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Learning in Italy

by Karen LaShelle, Executive and Artistic Director

It has been a busy 12 months…and I am just now finding the time to write about what I did last summer!

Last June I was given an incredible opportunity to learn more about a passion of mine: large scale puppetry and pageantry.  I traveled to Morinesio, Italy to work with some of the best large scale puppeteers in the country, Alex Kahn and Sophia Michahelles of Processional Arts Workshop a.k.a. Superior Concept Monsters.  Sophia and Alex have been the lead artists for the New York City Halloween Parade since 1998 and their imaginative, ambitious and inventive work has been a part of festivals and events all over the world. 


Under the guidance of Sophia and Alex, I learned new techniques for creating large scale papiermâché puppet heads, bamboo joinery for extra tall and light puppets, techniques for batik cold water fabric dyeing, lantern construction and new ways to organize and choreograph processions.  In our team of about 20 puppeteers, we created two processions–one at night with beautiful paper lanterns illuminating our village and the Alps, including a church from the 14th century, and another during the day including more than 200 guests and participants from the Valle Maira region of far western Italy.  For the daytime procession guests marched alongside us puppeteers for 1.5 hours across the mountainside.   After, we all gathered for a huge potluck meal of incredible locally sourced northern Italian cuisine.  The festival, which lasted until 5am, included folk dancing, genepi drinking and a lot of singing. Needless to say, for some one like me who relishes when people come together around art, food and culture, it was magical.  Events like these are the very moments of connection and celebration that make communities stronger. Click here to see images.

This past summer I guided our staff to include many of the new techniques and ideas in our Summer Pageant in the Park which took place on June 18th at the Downtown Farmer’s Market.  We were able to build larger and lighter puppets, choreographed our parade differently, and used some of the general philosophy of community-based parades in our approach.  I could really see and feel how applying what I learned from Sophia and Alex enhanced and improved our procession, and I am excited about a few more projects in the next year in which this new knowledge will continue to enhance our work here at Theatre Action Project

About creativeactionaustin

We are based in Austin, Texas and reach more than 16,000 young people every year through our unique blend of theatre and education programs.Our programs expose young people to critical social problems and offer opportunities for them to creatively think about how they can be a part of solutions to these problems. Creative Action is a unique blend of art and education – for us, the two are intertwined. We believe that using the arts as a teaching method provides a fun, engaging and inspiring way to learn – it incorporates the whole mind and body.

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