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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Not your average puppets

    ermit the Frog, Bert and Ernie, Lamb Chop. Just about everyone has a favorite puppet that they watched and adored as a young child, a puppet that sang songs and taught lessons and looked cute on TV.

    That’s one kind of puppet.

    Charles Swanson and the rest of Tucson Puppetworks have been preparing for a show using a very different kind of puppet, a kind that most people are a little less familiar with.

    Built onto backpacks and standing over 7 feet tall with intense expressions painted on their faces, these monigote puppets are used in traditional Mexican festivals and storytelling.

    Tomorrow and Saturday, Swanson and his troop will put on two free performances at the Arizona State Museum, using the puppets to tell the Mexican folktale “”A New Spoon for Every Bite.””

    When the Arizona State Museum decided it wanted to present a traditional folktale using the Mexican monigote and cabezudo puppet styles, its first call went to Swanson and Tucson Puppetworks.

    Formed some 13 years ago, the group that was nearly named “”Post Apocalyptic Puppet Show Theater”” (PAPST for short) has become standard for puppet performances in the Tucson area.

    And while Swanson and company aren’t exactly scholars in the traditional aspect of the show, they certainly do know their puppets.

    “”Yeah, we call them ‘big heads,’ “” Swanson said. “”We’re more about the creation and performance than the history.””

    Puppetworks Studio is filled with the aforementioned big heads, as well as hundreds of other puppets of various sizes.

    While at their rehearsal, Bruce “”The Voice”” Boyce and Swanson even pulled out the main puppets for the weekend show, Frankie and Francine, and allowed me to try Frankie on for size. After strapping in and getting a few pointers on how to wear the giant head, I was able to walk around the room a little, marveling at how the backpack system of straps really kept the giant puppet from being too top-heavy or hard to wear.

    As the crew bustled around, joking with each other and working on numerous different puppets and props, Swanson explained that they are more of an agency for hire than a group specializing in traditional performances.

    “”I think we’re probably most comfortable with more American styles, but we’ve worked with big heads before, (and we’ve) told this story before, so we’re pretty prepared for it,”” Swanson said.

    Two members of the troop have even performed the story long before they were part of Tucson Puppetworks.

    Boyce and Cricket, both involved in the upcoming show, performed this particular story seven years ago in Ashville, N.C.

    About half of what Tucson Puppetworks performs is folk tales or classic stories, and the other half is original content written by the performers themselves.

    In June, Tucson Puppetworks will get to perform one of its original stories titled “”The Great Water”” at the Tsunami on the Square festival in Prescott.

    The free shows that will be performed at the Arizona State Museum tomorrow at 7 p.m. and Saturday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. are a narration of what Boyce calls a “”cross-cultural folk tale with a great twist ending.””

    The show centers on a peasant man (Frankie) and peasant woman (Francine) who are about to have a child. The couple selects a close, wealthy friend to be the child’s godfather and invites him to dinner.

    Unfortunately, the poor young couple only have two spoons to eat with. They must save and save and finally are able to buy one more spoon for dinner. When their friend hears the story of how hard they worked for the spoon, he finds it funny that he is so wealthy and that they had to work just to buy another spoon.

    He boasts that he is so rich that he could use a new spoon every day of the year. The peasant couple, clearly insulted by his boasts, claims they know a man who was so rich that he could use a new spoon for every bite he takes.

    Incensed that he may not be the richest man around, the wealthy godfather sets out to prove that he is in fact the richest man of all.

    Boyce and Swanson refused to tell any of the story beyond that, saying that the twist ending is something one has to see in person.

    “”It’s really a great story,”” Boyce said, “”a definite folktale with a good message. Everyone should go see it.””

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