When Alex Endy teaches a class on puppetry, he tells students, among other things, that they live in “one of the most puppetry-impoverished nations” in the world.
“It’s only in America that we think of puppet shows, by default, as being only for children,” said Endy, 36, of Portland. “So when we have a puppet show that’s more bawdy, or is based on folklore, or is just more for adults, we have to put all these caveats on it.
“But in other countries, people are more used to seeing puppetry used for experimenting with all sorts of emotion and imagery.”
Endy will be performing his puppetry in a show that is definitely not for children — “King Friday’s Dungeon” — on Saturday at Mayo Street Arts in Portland. It’s the second year in a row the venue is hosting the show, a showcase for Portland’s growing and very creative puppet scene.
“King Friday’s Dungeon” is being billed as a “puppet slam,” a national trend of puppet shows that can be almost anything but are not necessarily for kids.
The show will feature various styles of puppetry, including marionettes, rod puppets and Bunraku puppetry, where puppeteers wear all black and stand on stage with their puppets. Seven puppeteering groups, plus Endy, will be taking the stage.
“It’ll be sort of a Whitman’s Sampler of Portland puppetry,” said Blainor McGough, director of Mayo Street Arts and herself a puppeteer.
After putting on a “King Friday’s Dungeon” puppet slam last year at Mayo Street, McGough applied for and got a $2,000 “slam grant” from Heather Henson’s Puppet Slam Network. Henson is the daughter of the late puppeteering legend Jim Henson, creator of the Muppets, and she works nationally to promote puppetry.
Although “King Friday’s Dungeon” is not intended for children, the main character is based on the puppet monarch of the long-running PBS kids’ show “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” But in this show, the king has fallen from his lofty perch. He’s no longer in charge of a peaceful kingdom, and now he’s become a bawdy and foul-mouthed old man, putting on shows for his own entertainment.
Endy played the king last year (that is, he worked the puppet and spoke the part), and is playing him again on Saturday. He studied acting, and worked as an actor and puppeteer in New York before landing in Maine.
“It was fun last year to play this beloved children’s character, to see how far he had fallen from his glory days, to the point of being foul-mouthed and rude,” said Endy.
The king is sort of the MC of the show, opening things up for other puppets and puppeteers to do their own thing. It’s also an opportunity for people to see what puppetry can be — a medium for performance.
There is some acting, since people are voicing the puppets. But working a puppet — with all its strings and moving parts — takes a special skill beyond acting.
“You are the actor and director, and it’s sort of like you’re playing a musical instrument,” said Endy. “Because whatever expression you imagine, you’re channeling that into the puppet.
Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at: