Puppetry is an ancient art form, and Chris Carter and her husband Stephen keep the tradition alive by offering puppet theater, an annual baroque marionette opera, and housing the largest puppet research library in the west.
“What I love about puppetry is its ability to make inanimate objects alive,” Chris Carter says. “You can take a piece of wood and it becomes a character that people believe in. We always feel like we’re doing our job well when these puppets made out of wood and fabric can make people laugh and cry.”
The Carters, who have long ties to Lopez and recently moved here full-time, are presenting a series of puppet shows on the island entitled “Puppets on the Rock!”
The season includes four shows by award-winning professional puppet companies.
Stories from Italy, China, Persia and beneath the sea will send audiences of all ages traveling around the world without getting on a ferry.
To complement the performances, educational outreach workshops and lecture demonstrations are also being planned.
The series is co-sponsored by the Lopez Island Library and made possible by generous community donations.
Carter Family Marionettes will perform the first show, “Cinderella,” on Saturday, Nov. 29. Yang Xie Zheng and Dmitri Carter will present a Chinese Hand-puppet play, “Monkey Goes Fishing,” on Jan. 31; Oregon Shadow Theater is performing “The Adventures of Sinbad,” a collection of Persian tales, on Feb. 28; and the Spyglass Theater is bringing “S.C.U.B.A.,” a super cool underwater blacklight adventure, on March 21. All shows are at Lopez Center and start at 2 p.m.
For this version of “Cinderella,” the Carters found and translated a 19th century Venetian puppet script. Poor Cinderella wants to go to the ball, but she has nothing to wear until a magic dove transforms into her Fairy Godmother. Commedia dell’Arte clown, Pulcinella, plays the role of palace herald and assists the prince in finding the true owner of the glass slipper. Ornate scenery, magical special effects and elegantly crafted hand puppets create a world where dreams come true filled by beauty, fantasy, humor, and adventure.
Chris and Stephen married after graduating from high school, and while in college in California together, they discovered the magic of puppetry.
“We both did theatre in high school, and that’s when Stephen began carving. In college, I was a dancer, Stephen was a carver, so when we put it all together it came out as puppets!”
The Carters moved to Seattle and founded Northwest Puppet Center 30 years ago, after being inspired by the professional puppet theaters of Europe and Asia.
Based in a renovated church in Seattle, theirs is one of only a handful of such theaters in the U.S.
“We’ve toured around the world with our puppets,” Chris says. “When our children were young they started performing, and now our grandkids perform sometimes too.
“We’ve collaborated and studied with master puppeteers in Romania, China, and Sicily.”
They offer shows throughout the school year and in the summertime travel to fairs, festivals and libraries.
The Carters’ two children chose to stay in the family business.
Their son Dmitri is executive director of the company and their daughter Heather helps with PR and occasionally performs.
“One of the reasons our son stuck with it is because he ended up marrying the daughter of a Chinese man who collaborated with us,” Chris says. “She is a sixth generation Chinese puppeteer. So our puppet family ended up intermarrying with another puppeteer family.”
Chris says they have been receiving requests from young island families for entertainment opportunities on the island.
“So we’re really happy to be bringing these shows here,” Chris says. “Puppets are a wonderful way to learn about cultures. Every culture in the world has puppets. It’s one of the oldest art forms.
“In China, puppetry is recorded as far back as 2000 years ago and ancient Romans and Egyptians had puppetry. In our company we are very interested in traditional and folk puppets, and we do stories from many different cultures.”
Stephen and Chris’ first performed a puppet show on Lopez in 1975 at Grayling Gallery. “We still have the puppet that starred in that show: Mrs. Twig!” laughed Chris.
“I love the mixing of ages we have on Lopez. And that is exactly the audience that we want for our puppet shows. In America, we have this idea that puppets are only for kids, but traditionally that is not how it is. We include satire and jokes in the shows intended for adults too.”
Tickets are $8 for kids and $10 for adults. Tickets are available at Blossom Organic Grocery, Islehaven Books, Paper Scissors on the Rock, and at the door.