Puppet slam brings edgy acts to southern Vt.
A sample of the work coming to the Creemee Dreemee Puppetry Slam: “GORLAX the Terrible,” by John Regan.

Puppet slam brings edgy acts to southern Vt.

Creemee Dreemee explores the possibilities of puppetry as an art form for adults

BRATTLEBORO — Puppetry lovers who lean toward R-rated entertainment can catch the Vermont debut of Creemee Dreemee Puppet Slam.

“Puppet slam” may call to mind “poetry slam,” but it's different: having grown in popularity over the last few decades, it's an event that gives puppeteers a chance to stretch and experiment with form, content, materials, intent - and do so for mature audiences only.

Described as pushing the boundaries of adult puppetry, Creemee Dreemee's 11 slam acts will range from shadow puppets to humanettes, from string puppets and tabletop puppets to object theater, which uses everyday found objects as de facto puppets.

Each piece features the talents of local artists and traveling puppeteers, some performing with live music, all to be unique: funny, cool, quirky, dark, even profound.

Co-curators of the event are Sarah Nolen of Puppet Motion in Brookline, Mass.; Sarah Frechette of South Hero, and Jason Thibodeaux from Portland, Ore. Frechette and Thibodeaux collaborate under the name “Night Shade.”

The event is presented alongside (“in cahoots with,” Frechette says) the 2022 return of the area's renowned Puppets in the Green Mountains Festival, organized by Putney-based Sandglass Theater.

Describing herself as “a Vermonter through and through,” Frechette says the show's concept “hit me in the middle of the night.”

“We Vermonters love our creemee dreemees,” she continues, so why not a performance event that appeals like a rich dessert?

That, she says, would be “a puppet slam: a night of short form puppet theater for adults - sweet and naughty.”

Frechette's passion for puppetry is synonymous with her work - performing, touring, building, costuming. With a background in live-action puppetry and stop-motion animation, she's created for television and film, as well as for the stage.

Founder and artistic director of PuppetKabob, which has toured nationally in schools, libraries, theaters, museums, and festivals, she's a recipient of the prestigious UNIMA-USA citation of excellence, from the North American center of Union Internationale de la Marionnette, an organization devoted to the worldwide advancement of puppetry.

Noting that Bread and Puppet Theater, based in the Northeast Kingdom town of Glover, was one of her earliest influences, Frechette studied marionettes in Germany with legendary master puppeteer Albrecht Roser and has performed with marionettes across the U.S., Canada, Germany, Austria, France. She holds a degree in puppetry from University of Connecticut.

Coproducer Nolen was first introduced to Vermont through the Sandglass Festival, to which she'd travel again and again from Austin, Texas, her hometown.

Also a UConn graduate with a master of fine arts degree, Nolen now hails from Brookline, Mass., where she's resident artist at Puppet Showplace Theater working with 8 to 12 year olds.

A filmmaker, too, she's garnered wide recognition; she's performed with the Boston Pops Orchestra and the off-Broadway immersive theater production of Pip's Island. She has toured internationally as part of the ensemble for Red Ball Theater's Reverse Cascade.

Nolen has performed in puppet slams across the country; three of her pieces were selected for the National Puppet Slams of 2013, 2014, and 2015.

Through her company, Puppet Motion, Nolen directs and produces puppets and multimedia work while consulting on emotional development curricula for Insights Intervention, LLC, a company that produces “evidence-based intervention designed to support children's social-emotional development and academic learning,” according to its website.

Of the upcoming Brattleboro event, Nolen says, “I think it gives folks a little avenue to experiment outside their bodies - a way to entertain with puppetry.“

“The slam gives a puppeteer a chance to express without limitations - to redefine adult definitions of what puppetry is,” she continues.

Frechette adds that they “keep pushing the boundaries - exploring all possibilities.” The event, Nolen agrees, allows an artist to pull in all different forms of puppetry and even to traverse from one form to the next.

A lineup with local talent

The evening's lineup includes pre-show entertainment by New Hampshire–based crankie puppeteer Storm Welch.

One of the featured acts, from Brattleboro, will be Night Bear Puppets (Aaron Lathrop and Phoenix Leigh), “who have performed at slams all over the country, and now they've settled down in Brattleboro and are thrilled to call it home,” says Frechette.

For the Creemee Dreemee, Lathrop and Leigh will present their “History of Puppets.”

Brattleboro's Aubrey Clowndinst will slam, too: a clown, puppeteer, and performance artist, Clowndinst has performed in New York City - anywhere from off-Broadway to the Coney Island sideshow - and regionally around the U.S. and Europe.

Other main event acts include:

• Cripps Creations and John Regan, of Massachusetts;

• Teresa Moler Arts, from Boston;

• WitchTech Rituals from Greensboro;

• Heidi Tungseth from Pittsburgh via Los Angeles;

• Night Shade Dynasty of Portland, Ore.

Rounding out the evening will be guest puppeteers from Tel Aviv.

Hooker-Dunham Theater & Gallery, a former shoe warehouse transformed into a theater and gallery, is one of Brattleboro area's diverse centers for arts, culture, and public gatherings. The theater requires proof of vaccination or proof of negative test for all performers and audience. For information, visit hookerdunham.org.

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