Patrick Wadden and Marlena Marallo, co-founders of the Arm of the Sea puppet theater troupe, received Mohonk Consultations’ Distinguished Environmental Award during a special ceremony last weekend.
“Each piece that they have developed tells us stories about the natural world — and our relationship to it — in ways that are often mysterious, very often funny, clever and always eye-opening,” said Cara Lee, the director of the Nature Conservancy’s Shawangunk Ridge Program.
Lee, who introduced the award winners, noted that Arm of the Sea was chosen for their unique ability to present Hudson River ecological issues in a bold and engaging way.
Since the early 1980s, Arm of the Sea has put on at least 36 original shows. They perform between 50 and 100 times each year. Their shows typically have an environmental theme. Giant puppets and colorful costumes simplify and bring home complicated issues — such as global warming, energy use and man’s role in nature.
“You’ve delighted thousands of people — of all backgrounds and ages. You have caused people to think and to better understand and care about the world around them. You have made a unique contribution to the cultural richness of the Hudson Valley,” Lee said.
For his part, Wadden downplayed his own role in Arm of the Sea, praising the work of the puppeteers, actors and the one-man-band/narrator Dean Jones. The people who make the group shine are those puppeteers and performers, he said.
“It’s a group effort,” Wadden added.
And to all of the people in Arm of the Sea, the award is a shared win.
“One of the interesting things is that the award recognizes the power of the arts to be engaged in the critical issues of the day — and the timeless issues of the day,” he said.
In previous years, Mohonk Consultations has given their environmental awards to history professors, activists, scientists, naturalists and politicians.
Most recently, Paul C. Huth — the Mohonk Preserve’s Daniel Smiley Research Center director emeritus, won for his role in educating the public and helping to communicate the Preserve’s scientific findings to the everyman.
Arm of the Sea started as an offshoot of the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater. “It started as a crazy idea to do something at Clearwater’s 1982 pumpkin festival,” Wadden explained. “The first cast was the crew of the Clearwater.”
Of course, Pete Seeger’s Clearwater ship, the environmental activism and outreach accompanying it are well known. Part of what Arm of the Sea does is continuing that educational work in their own way.
Wadden said the group’s performances use mythological and elemental imagery to get across tough and complicated concepts. One goal for the group is to remind us all how limited our natural resources really are.
“It helps us remember that weren’t not really self-sufficient,” he said.
Arm of the Sea also staged a performance of their show “Turtle Island Medicine Show” at the award banquet. That show deals with the old Esopus legend of the Cosmic Turtle, which carries North America on its back.
Dean Jones, as usual, narrated and did all the music for the show — often playing several instruments at a time and using a looping pedal to create the illusion of a full band.
LeeAnne Richards, Zzoe Rowan, Patrick Wadden and Carl Welden all puppeteered and performed at Sunday’s award ceremony.