By Hannah Courtney, Contributing Writer
While it may be a lesser known area of the Arts, the Puppeteers of America report 2,000 members and among those members is someone right in West Liberty’s backyard: Professor Dr. Richard Brown.
Brown is a music and music education teacher at WLU, but he’s found a passion for another performing art as well. “My wife and I have always been sort of interested in puppets. When I was teaching public schools in the 70′s as a fundraiser one time, my class made little chickens that walked around. (They were) little, simple puppets. We sold them as fundraising and realized there we liked it.
“And then about five years ago, we became really interested in puppetry and thinking that it might be something that we want to spend more time with,” Brown said.
Since then, Brown has established himself quite well in the field of puppetry. He’s attended two national puppet festivals in Atlanta, Ga., two regional puppet festivals, and a two-day workshop of puppets in education. In addition to Puppeteers of America, he also belongs to the Columbus puppetry guild.
He doesn’t just stop at actively studying puppetry either, he’s also done some of his own. According to Brown, he’s performed two Christmas shows for Delta Kappa Gamma, which is a professional organization for teachers and retired teachers.
The first show was ‘Santa on the Run’, in which Santa disguises himself as the oldest elf and the elves go on a search for him. The second was ‘Celebrations’, where a group of forrest animals decide what celebrations are and come up with their own.
He’s also done a performance for his church based on the book ‘Are you my Mother?’, which tells the story of a bird that hatches and doesn’t know who her mother is. Last fall, during the intermission of WLU’s “A Company of Wayward Saints” Brown performed as well as at the Renaissance fair on campus. He did a Punch and Judy show which is a popular puppet show from the Medieval and Renaissance era.
During Christmas of 2011, he designed an eight foot puppet with eyes that lit up and arms that moved to represent the Ghost of Christmas Future for the West Liberty Hilltopper’s performance of “A Christmas Carol.”
Brown admits to the stigma attached to puppeteering in America. “There is (a stigma) in the United States. Not so much in Europe. In Europe it’s still viewed as an art form. A lot of people think of it as just for children. A lot of people think the only thing to puppeteering is Jeff Dunham.”
However, Brown sees a lot of value in puppeteering. “It’s another avenue of expression in the arts, but rather than performing with music I’m performing with motion and voices and things. And then it’s a real rush to have, especially with children, to have the children respond to what you’re doing.
“It’s just fun. I’m an old man and I get to be a kid. I’m never gonna grow up anyway. When you do, you quit living. So it’s just another way of being expressive and another way of expressing yourself. It’s fun.”
To anyone interested in puppetry, Brown advises, “Go see puppet shows. Go see live puppet shows. Get a real simple puppet. We started off with a little terry cloth hand puppet. But the big thing is just go and talk with people. Go to a festival, a workshop, join a local guild. There’s a group in Indianapolis, Indiana; they’re called PITS (Puppeteers In Training). And there’s two professional puppeteers that have a youth group. Get involved in those things.”
In the future, Brown says he plans to keep learning. Somewhere down the line, he hopes to expand into a puppetry business and start a professional puppetry company. He also said that working with the West Liberty Hilltoppers again in the future would be great.