The 19th Annual Puppetry Jam Performing Arts Festival for Children combines all the necessary ingredients for some proper fun on April 14-15 at the Ag Museum—a fairy tale, puppets, rhythm, dance, storytellers, a clown, and the chance to make your own puppet.
According to Puppet Arts Theatre's Special Projects Director Peter Zapletal, their production of "The Bremen Town Musicians," based on the Grimm Brothers fairy tale, is really about accomplishing something through working together as a team. Most people are familiar with the story of the donkey, the hound, the cat and the rooster who realize it's just about past time for a change in their lives. Through the course of events, the four decided to run away to Bremen and become town musicians. On their way, they need shelter for the night and manage to scare their way into it. Much humor accompanies their spontaneous entrance into a house in the woods where they surprise a couple of robbers.
Zapletal explained to me that their script was adapted from the fairy tale by writer John Webb, that the puppets themselves were designed by Floyd Shaman, a Mississippi sculptor who lives in Cleveland, and that the musical track was written and performed by local favorite Sherman Lee Dillon. The sets and costumes were designed and made by Zapletal's wife Jarmila, herself a professional puppet maker and designer.
Operating the puppet Fonkey Donkey and the two robbers is Jacksonian Zapletal himself. "Sometimes I talk to myself three times, back to back to back, in three different voices," he laughingly related, going on to say that the puppeteers also act as storytellers throughout the 40-minute production. Brun Hound Dog and Red Comb (the rooster) are operated by Keri Horn of Brandon and Ruth Broome-Hackman, from Madison, operates the cat, Claude von Kitten. All told, these three will perform "The Bremen Town Musicians" three times Friday and three times Saturday during the Jam's hours—9 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. Zapletal told me that audience reaction to the play is pretty wonderful. "The kids get to sing along on our traveling song and four get a chance to be the orchestra."
When not watching puppets, kids may take part in other activities, all connected to the central theme of music—make a simple puppet to take home under the guidance of Hilda Fay Hill in the Puppetry Factory; listen to stories from Rosia Crisler, Ben Woods and Doris Jones; join in the simple dances taught by Center Stage Kids, a local dance group that performs around the state; enjoy magic tricks and clown fun from Inky the Clown; and engage in rhythmical exercise to the drumming of Dr. Rhythm.
For the unheard of bargain price of $6 for adults, $4 for children in kindergarten and younger, and $4.50 for children in first grade and up, entire families can experience these delights of childhood. Parents, be aware that the Puppet Arts Theatre performance works best for children who are three, almost four, years old and up.
Depending upon the age of your children, there are a couple of other live productions in town that have family appeal. The Pearl Actor's Playhouse presents "The Wizard of Oz" April 15-17, and 22-24, 7:30 p.m., 2 p.m. Sundays, 121 Paul Truitt Lane, Pearl. 601-664-0930. The Manship House Museum presents "A Saturday with Shakespeare" April 16 from 1-2 p.m. The Mississippi College Players bring scenes from "Romeo and Juliet" and other works. 420 Fortification St., 601-961-4724.