Sunday, September 21, 2014

Puppets for the People

DUFF.APP FEST.FROSTBURG-At 4:30 today, in the upper quad at Frostburg State University, Professor Horn performed his ageless show. In 1662, in England, the dynamic duo, Mr. Punch and Judy, debuted to bring children laughter and smiles. The tradition of this audience participant show came to the United States in 1740. Through the years the tradition and customs have been passed down from one Professor Horn to his successor. The act includes appearances from several animals and fellow puppet-towns people. The performer today was a long time magician and came into the puppet business about a decade ago. 
Mark Walker, the man behind the puppet show, is not the original Professor Horn.   The show began in Baltimore, Maryland in 1897 and was never discontinued. The original Professor horn was James Edward Ross. He taught George Horn who continued the legacy. In his late 60s Horn was looking to retire, but this would mean the end of the tradition. Walker visited Horn and learned his trade, the magician took over the show and adopted the name Professor Horn. (website) According to Walker “a large percent of the American performers are magicians when they take over the puppet show.” You can learn more at Professor Horn's website.
While waiting for the show to begin, Walker entertained the young audience with sleight of hand magic as the crowd grew. One mother with two small children told this reporter that her kids “remembered the show from last year and were excited to come back.” Walker played with a magic silver wand to get the kids laughing and in the mood for more. Then he told a story with a bamboo mat that he could manipulate into shapes that matched the story he was telling. At one point the character in the story caught a fish, “holy mackerel!” Walker proclaimed. 
When the puppet show began we met the main characters, Judy and Mr. Punch, a married couple who have a baby together. The rest of the cast consisted of a police officer puppet, a clown, the devil, a skeleton, an alligator, a dog and a monkey. Some spoke, others made their appropriate animal noises, until the alligator came on stage. The alligator was a big green pussy cat and it meowed. 
This show is special. For the success of a performance the show demands audience participation. The little kids loved this! (audio clip) It was a beautiful blue sky day, with breeze to stay cool; could not have asked for better circumstances. The audience was mainly kids under 10 accompanied by an adult or two, but there were a few older patrons.
In the future, we can look forward to Professor Horn’s show improving greatly! Next year Walker’s show will undergo an enormous change. He has ordered sixteen new puppets, and a stage “fit for Hollywood.” While he has never ventured into the world of marionettes, he enjoys the art but will continue his hand puppet routine. After performing at the Appalachian Festival for the last five years, Walker is excited to bring a newly designed show next year.

Audio clip of the show

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