This weekend: A shrinking town turns to puppets

Above: Can puppets save a small town from depopulation? Photo from a blog post by Shannon Hayes about the West Fulton Puppet Festival. 

Puppets: They're mightier than you think. Though made of fragile substances like felt, sticks and paper, their delicate frames could have the power to boost up an entire town.

At least that's the hope of the founders of the West Fulton Puppet Festival, a weekend of free, community-minded puppetry designed to bolster the artistic spirits of its namesake Schoharie County hamlet.

"It’s a community that’s filled with artists and musicians, and we all just want to make it back into the artistic enclave that it used to be," said Ruth Sternberg, one of four co-producers of the festival. "It was once a very active town in the county, and there aren't that many people here anymore. But it's an absolutely magical place to be."

Sternberg, who is a production executive at the Public Theater in Manhattan, splits her time between the city and her house in West Fulton.

Taking place this Friday and Saturday (July 11 and 12), the family-friendly festival will offer up a mix of performances by professional performance companies and collaborations with local kids who have been learning the art of puppetry. Events will take place at venues all over town—from West Fulton Park to refurbished barns—and everything is free and open to the public (though be sure to pick up your gratis tickets at a tent in the park prior to the shows).

The inspiration for the festival came from Schoharie County puppeteer and teacher Morgan Kelly, who has been bringing the art of puppetry into the lives of children all over the area. For the WFPF, Kelly and artists from NYC outfit Story Pirates have been running puppetry workshops with West Fulton kids over the past few weeks. Their efforts will culminate in original shows created by the students that will be performed in the afternoon on Saturday.

According to Sternberg, the whole town has pitched in to help make the festival a reality, from the West Fulton Fire Department and the town historical society offering space and resources to locals opening up their homes to visiting artists.

"Coming from New York City, where I do theater on regular basis but it’s all about money, to see a community that’s so happy and welcoming is just amazing," Sternberg said.

The festival kicks off Friday with a potluck in West Fulton Park. Here are some highlights to look out for throughout the weekend:

  • Andy Gaukel and his Kentucky-based troupe will offer two performances of "La Mouche," which follows the tragicomic travails of a put-upon housefly. Friday, July 10, 7 p.m; Saturday, July 11, 8 p.m.
  • Vermont company Sandglass Theater will perform a pair of shows at West Fulton Park: "Kasper the Cow," about a bovine kleptomaniac, and "Fritzi the Flea," a circus in miniature. Saturday, July 11, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
  • Morgan Kelly will perform her own toddler-friendly play, "Day/Night/Day," about the day and nightlife of a peaceful suburb and its denizens. Saturday, July 11, 11 a.m.
  • Story Pirates take the inspiration for their plays from kids' writings, and company members Joanna Simmons and Peter Russo will present one, the tantalizingly-titled "Professor Tinkers and the Animal Translation Device." Saturday, July 11, 3 p.m.
  • Husband-and-wife outfit The Puppet People will perform their puppet adaptation of Russian classic "The Firebird," featuring handmade marionettes and music from Stravinsky's ballet of the same folktale. Saturday, July 11. 6 p.m.

The West Fulton Puppet Festival. Friday, July 11 and Saturday, July 12. West Fulton. Find them on Facebook.