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By Shelby Rowe Moyer | Photography by Maureen Janson Heintz

THE PUPPET ‘LAURIEATES’ OF MADISON

Earlier this year, costume designer Laurie Everitt was driving back home after visiting a sick relative and started to think about how lonely it can feel at a hospital.

It was that little thread of connection and compassion that spurred her to reach out to a few Madison area actors and ask them a very serious yet very silly question: What kind of puppet character would you like to work with?

Thus, Puppet Laurieate was born, and an interesting cast of characters have made their debut.

There’s Periwinkle, a sassy and stylish unicorn. Hampton J. Patrick is a cheery — and vegan — hamburger. ZIB is a space dog explorer with tons of nerdy jokes. There’s Billy “The Shoe” Shuster, a whip- smart shoebill stork. Professor Gluteus Pooplesnoot is a certified Class W Underwizard. And Matilda! Well, Matilda LuPone is a fashion icon who’s happy to raise a glass and cast a judge-y pout.

Everitt had been wanting to do some kind of in-person mini show ever since she crafted puppets for the Madison- based production company Are We Delicious in October 2019. She just wasn’t quite sure how to make it happen.

The idea mulled around in Everitt’s mind and morphed from in-person shows at nursing homes or libraries to virtual shows for people who are immunocompromised. Then COVID-19 happened. It cemented the plan to move forward with personalized, virtual messages anyone can commission — a fun and unexpected way to tell someone, “Happy birthday,” for instance, or, “I’m sorry you’re sick.”

“Instead of concentrating solely on people in isolation for medical or age-related issues, we could reach out to the general public, because suddenly we all were in that boat,” Everitt says.

Actress and arts educator Erin McConnell is part of the troupe alongside her trusty cosmonaut dog, ZIB. ZIB’s character is loosely based on one of the dogs Russia sent into space in the early 1950s. Viewers can often find ZIB orbiting Earth, and he’s got a lot of interesting intel about space and astrophysics.

McConnell says she knew puppeteering would be difficult, but it’s so much harder than she thought.

“It’s challenging to make the puppet look alive,” she says. “I’ve had the added challenge of a puppet [with hands], so [it’s] figuring out how to operate his hands in a natural way. Then there’s the ergonomics of holding his face so he’s looking into the camera. If you lose the eyes, if you’re not looking at the audience, it’s totally disengaged. This thing has to be animate for the entire time for it to be believable, even when he’s not speaking.”

Building puppets has been a learning curve for Everitt as well. She’d made a few puppets before for theater productions but decided to take a workshop to learn the ins and outs, such as which fabrics work best.

Even though Everitt was the creator and conduit of this project, she sees herself more as a backstage player — offering a platform for her creative friends.

Since McConnell’s ZIB is very fact- and research-based, she’s thinking about creating long-form programming for kids that could be used in libraries or classrooms. Her hope is that the Puppet Laurieates spread doses of happiness to the people they reach, and that ZIB’s narrative sparks curiosity to learn more about the world around us.

“I think there’s a real magic and nostalgia in puppetry that we tend to forget as adults, and which kids haven’t lost the connection to yet,” says McConnell. “That’s a really special thing to harness for good.”

For more information, visit puppetlaurieate.com.

CATCH A SHOW

LunART’s Virtual Festival

Oct. 10 and 17

For the past two years, LunART Festival has been celebrating and spotlighting an array of local artists. This year, as the Black Lives Matter movement and racial inequality are pushed to the forefront of awareness, LunART is presenting “Human Family,” a virtual art show created by Black women. The multidisciplinary show will include original songs, poems, dance and more. Be sure to visit LunART online to find out how to get your hands on the print that artist and activist Amira Caire created specifically for this event. lunartfestival.org

“Beyond the Ingenue: Trailblazers”

Nov. 20

Music Theatre of Madison will release a virtual performance of “Beyond the Ingenue,” a compilation of original music performed by area singers and composers exploring a moment in the histories of influential women. The theater group organized a similar iteration of “Beyond the Ingenue” a couple years ago, with local artists performing songs that broke away from the typical “love-centered” narrative that permeates musical theater.

The production will showcase some women who are familiar icons, like Amelia Earhart. But several of the real-life subjects are largely unknown to the public, including publisher Lisa Ben, considered to be the first known lesbian publisher. mtmadison.com

Live from the Madison Opera

October–December

Though in-person performances have been suspended at least through the end of 2020, Madison Opera has pivoted to present fall performances digitally. The first streamed performance of its digital fall season was in September, featuring husband and wife performers Jeni Houser and David Blalock. On Oct. 24, Wisconsinite Kyle Ketelsen will “take the stage” for his first performance with the Madison Opera.

For tickets and information, visit Madison Opera online, and stay tuned for more performance announcements. madisonopera.org

ARTFUL EXHIBITIONS AT MADISON MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART

“The Destruction Project”

Oct. 17–Dec. 20, 2020

This multimedia, documentary-based video and audio installation unravels the “roles of destruction and its counterpoints of resilience in rural areas,” in three segments: entertainment, rejuvenation and irreversible. Jojin Van Winkle’s exhibition uses field recordings and interviews of women in rural areas and examines the “inherent beauty seen in loss.”

CAPITAL CITY THEATRE LAUNCHES TRIMESTER OF CURRICULA

For the first time, Capital City Theatre is hosting a full trimester of theater classes for kids and adults that range from dance to monologue techniques to stage management. The equity theater company has held classes before, but not on this scale, says Gail Becker, director of education and associate artistic director.

The classes were designed to “prepare enthusiasts for a higher level of performance and stagecraft,” Becker says. And also bridge the gap for middle, high school and college students who want to be more involved in theater, especially now with COVID-19 limiting school activities. The curriculum level is geared toward students who have some theater background already and most of the classes run one day a week for four to five weeks. For more information, visit capitalcitytheatre.org.

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