has a human body and she has gigantic fangs,” Loewen explained.
10-year-old Sierra Oaks was responsible for another of the play’s stars.
“Little Red-Riding Sock—it is based on Little Red Riding Hood, actually,” said Oaks.
Oaks’ is also a sock puppet.
“She has brown hair and she has googly eyes, well obviously. She has a red cape and I guess she is a sock,” Oaks explained.
The fourth-grader says making the puppet was hard work but she loved the result.
“I actually liked it because it came to life,” Oaks said.
About 20 students participated in the project after school. Librarian Leigh Horner helped spearhead the student-centered learning project.
“We let the children explore all different kinds of puppetry,” Horner said. “We started with sock puppets, and hand puppets, marionettes and then they got to decide what they wanted to do.”
Students started working on the puppets in January, and then they wrote the script and built the sets, resulting in several performances at the school in April.
“I was really impressed with the level of imagination and just talent and skill,” Hannah Bochart said. Bochart grew up in Haines and left to study theater in Washington State, then returned. She has been working with Geppetto’s Junkyard.
“Geppetto’s Junkyard is a puppet troupe that has been functioning in Haines for about the last ten years, then years I think, as of this year,” Bochart said. “And we are kind of a rotating collective group that devises and creates original puppet shows. We, for a long time, we were doing two a year both in Haines and in other communities around Southeast.”
Bochart worked with students a few times a week over several months.
“A large portion of the time was taken up with building the puppets. Puppets first and then we from the puppets built the script around that, which is an interesting way to do it, where you start with your characters first, and then yeah, once the script was built we started working on sets,” Bochart said.
Bochart says it was a lot more than just a puppet show.
“They started with nothing, ended up with an entire world—with people that they had created, sets that they had created and a script that they had written,” Bochart said. “And it paid off. So, I’m hoping it will bring forth a sense of accomplishment, what you can truly accomplish if you start something and you don’t give up”
The puppets and sets will be on display at the Arts Confluence Gallery in Haines during First Friday on May 4 and the sets will remain up for some time.
“Some really imaginative stuff that you would not see from adult artists. I honestly think kid art is much more interesting than adult art because it does not suffer from any kind of self-consciousness,” Bochart said. “For people who don’t usually come out for first Friday, it’s going to be something that don’t usually come to first Friday, it’s going to be something different. ”
Maddox Rogers, who played Prince Nefarbi, says he learned a lot from the project and wants to do more plays and puppet making.
As for Prince Nefarbi, by the end of the play…
“He has learned that it isn’t always about yourself,” Rogers said. “And also pay attention to math class!”
The project was funded by a grant from the Chilkat Valley Community Foundation and the Rasmuson Foundation through the Arts in Education Fund and administered by the Alaska State Council on the Arts.