DETROIT: Puppets ?

23 Jan

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Detroit is a (highly underrated) mecca for entertainment. Between sports, live theater, the symphony, opera, art, concerts and special events  in the headlines, it is easy to overlook the smaller, independent things going on. Today we are taking you to the PuppetArt Theater on Grand River in downtown Detroit. This unassuming building has been quietly entertaining audiences of all ages since 1998. Founded by a group of puppeteers and artists trained in the former Soviet Union they bring their own unique magic to the stage.  We arrive early so we have time to take in the museum section of the building; we check in at the desk and are given our tickets, the curtained-entry opens, we surrender our tickets to a tall man with a smile, we have now entered the fascinating world of puppetry. There are many different kinds of puppets, most of us are familiar with hand, shadow and string varieties; here you will also see rod, floor and tabletop examples. Each puppet is an individual work of art; big or small, human or animal, musician, knight or gypsy, the detail and craftsmanship is amazing. Look closely, costumes tell us if the character is rich or poor, faces wear a variety of emotions in their expressions. Puppets have been used throughout the ages to tell stories, pass on traditions and share customs. PuppetART shows are based on folktales, legends and fairy-tales. Today we are seeing their original production based on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen.

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We enter the 70-person theater and take two seats in the last row, the room is simple and unadorned, the long black curtain awaiting  2:00 to open. A group of young girls, Brownies, arrive with parents and siblings in tow, all excited for the show to begin. We are not the only grown-ups here without children. The room settles down, the lights go out and the show begins. The backdrop is that of a tiny winter village, snow glistens as it falls to the stage, a man (as in human) dressed in a hat and cape paces the floor, I am surprised to see a human character. All voices and music are recorded, so what we hear is what the man is thinking; he introduces us to the story, the tale unfolds. In The Snow Queen, Gerda’s best friend Kai is abducted by the Snow Queen, Gerda embarks on a cold, dangerous journey to rescue her friend. From colorful backdrops to gorgeous costumes, the beauty and artistry of the production is breath-taking. The sets are incredible, a person is a puppet in the form of a tree, the tree shifts and changes to become Gerda’s home, then Gerda and Kai arrive as hand puppets in the tree, it sounds complicated, but it’s simple and lovely. We are introduced to all forms of puppetry; a crow that walks across the stage then flies, people dressed as castles with sweeping staircases, Gerda, as a floor puppet the size of a young girl, and little teeny hand puppets that are flowers in a garden that dance and sing.Oh, and the Snow Queen herself, larger-than-life she looks like an ice princess as she glides across the floor. The tale is mesmerizing, enchanting. After the performance the audience is invited into the studio to create a puppet of their own. 

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Back outside we feed the parking meter for another two hours, it is a balmy day for January, barely under 60 degrees! We walk over to Broadway, we are having lunch at The Detroit Beer Co. Opened in 2003 they were one of the first restaurants to take a chance on Detroit’s revival, by the amount of people seated at tables, I’d say it worked out well. The space is cool, long and narrow it encompasses the first two floors of the historic Hartz Building. The brew house was custom fabricated to fit the building, with four fermentation tanks and five serving tanks they offer up to eight house beers daily. Tall windows make up the front of the space, local art hangs on the walls. We choose a high-top table near the front window. The hostess and servers are friendly and efficient, we get the rundown of the day’s specials. We place our order for a Door County Harvest Salad, the Dagwood Burger, and the People Mover Porter. Salad and burger arrived simultaneously, love that. Lots of fresh greens, fruit, cheese and nuts on the salad; the cherry maple vinaigrette is a great compliment to the mix and is delicious. The burger was prepared perfectly; BBQ sauce, Canadian bacon, cheddar cheese and onion rings on top, so good! The waffle fries were crispy and tasty too. I love a good Porter and was not disappointed in my selection. As we ate we had a good view of folks walking up and down Broadway to or from an event; the Monster Truck Show was at Ford Field, so I suspect that was cause for much of the traffic. It’s good to see the city vibrant and alive, and this is just the beginning.

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