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Puppet Playhouse series resurrects dormant genes

Inanimate objects should never move, not all on their own. When they do, in stories and movies, our reaction ranges from visceral fear to astonished delight. Puppets fall somewhere along that spectrum.

The universal appeal of puppets has been chronicled for thousands of years, with puppetry making its magically odd mark in almost every culture, all across the globe.

"I think puppetry is an incredible art form," remarks Liz Treacy, arts education director and program manager for the Sonoma Community Center, which earlier this year launched the monthly Puppet Playhouse series. "There is a special kind of suspension of disbelief that's involved when watching a puppet show. It's really wonderful. Though our series is definitely targeted at families, we do have a lot of adults who've been coming regularly—older people who always enjoyed puppets when they were younger and are now letting themselves enjoy puppets all over again."

For kids, of course, the suspension of disbelief Treacy talks about is part of everyday play life. In adults, it usually takes a moment or two to reenter such a youthful mindset—but once engaged, that mindset has a way of taking over. Maybe we all have a puppet-loving gene that goes dormant when not regularly exposed to foam-rubber creatures and papier-mâché figures dangling from strings. Since launching Puppet Playhouse in January, Treacy has been happy to see the audience grow every month.

"The puppet shows," she says, "have been very well attended. The series is definitely filling a need."

The series was developed in partnership with Sonoma's own Images in Motion, a production company specializing in puppetry and video projects; in addition to other high-profile projects, Images in Motion created the marionettes used in the film Being John Malkovich. Three of the five shows in the Puppet Playhouse series were developed by Images in Motion, including the next presentation on March, the dragon-themed hand-puppet fantasy What in the World.

Upcoming shows include the Fratello Marionettes, an innovative troupe based in Danville, performing Carnival of the Animals, three classic fairy tales set to the music of Saint-Saëns. The series ends with another Images in Motion production, Big Bad Bruce, based on the classic children's book by Bill Peet.

"The way these artists work, the craft and skill they bring to their productions, it's always amazing," says Treacy. "Every one of these shows is just so magical."

Puppet Playhouse takes place the first Sunday of each month through May 6 at the Sonoma Community Center. 276 E. Napa St., Sonoma. All shows 1:30pm. $10. 707.938.4626.

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