Top-notch entertainers are touring through nearly all 25 branches of Clark County Library District through July 31 in support of Club Read, a free program for all ages, encouraging reading.
Rural communities are getting a rare chance to enjoy nationally recognized performing artists in song, dance, puppetry, magic and other disciplines.
Sandy Valley (Clark County’s southernmost location over the Columbia Mountain Pass 60 miles from Las Vegas) welcomed the first of three sponsored performances slated for that horse and farming community of about 2,500 residents last Friday.
(Next shows: July 7 at 11:30 a.m., magician Adam London; July 25 at 2 p.m. Elephant and Piggie storytellers).
Numerous shows will be at most branches. Get the impressive list from your local library or at: lvccld.org.
Sandy Valley enjoyed Fratello Marionettes by Kevin Menegus. His shows use the “cabaret style” of puppet manipulation where the puppeteer is visible to audiences, usually dressed in black. Puppets are at “feet level” for most of the action in this method. This style evolved for touring marionette shows which needed simpler transport and presentation.
Although visible articulation work sacrifices the more magical illusion where puppeteers are fastidiously invisible till after the show (which is the preferred method, popular where elaborate sets and rigs can remain intact and not be packed and unpacked) it nevertheless delivers another way to appreciate hand-working of strings and balancing puppets’ weight.
According to Ian Denny, “In theory, cabaret presentation is the simplest, requiring only the puppets themselves, but in practice, a vast amount of equipment still needs to be traveled. At the very least, a rostrum, rails to hang the puppets on, props, masking, spotlights and an adaptable sound system.
As traditional ‘scenery’ is not normally there in cabaret presentation to create that amazing optical illusion of scale and perspective which occurs on a proscenium stage, cabaret puppets tend to be larger; possibly up to 40 inches tall…” (Cabaret Marionettes by Ian Denny).
The Frog Prince classical tale was well received by an enthusiastic crowd that laughed at Frog’s clattering hop and delighted in the Princess, King, court Juggler and Acrobat, and the palace’s garden Tree Spirit.
Meticulously crafted puppets by Kevin Menegus are designed, cast, painted with “animation paint” and costumed with breathtaking quality rarely seen outside museums and theaters.
Kevin’s tightly performed show used puppets large and small —some of which enacted circus acrobatics with clever depictions of complex movements not regularly engaged in with marionettes.
The hallmark of an expert marionettist is in the seamless presentation of the puppets. No flying feet. No oddly suspended parts, no tangling strings and most importantly, gentle fluid movements that are not herky-jerky. Like any skill, this takes hundreds of hours of practice.
Kevin’s Frog Prince has a funny twist on the old tale — the frog gets kissed and transforms into a prince, but the princess becomes a frog to punish her for her selfish, spoiled ways!
Questions from the young people were sophisticated, such as one fellow who asked why the king’s crown had string throughout its peaks! Who would have guessed, the nearly invisible string is thereto keep other strings from its arms from catching on the crown-peaks. That a child noticed that and asked is so cool!
Local librarian Carol Parrott hails from South Africa and has a background in theatre and writing. After traveling extensively, she settled in Sandy Valley where children hug her like the friend she is to knowledge-seekers.
Other performances on tour include PBS multimedia hands-on workshops; University Of Nevada Cooperative Extension activities; Patchwork Girl of Oz dance-story theatre; Eric Herman sing-along; Beauty and the Beast by Hampstead Stage Company; Jim Gill, singer and celebrations and prizes for reading. There are programs and activities for every age group up through teens.
I fondly remember my New York childhood library where my mother took me several times a week. Kevin’s work reminded me of national treasure Brookline Village Puppet Showplace in Boston which serves puppeteers around the globe as a laboratory, repository and performance space. Those memories are so precious. I bet you remember your childhood library as well!
Thank you Clark County Library District for continuing a beloved tradition which started in Boston, at our country’s first public, free to all, library established in 1848. All parents benefit from these precious local resources that are even more vital than centuries ago. Let us all patronize, support and protect funding for them. “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” Let’s keep libraries sacrosanct.
Consider donating, volunteering and promoting libraries. And Go to their shows! Enjoy. Big people are welcome at all these events.
Theatre, film and travel reporter Marianne Donnelly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.