The Puppet Co. of Glen Echo Park is celebrating its 35th anniversary as only it can — by putting on display some of their more remarkable cast members through Aug. 25 at the Park View Gallery.
Some 30 puppets, ranging from dragons to lovely maidens to wizened sorcerers, are suspended from the ceiling or pose elegantly in the sun-filled gallery. Sculpted from neoprene rubber, wood, papier-mâché and Styrofoam, the elaborately costumed players appear ready to take a bow.
Selecting which of their carefully preserved 300 puppets to feature in the exhibit proved challenging, said Allan Stevens, the company’s CEO.
“We decided to feature the characters that have not been seen in a while,” he said. “They’re all handsome, but my personal favorite is the Cowardly Lion from ‘The Wizard of Oz’ show. The fur used in the mane and face was specially woven.”
Stevens and fellow master puppeteers Christopher and Mayfield Piper not only design and construct the puppets that appear in eight or more productions each year, but also write the scripts and compose most of the music.
Since 1983, the company has called Glen Echo Park home. As their shows grew in popularity, operations moved from a yurt studio into the Spanish Ballroom. In the early 2000s, they began performing in the specially-built Puppet Co. Playhouse, one of only two theaters in the United States that were designed to suit the needs of puppeteers — and their young audiences.
With folk and fairy tales providing the story lines, the shows are geared to toddlers through elementary school-aged children. Audiences sit on the floor and benches, and for many, the shows are a first taste of live theater.
While the puppets may look traditional, the stage management is cutting-edge. “Sound, lights and special effects are all run from a computer that we control with a pedal on the stage,” Stevens said. “We don’t have a technician; the computer is the technician.”
With more than12,000 performances and an estimated audience of two million to date, the company has plenty to celebrate, Stevens said.
As for the puppets, they look simply mahvelous, darling.
“Our puppets are carefully stored and maintained and will be used for many years to come. ‘The Nutcracker’ puppets, for example, have been used in 1,500 performances, but they look as good as ever,” he said.
“The Puppet Co.: 35 Years of Enchantment” exhibit is open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., at the Park View Gallery in Glen Echo Park, 7300 MacArthur Blvd. Call 301-634-5380 or visit www.thepuppetco.org.