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Posts Tagged ‘puppet’

Photo: Yauhen Attsetski via Radio Free Europe.
Sept. 3, 2020. Repainting the mural in the Square of Change. A mural on the side of a Minsk apartment building showing two deejays who were jailed for playing a controversial Soviet rock song has become a flash point in the standoff between Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko and his opponents.

I don’t know if readers recall the Belarusian presidential election of 2020. There were massive protests after Putin puppet Alexander Lukashenko declared a big victory. I’ve been keeping track of resistance in Belarus for a while now and feel sorry that because the president is helping Russia with the Ukraine invasion, ordinary Belarusians get associated with him.

A story — practically a book — about the resistance was reported by Sarah A. Topol at the New York Times in March, detailing how numerous Belarusians risked their lives to unseat the strongman and how the Russian invasion of Ukraine has intensified the heartbreak of their failure. I will present the conclusion of the article here. The names mentioned are people Topol interviewed about the 2020 uprising.

She writes that in February of this year, “no one believed the war was coming. The New Belarus movement was busy preparing to protest a constitutional referendum that would allow Lukashenko to stay in office until 2035 as well as give him lifetime immunity from prosecution once he left. The proposed amendments also included a change removing Belarus’s commitment to be neutral and free of nuclear weapons, which meant the country could host Russia’s nuclear arsenal.

“In the early hours of Feb. 24, Russia’s military attacked Ukraine. When I messaged the group, they were horrified. Their country had become one large Russian military base bordering three NATO countries. …

“Sviatlana and her supporters immediately announced their firm antiwar position. As the sanctions began to resemble those recently imposed on Russia, the exiled movement maintained that the people inside the country were prepared to suffer. What else could they do to stop Lukashenko now when they had failed to overthrow him already? Not everyone was as convinced. Sanctions risked hurting the average citizen; they had a mixed record of effecting political change.

“As the war continued, Belarusian relocants in Kyiv fled farther west, many of them now forced to run for their lives twice in less than a year. In Warsaw, Diana had been working on a plan to open a house for newly arriving Belarusians — a community where people could get advice on residency, refugee status, health care and schools. The group she was working with, Courtyard Activists Abroad, pivoted to providing supplies for Ukrainian refugees. She attended protests at the Belarusian and Russian Embassies. She grappled with a sense of shame. All along they wondered if they could have done more to stop Lukashenko, to free their own people and by extension to stop this war.

“ ‘Our guilt is greater than our attempts at justification, because we didn’t finish what we started — our unfinished revolution,’ she told me. ‘Lukashenko is sitting there and cooperating with Russia. This is our fault. For two years, we tried, but we couldn’t overthrow him. Given we screamed that we are the majority, we should have been able to do it. We could have done it. But to say we could or couldn’t is just a discussion; we didn’t even really try. We could have overturned the buses, even if they had 20 siloviki in them. We had thousands in our marches. But we didn’t try. Instead, we were peaceful. We walked with flowers.’

“Sviatlana released video after video supporting Ukraine, and she praised the Belarusian volunteers going to fight alongside Ukrainians. The Cyber-Partisans paralyzed Belarus’s railways to prevent Russian military movements. Three rounds of negotiations between Russian and Ukrainian officials have taken place on the Ukrainian-Belarusian border. By the end of March, the Pentagon had counted at least 70 missile launches from Belarusian territory, though no Belarusian troops had been confirmed on the ground in Ukraine. In Minsk, people had begun to fear that they would be forced to fight against their will. If Belarus announced that it was officially at war, men of military age would be barred from leaving the country.

“On Feb. 26, the night before the constitutional referendum, the chat members in Minsk decided they would go to the Russian Embassy the next day to protest the war after they went to the polling station to spoil their ballots. There had been no large rallies since the previous winter. It was a huge risk to take to the streets. When they were about to depart for the Russian Embassy, they heard it was surrounded by paddy wagons. Arrests had already been made. The group decided to change course: They would go to the Ukrainian Embassy with flowers. …

“They weren’t the only ones who risked their freedom to take a symbolic stand. Though the regime had spent a year and a half decimating the ranks of the politically active, thousands of Belarusians still took to the streets. Across the country, more than 800 people were arrested. (In Russia, with a population roughly 15 times greater, 2,000 people were arrested that same day.)

“Westerners often looked at Belarus as if it were Europe’s own little North Korea. Lukashenko himself mocked reporters who called him ‘the last dictator of Europe.’ People who have not experienced it tend to believe all autocracies are the same, but in reality, regimes and freedoms vary, and repressions exist in shades. For Belarusians, the shift from gray to black, from autocracy to totalitarianism, was calculable in lives.

“Nearly 10 million people still lived in Belarus, unwitting collaborators in the raging war. According to a Chatham House poll in mid-March, only 3 percent of Belarusians supported entering the war alongside the Russian military. The Square of Change wanted the world to know that Belarusians had recognized this danger earlier, that they had been fighting this regime, which owed its existence to Putin, for a long time. Even in this atmosphere of repression, they had not given up or fled.

“They had tried so fervently to build the independent Belarus they were promised when the Soviet Union fell. Still, 30 years later, they were thwarted by dynamics that formed decades before their birth. It had been foolish to believe that the U.S.S.R. could collapse so peacefully, that its ghosts would not demand placation. Now they were all paying the price.

“There is so much discussed about the act of fleeing, but perhaps even more puzzling is the choice to remain. ‘I have no fear for myself; I have fear for my family,’ Shamberbetch told me. ‘I want to send my relatives abroad. I want to stay here as long as possible, to fight. When I realize there’s nothing I can do here anymore, I’ll leave the country through the woods.’

“What started for two D.J.s as a small act of symbolic defiance at a concert became a mural on a wall. That symbol became another, the Square of Change, which became to Belarusians the symbol of what their new nation could be. Then those who created that symbol became symbols themselves.

“Each revolution creates its own hieroglyphics — bracelets, flags, murals, heroes and demons — but to what end? How long can a revolution survive on symbols? When your country participates in the destruction of another, how much is symbolic protest worth? Is a symbol worth your life? ‘This is what worries us now, that the meaning of fighting with stickers and other symbols simply loses its meaning,’ Sous-Chef wrote to me in March. ‘Our peaceful protests have practically no effect on the current state of affairs.’

“Still, a few nights earlier, on the fence next to the children’s playground, on that white sheet the size of a flag, they painted NO WAR in red with a black peace sign. On the side, they marked their stencil — two small D.J.s with their arms raised.”

More at the Times, here.

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treasurehunt

Photo: No Strings Marionette Company
In this production,
Treasure Hunt, a boy called Jim is lured out to sea, where he encounters a mermaid, “a giant clam, a fish that swallows him whole, an electric eel and an angry octopus guarding his treasure.”

Tuesday night at the Trapp Family Lodge, my husband and I watched a charming puppet show about a fox called Sharp Ears. The show was created and performed by the Vermont-based No Strings Marionette Company. Our four grandchildren were too tired for theater after a day of skiing, but we were charmed — especially by unusual marionettes like the frog, the chicken and chicks, the rooster, the grasshopper, the cow, and the numerous butterflies and flying bugs. And in case the theatrical company’s title threw you off, the puppets do have strings.

We very much enjoyed hanging around afterwards to listen to the questions that children asked the puppeteers: how do you make puppets? how do you make them move? how did you make the bench? did you paint your sets or buy them? do you have other shows?

Puppeteers Dan Baginski and Barbara Paulson have about 12 other shows, which they tour widely, keeping them so busy that the story of Sharp Ears took them two years to create at night — instead of the four months in which they could have finished if they’d been able to work nonstop.  “Sharp Ears” is still new, not even up on the website yet.

The show was based on the Czech story called “The Adventures of the Vixen Known as Sharp Ears,” on which the opera The Cunning Little Vixen is also based. In this version, a henpecked woodcutter who’d rather hang out in nature than do his chores brings home a fox as a pet for his grandson, with unfortunate consequences for the farm.

Dan and Barbara, says their website, “have toured America together for over sixteen years.  Their traveling stage transforms any space into an intimate theater, where the seamless blend of movement, music and masterful manipulation captivates young and old alike.

“With puppeteers in full view,  the audience sees how the puppets are brought to life. These Vermont artisans lovingly hand craft the marionettes, props and scenery, whether for an original tale or an adaptation of a classic.

“Shows begin with an interactive song featuring audience members, and finish with demonstrations sparked by the audiences’ curious questions.”

More here.

Photo: No Strings Marionette Company
Puppet characters from
The Hobbit.

hobbit

 

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If you were a toy, would you want to be in the toy hall of fame, or would you be afraid success would go to your head? I remember seeing room after room after room of dolls at the Strong Museum in Rochester, New York, so perhaps a toy just feels like one of many there.

In November, James Barron of the NY Times wrote about a big hall of fame event at the Strong. “The museum announced that just three toys — the puppet, another generic finalist; the Super Soaker squirt gun; and the game Twister — will join past inductees like the Barbie doll (1998), Mr. Potato Head (2000), Silly Putty (2001) and Lionel electric trains (2006). …

“Christopher Bensch, the museum’s vice president for collections and its chief curator, said the three new inductees easily met the basic criteria for admission. All three long ago achieved ‘icon status’ as playthings that are ‘recognized, respected and remembered.’ They also ‘profoundly changed play or toy design.’ …

“Mr. Bensch said that among the judges, the puppet was the big winner this year. ‘It was one of those “why hasn’t it happened before?” ones, which was like the ball,’ he said, ‘and Jon Stewart gave us hell for that.’ Mr. Stewart, in a segment on ‘The Daily Show’ in 2009, complained that not inducting the ball sooner was like having a ‘heat source hall of fame’ and not inducting fire. …

“[Curator Patricia] Hogan, who specializes in toys and dolls, said she had lobbied for the puppet. After all, she said, ‘Howdy Doody had his own show.’

“But what about Buffalo Bob Smith, the human host who bantered with the puppet that was the namesake of that 1950s children’s program?

“ ‘It was called “Howdy Doody,” ‘ she said. ‘Get over it, Bob. You’re just a puppet to Howdy.’ ” More here.

Photo: Heather Ainsworth/The New York Times
John Neidrauer, left, and Andrea Whitmarsh used Kinect motion control to play with classic toys at the Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester. 

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At Pamela’s party Sunday, I was talking to Jean and Dorothy, who had seen the theater production of War Horse and were enthusiastic about everything — the story, the performances, and the puppets.

Jean sent me to an online TED talk in which the puppet masters explain how they create animals that seem real to audiences even when the puppeteers are visible.

Check the website: ” ‘Puppets always have to try to be alive,’ says Adrian Kohler of the Handspring Puppet Company, a gloriously ambitious troupe of human and wooden actors. Beginning with the tale of a hyena’s subtle paw, puppeteers Kohler and Basil Jones build to the story of their latest astonishment: the wonderfully life-like Joey, the War Horse, who trots (and gallops) convincingly onto the TED stage.”

 

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Originally, I was just going to write about a new State Department program that brings foreign cultural acts to the United States. There had been a story in the Boston Globe.

“The US State Department, which has long sent American artists abroad as part of its cultural diplomacy efforts, is for the first time launching a sizable program to bring foreign performers here — an initiative administered by the New England Foundation for the Arts. Comedians, puppeteers, musicians, and dancers from Pakistan, Haiti, and Indonesia will tour to small and midsize cities across America next year as part of the nearly $2 million Center Stage program. ‘Since the early ’50s, we’ve basically sent groups overseas to do people-to-people exchange for mutual understanding,’ said Ann Stock, assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs. ‘This is the first time we’re bringing 10 groups to Main Street America.’ ”

It sounded like a nice experience for foreign visitors and audiences alike.

But not all summer visitors who come in under the auspices of the State Department get what they expect. J-1 visas, for example, are given out for young people to work here and enjoy cultural interactions. But according to Monica Lopossay in Thursday’s New York Times, things cans go wrong, especially if job placements are contracted out to contractors who also contract them out.

In Palmyra, near Hersey (PA), “Hundreds of foreign students, waving their fists and shouting defiantly in many languages, walked off their jobs on Wednesday at a plant here that packs Hershey’s chocolates, saying a summer program that was supposed to be a cultural exchange had instead turned them into underpaid labor.

“The students, from countries including China, Nigeria, Romania and Ukraine, came to the United States through a long-established State Department summer visa program that allows them to work for two months and then travel. The students said they were expecting to practice their English, make money and learn what life is like in the United States.

“In a way, they did. About 400 foreign students were put to work lifting heavy boxes and packing Reese’s candies, Kit-Kats and Almond Joys on a fast-moving production line, many of them on a night shift. After paycheck deductions for fees associated with the program and for their rent, students said at a rally in front of the huge packing plant that many of them were not earning nearly enough to recover what they had spent in their home countries to obtain their visas.” Read more here.

In Rhode Island, our family often meets up with young adults on J-1 visas. They staff the grocery store and the restaurants in summer. For us, it is a nice cultural exchange to talk to people from Ukraine, Moldova, or Serbia, but it’s hard to know if the visitors are having a valuable experience. Often their housing is not great, but the location is beautiful and many make good friends.

If you know more about this, do weigh in.

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The young lady mechanical doll on the soap box stands like a statue.

 

 

 

 

 

If someone offers a bill, she flutters her eyelashes, blows a kiss, waves her fan, bows, and turns back into a statue. She is usually in the same spot when I walk to the playwriting class on Thursdays.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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