Passion for Puppets - Entertaining Children and Adults in Delray Beach
By Candice Russell / August, 2011

One of the most unsung venues on the local entertainment scene is the Puppetry Arts Center of the Palm Beaches. With a 180-seat theater, museum, store, extensive library and administrative office, the center has a rotating schedule of performances by professional puppeteers, a storyteller, a ventriloquist and more. Located in the Pineapple Grove Arts District of downtown Delray Beach, it is dedicated to using the art form of puppets to educate as well as to inspire creativity and imagination in people of all ages.

Serving the region since 1993, the center is new to this location. Jan Timmis is the enthusiastic executive director, doing everything from scheduling performers to marketing and instructing volunteers. In need of help, she is trying to recruit students from nearby high schools and universities. She is also looking for retirees or other adults to participate in the Dreammaker Puppeteers for a minimum commitment of twelve weeks during the school year.

"They need to be able to climb three stairs, stand and hold a puppet for a show from 45 to 90 minutes," Timmis says, explaining that no script needs to be memorized or followed. "The voices of a little boy and girl are all recorded. I teach the performers."

Kuniko Yamamoto is booked at the center for August 4, 5 and 6. "She is a mime and storyteller who also works with a mask," says Timmis. "She has performed all over the U.S., including the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens (in Delray Beach), and Japan."

Timmis' own attraction to the art and magic of puppets began in the early 1980s, when her children were in a summer program at the Howard Park Community Center in West Palm Beach. She became assistant director of its arts and crafts program. "I was a jack of all trades and good at a lot of them," says Timmis, who noticed something different about puppet performances. "Puppetry incorporates everything - the visual, the performance, the engineering to create puppets, set design, props, lighting, sound and recording."

There was something more that she realized - the ability of puppets to do and say things that actors on a stage couldn't get away with. "Puppets can fly," says Timmis. "They can juggle or break apart into pieces. They can be cartoonish with large heads and small bodies. It's what ever you want to imagine. Also, puppets can say things that people cannot."

Citing the case of the famed popular Punch and Judy traditional puppet show, Timmis says, "They were very political, saying and doing things that were not popular and talking about the brutality of the police and the treatment of women and children."

The power of puppets to teach means that children can learn from performances that use them. "Many of our shows have study guides," says Timmis. "We have a multi-cultural hand puppet musical with African-American, Hispanic and Haitian puppets. It features Palm Beach places and events and all original music. It's about different things happening in the community and how people are all alike. There is comedy throughout the show and a recognition that there are heroes all around us."

Is there a large puppetry community? "It's everywhere but southeast Florida," says Timmis, who fights against a common misperception that puppets are just for the very young. "There is a miniature puppet opera using miniature theaters that are the exact replicas of major opera houses. Some marionettes are huge with eighteen-foot strings. There are rod puppets and glove puppets with little subtleties worked in. One artist uses puppets that are made of nothing but found objects. And there are finger puppets."

The global nature of puppetry is reflected in the center's museum, which is up and running, though still in the process of becoming perfected in terms of display. There are puppets from Austria, England, Germany, Thailand and Indonesia. "We will have a shadow puppet display," says Timmis, who has big plans.

Workshops and classes are in the planning stages for the center, which presents free performances for up to 4,000 under-served children in the community each year. Small grants from the Palm Beach County Cultural Council and Community Foundation have helped the center, which was previously located in the former Gulfstream Mall. The first shows in this new location were in June. When the center is fully operational, it can present almost 200 performances per year.

"The buildout took longer than we thought," says Timmis, who took possession of the facility in March of this year. "We upgraded the electricity and the air-conditioning. We don't have a grand opening set. There are still things to do."

WHERE: The Puppetry Arts Center of the Palm Beaches is located at
94 N.E. Second Ave. in Delray Beach.

Contact: Call 561-976-3231

9381 West Sample Road , Suite 203
Coral Springs, FL 33065
Phone: 954-755-9800
Fax: 954-755-2082

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