By Amy Childress
Assistant Editor, The Selective Echo
The Utah Arts Festival’s Art Yard staff always seeks out new ways to keep the programming fresh for the festival’s youngest visitors and a performing stage for presenting more than two dozen youth and youth-oriented acts has been added this year.
Stage manager Matt Ostasiewski says two unique features of the stage are it “gives children the opportunity to perform and it gives younger audiences a specific presentation.” Among the acts being hosted are Josh Musselman, a teen pianist; University of Utah theater camp, Zalkind Jam Camp, teen dancers from Wasatch Arts Center, and others.
Shane Duel and Chris Behrens from Summerhays Music Center came up with the concept of the stage several years ago and worked with the Utah Arts Festival staff to establish programming for the inaugural run. Behren said one of the coolest things about the stage is many are performing for the first time in front of an audience. The low-key environment is ideal for any newcomers who might be taken aback by a little stage fright. Ostasiewski says each show lasts about half an hour.
The stage also features local acts including storytellers and an award-winning magician. Richard Hatch, a magician from Logan (video below), will perform Sunday at 5 p.m. Hatch, a deceptionist, will begin with something the whole audience can participate in and then give children the chance to volunteer and become part of the show. He will perform Robert Houdin’s feat of materializing large silver coins from the ambient atmosphere, as assisted by a member of the audience.
Hatch also will replicate Hungarian Max Malini’s feat of making a real egg invisible and visible – again with the help of two audience members, which should remind Harry Potter fans of Harry’s ‘cloak of invisibility.’
Likewise, in the tale of ‘Taro-san the Fisherman and the Weeping Willow Tree,’ the childhood dreams of a young boy in Japan are magically illustrated with the ancient but seldom seen ‘tamasudare’ bamboo mat. These are just a few examples from Hatch’s exciting and impressive show, which also will include magical feats from India, China, Egypt and the United States.
The ever-popular Summerhays Music Center Instrument Petting Zoo is back, where children can play and handle string, woodwind and brass instruments. At the booth, they have instrument sizes to accommodate virtually every child or adult, including myself who took a turn at the cello, an instrument that I always have wanted to play.
Other hands-on activities turn up in the numerous craft booths located throughout the Art Yard, where kids can construct owl masks and puppets at the Tracy Aviary booth, make kid-friendly stained glass with the Girl Scouts of Utah, or ‘Speed’-inspired racing goggles with the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, or thaumatropes – which propel optical illusions into motion – with the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art.
Fear No Film for Kids is screening short films from around the world and the United States for ages 3 and up, and for ages 8 and up daily at the Art Yard.
And for those small bibliophiles interested in learning the art of writing some of their favorite genres, the SLCC community writing center is hosting kids’ mini-workshops. These whimsical workshops focus on Dada and Rock Poetry, one-act plays, and zombie survival guides. The SLCC writing also will host a youth reading today at 7 p.m.
LOREN KAHN PUPPET OBJECT THEATRE
Also performing in the Art Yard is the Loren Kahn Puppet Object Theatre from New Mexico. The group comprises Isabelle Kessler, creative theatre director, and puppeteer Loren Kahn. The duo strive in ‘using object theatre as a bridge between theatre, visual art and puppetry.’ Loren Kahn was gracious in answering some questions for Selective Echo.
Amy Childress: When did you and Isabelle Kessler meet, and how did you guys start working together?
Loren: Isabelle and I both met while performing at puppet and object theater festivals in Bochum and Braunschweig, Germany.
AC: What made you decide to leave anthropology and enter the world of puppetry?
L: I was trying to study theater from an anthropological point of view and, at the same time, I began performing. There seemed to be a chasm between studying something and doing it, and I was more challenged by the ‘doing-it’ part, so I went that way.
L: I found a puppet in a second-hand store and it rang a bell for me. I began street performing because that was how I learned to do puppetry. There was no school in the U.S. at that time, which taught puppetry, so I learned by doing. The street is a good teacher because the audience can just walk away if they are not interested in what is happening.
AC: Have you always been fascinated by puppets?
L: Not particularly. It came later in life, when the combination of story and object caught my attention. Also I was very shy and being hidden by a puppet stage was a very safe, welcoming, place.
AC: What is object theater?
L: Object theatre is a movement, which began in Europe in the 80s. It is a bridge between manipulation and different art forms. It is about the association of ideas, and uses objects as metaphors, rather than as props.
AC: What drew you to object theater?
L: When I attended European puppet festivals, I saw object theater. It was a new form – for me –intriguing and thoughtful and with a very intentional aesthetic. I wanted to understand it better.
AC: On Thursday you performed a Mexican adaptation of The Princess and the Frog, how do you decide what stories you would like to perform?
L: Yesterday I performed ‘Floppo,’ which is a NEW Mexican adaptation of The Princess and the Frog. I created and developed the show in New Mexico, where we are based. The audience influences the show as it grows.
AC: Will you be doing the same performance today (Saturday) and Sunday?
L: Yes, and on Sunday two shows: Floppo, once, and another show, ‘Natalia.’ Natalia is an old storyteller of tales, riddles and dreams – kind of irreverent, with a dry sense of humor.
AC: What do you like most about being a street puppeteer?
L: I rarely perform on the street these days. The street can be loud and distracting, and I have grown to appreciate the opportunity for the audience to be in a theater setting, able to focus and be with one another.
AC: Have you performed at the Utah Arts Festival, or any other events in Utah before?
L: I toured Utah quite a bit in the 80s and early 90s, thanks to the Utah Arts Council. I traveled widely through the state to many small towns and sometimes stayed in people’s homes, when there was no motel in town. It gave me a sense, I think, of the life and culture of the state, at least a couple of decades ago.
For more information about all kids’ activities at the festival, see here.
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