By Laurelle Walsh
A rock ‘n’ roll guitarist cranks out a riff and shimmies his way across the stage. A boy flies a kite. An elephant playfully blows a bit of fluff into the air with its trunk. A young mother comforts her wriggling infant. A homeless man roots through the trash. A horse gallops across the stage, drinks from a pail and encounters a hovering dragonfly.
These simple, yet compelling vignettes are brought to life by award-winning puppeteer Joseph Cashore, who brings his marionettes to the Winthrop Barn on Saturday (Nov. 1) at 7 p.m.
Tickets are $15 for adults, $5 for kids under 18. Advance tickets may be purchased at Twisp Daily Business, Riverside Printing in Winthrop, at the Methow Arts office in Twisp and online at brownpapertickets.com.
Free tickets are available to clients of The Cove, Room One and the Methow Valley Senior Center at those locations. Free tickets are also offered to families who lost their homes during last summer’s wildfires. Contact Methow Arts before the show for details at www.methowarts.org or 997-4004.
Cashore’s show, “Life in Motion,” is a series of scenes taken from everyday life and set to the music of Beethoven, Vivaldi, Strauss and Copland. The marionettes, with wide, soulful eyes and expressive faces, cock their heads inquiringly, turn the pages of a book, lay flowers on a grave, and play violin and guitar. One even climbs up the puppeteer’s leg.
“Everybody understands everything that’s happening on the stage during the show because the themes of the pieces are pretty much universal,” Cashore said.
The artfully designed marionettes reveal emotions and moods through the angle of their heads and the shrug of their shoulders. Cashore’s skillful manipulation creates the illusion that the puppets are alive, causing audiences to root for them and sympathize with their struggles and victories.
Cashore himself, dressed in black, is visible to the audience as he manipulates dozens of strings attached to ergonomically engineered control bars he designed to fit his hands and create the movements he’s seeking from each marionette.
More strings are needed for more refined movements. Most of his puppets have 20 or more strings; however, the horse and the boy who flies a kite each have 36 strings, and are the most difficult to control, he said.
A Pew Fellow in performance art and the recipient of puppetry’s highest honor, the Citation of Excellence, Cashore has been designing and performing with his marionettes for over 30 years.
Cashore, who describes himself as shy, says he never set out to have a career as a puppeteer, but found himself performing in front of audiences with the marionettes he had made. He realized one day that if he did it well, people would watch the marionette, and not him, he said.
He created his first marionette at age 11 out of clothespins, wood, string and a tin can. Years later he attended art school, where he studied sculpture, painting and anatomy, among other subjects, but he didn’t make his second marionette until he was out of college.
While pursuing a career in oil painting, Cashore continued tinkering with marionette design and construction in his shop, gradually devising new mechanisms that gave him subtle control over the marionettes’ bodies and greater depth of expression.
Each of his marionettes takes about six months to make. Cashore says he has made around 100 marionettes over his career, but performs with about 20 now. He models the heads, hands and feet in clay and makes the final forms out of papier-mâché or neoprene. The bodies are made of wood, wire or different types of foam. Wrists, elbows, knees and other joints are cannily articulated.
Cashore has been performing full-time since 1990, entertaining audiences throughout North America, Europe and Asia.
Cashore and his marionettes are visiting schools in the Omak, Okanogan, Brewster, Pateros and the Methow Valley this week.
Saturday’s show will open with a performance by Methow Valley Elementary School first graders, who will give a show with animal puppets that they made through a Methow Arts Alliance artist-in-residence program.