Puppets take center stage at ArtsX

Kaze No Daichi Taiko performing in 2015. The ensemble will again perform at ArtsX.

By DAVID DUPONT

BG Independent News

“Make.Believe” is fitting as a theme for ArtsX.

The 13th ArtsX will be presented Saturday, Dec. 2, from 5 to 9 p.m. in the Wolfe Center for the Arts and the Fine Arts Center on the Bowling Green State University campus.

That summarizes how the free, one-night-only festival of the arts has evolved since 2005 when started as a way to bring together all the art club sales.

Dennis Wojkiewicz, who spearheaded that inaugural event, remembers some music, particularly a bluegrass band. The event was held in conjunction with the opening of the faculty art show (as it still is), and everything happened on one floor of the Fine Art Center.

Now the ArtsX includes contributions from all the arts on campus – fine art, music, dance, theater, film, creative writing as well as the library. Hundreds from campus and the community attend.

Making it what it is has taken faith, maybe blind faith.

“It’s crazy,” Wojkiewicz said. “We were just looking for a way to create an event that would benefit the clubs and that would get people into the Fine Art Center and take a look was what was going on.”

Mel Hatch Douglas and friend of MadCap Puppet Productions. (Photo provided)

Even then he had an idea for something larger, modeled on a similar event at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. ArtsX has sprawled out especially when the Wolfe Center opened. The Wolfe with its grand staircase and large lobby, two theaters, multiple studio, and assorted nooks and crannies seems created to host ArtsX.

For the past several years, the organizers have brought in an outside group to help set the theme and supplement the ample home-grown talent. In 2015 the focus was on circus arts, and last year it was on aerialists.

This year MadCap Productions Puppet Theatre will present Igor Stravinsky’s ballet “The Firebird” using actors and shadow puppets at 5:30 and 7 p.m. in the Donnell Theatre in the Wolfe Center.

Wojkiewicz said that the idea is to bring someone with connections to BGSU back to perform as well as to present some kind of workshop.

Mel Hatch Douglas, MadCap’s associate artistic director, is a 1998 BGSU graduate. She and BGSU Professor Bradford Clark, an internationally known scholar of puppetry and the curator of the Jim Henson Museum, will talk about the art of puppetry during a panel discussion, “Puppetry: Telling the Story of Art and Life,” Friday, Dec. 1, from 4-5:30 p.m.  in the Wolfe Center’s Eva Marie Saint Theatre. The panel will be moderated by Kelly Mangan, of the Department of Theatre and Film. Mangan arranged for MadCap’s visit.

Though Douglas studied theater at BGSU, that’s not where she started working with puppets. She was an actor with an interest in musical theater. She took six extra years to get her degree because she kept leaving to work in with touring companies.

Then in 2000 as a result of a “cattle call” audition, she was offered a job at MadCap. She was initially interested in working in children’s theater. That also allowed for a more settled life, the allure of the peripatetic life having worn off.

The troupe’s approach then and now is to hire actors and train them in puppetry. Douglas was mentored by the troupe’s founder Jerry Handorf. “He was a lit-on-fire kind of guy that made me very passionate about what we do,” she said.

The troupe does shows for adults, such as “The Firebird,” as well as for children. As part of its visit, MadCap will present a program for kids in the atrium of the Wood County District Public Library Saturday at 2 p.m.

“Firebird” was created for a performance with an orchestra in Lincoln, Nebraska. At BGSU the troupe will use a recording. Douglas said the show with brilliant plastic based paints is like watching a “puppet movie.”

Also in keeping with the puppet theme, puppets created for previous BGSU productions will be on display in the Wolfe lobby and Clark will present a puppet carving demonstration. Visitors will have a chance to create their own shadow puppets and see them in action in the scene shop turned theater. There will also be puppet making for children in the art education.

Shopping for ceramics

From the opening sounds of the Kaze No Daichi Taiko that will greet visitors in the Wolfe Center at 5 through lights out at 9, Arts X offers a dizzying range of demonstrations, displays, and performance. There are about 40 musical performances plus musical theater and swing dancing, just about every room, hall, and corner of the Wolfe and Fine Arts centers.

Wojkiewicz said ArtsX gets support and participation in from creative folks across campus, and that’s what has allowed it to grow. The first year, he remembered the small group of organizers had to scour the city looking for donations. Now all the academic units involved help fund it.

The art sales, he said, are still an important component. They offer visitors a chance to purchase hand crafted items at bargain prices. Those sales help to pay for visiting artists and educational trips. “You really are supporting art in a tangible way.”

Wojkiewicz said: “I’d like to see the event have a larger footprint and see more people come from Toledo, Findlay, around Northwest Ohio,  and becomes more a destination event.”

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