Suspended imagination: Event shows puppets not just for kids

April 24, 2006

ASHEVILLE — Don’t spend too much time looking for fleas in Ira Sloan’s flea circus. You may not find them. But you might rediscover your imagination.

That’s what led Sloan, a retired psychiatrist who lives in Fairview, to puppetry. Advertisement

Most adults consider puppetry for children. People “seem to believe that imagination ends with childhood,” Sloan says.

But the eighth annual National Day of Puppetry, to be held Saturday at the Folk Art Center, will offer plenty to tease the mind, including Sloan’s international flea circus.

The event includes performances about teddy bears, Hansel and Gretel and a pickle family by puppeteers from North Carolina and South Carolina. Pamella O’Connor of Asheville will present a tale about a Russian Cinderella. The puppetry day is sponsored by the Asheville Puppetry Alliance, the Puppetry Guild of the Carolinas and the Southern Highland Craft Guild in Asheville.

Workshops will be offered on building puppets and use of marionettes and puppets with mouths that move.

Puppetry has drawn people since ancient times, when nomadic cultures made shadow puppets illuminated by firelight, and in other cultures puppets were used to protect tombs and in religious rituals, says Lisa Sturz, executive director of the Asheville Puppetry Alliance and coordinator of the puppetry day locally.

“To me, puppets are like the poetry of the theater, like what poetry is to prose. They’re more about images and symbols,” she says, “sort of like a shortcut to the essence.”

Sloan’s shortcut to fun has been through puppetry since he retired about six years ago. That sets him apart from many grown-ups.

“Adults are very much wedded to the image of being reality-based,” Sloan says.

They may need a reality check at the puppetry event.

Sloan won’t say how much reality is in his flea circus, which features the insects walking a tightrope, diving into a pool of water and performing other feats.

“The code of a flea circus performance is to leave that question open to the audience,” Sloan says.

On the Net: www.ashevillepuppetry.org

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