During the Vietnam War era, long before there was an inflatable orange giant Baby Trump floating over an unwelcoming London, larger-than-life effigies of Richard Nixon made from wood, fabric and papier-mâché were being borne aloft in antiwar rallies. Initially popularized as instruments of political theater, giant puppets eventually became a staple of plays, seasonal pageants and parades. While Vermont-based Bread and Puppet Theater remains the spiritual forebear, East Coast Division, of this movement, some of its offspring have become deeply entrenched in our local culture.
Among the best-established of these is Malden-based Arm-of-the-Sea Theater. As its name suggests, the troupe has a definite political/informational agenda: to educate people about environmental issues, particularly as they pertain to the Hudson estuary. But Arm-of-the-Sea also concerns itself with other narratives. Each year at the Tina Chorvas Waterfront Park in Saugerties, the group presents an Esopus Creek Puppet Suite, which illuminates some aspect of local history.
This year’s production features giant puppet characters, shadow projections, masked dancers and various low-tech devices of theatrical enchantment in a series of tall tales inspired by Saugerties’ colorful past. The congenial ghost of Connie Lynch – former proprietor of Lynch’s Marina – rises from the grave to serve as tour guide for this homegrown celebration of place. The Esopus Creek Puppet Suite is powered by the original music of Grammy-winner Dean Jones, Eli Winograd and Rhys Ellis, and includes veteran company performers Trey Daniels, Kira deCoudres, Kevin Downing, Bob Lavaggi and Soyal Smalls.
Turning lore into reality, Arm-of-the-Sea Theater is in the early stages of a project that will transform the ruins of a 19th-century papermill adjacent to Chorvas Park into the Tidewater Center for Hudson River Arts and Science. The upcoming event will include highlights and information about that project.
The Esopus Creek Puppet Suite will be performed at 8 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, August 17 through 19 at the Tina Chorvas Waterfront Park, located at 61 East Bridge Street in the Village of Saugerties. Admission costs $12 for adults, $5 for children and $25 for a family of four. Tickets are available at the park entrance each evening of the event. Audience members are encouraged to arrive early and bring lawn seating. In inclement weather, the performance will take place at St. Mary’s Hall, located at 23 Cedar Street in Saugerties. For information, call (845) 246-7873 or visit www.armofthesea.org.