Chasing the chill away

Chasing the chill away

Winter Sunshine series at Sandglass returns with 'The Three Little Pigs'

PUTNEY — Sick of the cold, snow, and ice? Sandglass Theater in Putney says it has a remedy for the wintertime blahs.

Sandglass has resumed its Winter Sunshine series to provide - in the words of Shoshana Bass - “a lively respite from the cold, a creative interlude between snow shoveling and wood schlepping, and the shine of laughter through the darkness of our Vermont winter months.”

Kicking off the eighth season of the series is “Queens is New York City” storyteller and puppeteer Chad Williams of the Queens-based WonderSpark Puppets. He presents a humorous retelling of “The Three Little Pigs” on Saturday, Jan. 31, at 1 and 3 p.m.

His highly interactive performance features tabletop puppets that actively engage each audience member to become a part of the show. The show runs roughly 40 minutes and is appropriate for all ages.

Tickets for all Winter Sunshine Shows are $9. Bass says Sandglass wants to keep ticket prices low for this family series and offer a range of live puppetry and theater performances at affordable prices.

Along with “The Three Little Pigs,” this season's Winter Sunshine also present Ines Zeller Bass' “Isidor's Cheek” on Feb. 28, Crabgrass Puppet Theatre's “African Adventure Tales” on March 28, and Kevin O'Keefe's Circus Minimus on April 11. All shows have performances at 1 and 3 p.m.

WonderSpark's “The Three Little Pigs” is a retelling of the classic tale using hilarious puppet pigs and a silly wolf.

According to Williams, “Our emphasis in the show is 'be prepared.'” As perhaps you've heard, this is the tale of those pigs who build their houses out of hay, wood, and bricks. Which home will withstand the blows of the Big, Bad, Wolf? Watch and see.

Featuring beautiful sets built by the Manhattan-based Puppet Kitchen, “The Three Little Pigs” lets the audience see not only how the pigs build each house right in front of their eyes, but they also will discover if they can withstand the wolf's boast, “I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your house down.”

“With 'The Three Little Pigs,' I tell the traditional story that everyone knows [but] with tabletop puppets,” Williams explains. “Tabletop puppets are just what the words say, puppets performed on a tabletop. The puppeteer/storyteller is in full view of the audience,” he says.

Williams adds it is his role “to direct the audience's eye away from me to the puppets and sort of make [myself] disappear. This is particularly easy with young kids. Although we say that these shows are for everyone, they are specifically designed by WonderSpark for a young audience.”

WonderSpark Puppets is the husband and wife team of Chad Williams and Lindsey “Z” Briggs. The couple has been entertaining audiences since 2009 with classic fairy tales and original puppet theater stories.

Although they regularly perform at New York City institutions such as Central Park, the New York Public Library, and the Cloisters, they say they're proud to be a part of Sandglass Theater's extended puppet family and look forward to performing at their annual fundraisers.

Briggs, a graduate of the Sandglass Summer Puppet Arts Training Intensive, stage-managed Sandglass' show “Between Sand and Stars” for two international tours.

Briggs and Williams say they make a point of regularly returning to Putney.

“Besides putting on our show, we are anticipating hanging out with our friends,” Williams says. “We return to Vermont at least once a year for Sandglass shows and its fundraisers. My wife was not only a graduate of the Sunglass Institute, but through Sandglass, we did our first show together.

“In 2009, she and I performed at Sandglass' 'Puppets in Paradise' fundraiser. That show was a success, and the people at Sandglass encouraged me to continue working with puppets. I had a background in theater and television and felt I needed a change. During the long ride back to New York, we discussed the possibility of forming our own theater company, and so WonderSpark was born.”

WonderSpark gives about 120 shows a year, and Vermont is the farthest Williams has traveled to perform.

“I usually take the subway to where I go to put on a show,” he says. “Everything has to fit into a suitcase.”

Briggs and Williams work together to create their shows.

“While I write the scripts, my wife designs the puppets and works with Puppet Kitchen to see through the realization of her vision,” Williams explains.

In the beginning, the couple undertook all their shows together. After the birth of their child, WonderSpark developed its one-person shows, so one or the other could stay at home to take care of the baby.

“We still sometimes work weekends together,” Williams notes, “but logistically we find that we mostly need to stick to one caregiver away from home at a time.”

WonderSpark has four children's tales in its one-person puppet repertoire: “The Three Little Pigs,” “Goldilocks,” “Aesop's Fables,” and “The Little Red Hen.”

“We have performed 'The Three Little Pigs' a lot in New York City the last two years, so the show is in a very nice place now,” Williams says. “Running a little over a half an hour, this is a good amount of time to hold our audience's attention.”

Williams and Briggs say they think quite a bit about the needs of WonderSpark's specific audiences. In fact, they have begun to feel that their shows may be too “adult” for some of their viewers.

“We are now revamping our presentation of 'Little Red Hen' for audiences aged from zero to 3 years old,” says Williams. “With lots of hands-on action to keep things lively, we want to make a theatrical experience that can be accessible for that age group too.”

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