Saugerties lighthouse is the focus of Arm-of-the-Sea’s Esopus Creek Puppet Suite

This year’s show, “Keep that Lamp Trimmed ‘n’ Burning,” is inspired by the 150th anniversary of the Saugerties Lighthouse. (Photo by Jim Peppler)

Under the artistic direction of co-founders Patrick Wadden and Marlena Marallo, Arm-of-the-Sea Theater creates contemporary works of mask and puppet theater in the style of magical realism. The performances fuse live music with larger-than-life puppet characters, shadow projections, masked dancers and low-tech theatrical devices to tell “true tall tales” inspired by regional history, ecology and current events. The Saugerties-based ensemble has toured the Northeast since 1982, performing at schools, festivals and community cultural centers, but every August it comes home for its annual outdoor summer production, the Esopus Creek Puppet Suite.

This year’s show, “Keep that Lamp Trimmed ‘n’ Burning,” is inspired by the 150th anniversary of the Saugerties Lighthouse. The three-day run of performances at Tina Chorvas Waterfront Park on East Bridge Street in the Village of Saugerties will take place Friday through Sunday, August 16 to 18 at 8 p.m. Tickets cost $12 for adults and $5 for children, available online at https://bit.ly/2P3AsFc or at the park entrance each night. Audience members are encouraged to arrive early and bring lawn seating. In the event of inclement weather, the performance may be moved to St. Mary’s Church Hall at 23 Cedar Street in Saugerties.

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Tina Chorvas Park is adjacent to the site of what will be – at long last – Arm-of-the-Sea’s permanent home. When completed, the Tidewater Center for Hudson River Arts and Science will be a multifaceted cultural park and performance center with a 100-seat outdoor amphitheatre and facilities for river-related programs and citizen science projects. Built on a neglected, much-graffitied industrial site on the Esopus Creek, once home to the circa-1880 Sheffield Paper Company, the Tidewater Center will also host a waterworks playground related to Saugerties’ historic water-powered mills and include public access to tidewater fishing and a kayak launch and way station for water travelers.

“You can think of it as a Hudson River School for the 21st century,” says Wadden. “You can think of it as a doorway to the Esopus Creek and the Hudson River; you can think of it as a contemporary arts venue; you can think of it as a local history heritage site. It will be all of those things and more.”

The site was acquired in 1999 by the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, who planned to use it as a winter home for its historic sailing vessel but ultimately found other accommodations. Arm-of-the-Sea Theater – its name referencing the Hudson River as being literally an “arm of the sea” – traces its origins back to the Clearwater, where crew members were the first cast members.

The Tidewater Center project is being developed in phases, with available funding dictating the timing of completion. Continued cleanup of the site (which was contaminated by heavy metals) and construction of a canvas building will complete Phase One. An 11-member committee is overseeing the planning process. Its members include an engineer, construction manager, logistics professional, visual artists, educators and restoration ecologists drawn from the not-for-profit 501 (c) (3) Arm-of-the-Sea Theater’s staff, board and associates. Anybody wishing to contribute to the project may find out more by e-mailing saugertiestidewatercenter@gmail.com.

Arm-of-the-Sea was founded 37 years ago as “an experimental hybrid performance group combining art, ecology and social action,” and according to its founders, the group continues to experiment with performance art as “a symbolic visual language.” But reading about the group or even watching its videos and seeing a live performance are decidedly two different things, Wadden reminds us. “The website is just a shadow on the cave wall. Come see a live performance.”

Esopus Creek Puppet Suite Retrospective, Friday-Sunday, Aug. 16-18, 8 p.m., $12/$5, Tina Chorvas Waterfront Park, 61 E. Bridge St., Saugerties; (845) 246-7873, www.armofthesea.org, https://bit.ly/2P3AsFc.