Tuesday, December 21, 2010

"Old School 3D"

Pittsburgh  Tribune-Review

Puppeteer wants kids to try their hands at creativity

By Kellie B. Gormly

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Children's entertainment of today is so high-tech that the old-fashioned charm of hand puppetry can, unfortunately, get buried, says a prominent puppeteer who is doing a workshop Saturday at the August Wilson Center, Downtown.

"Puppets are sort of like the old-school version of 3-D animations; it's the animation you can touch," says Noel MacNeal, of Brooklyn, N.Y. He is a puppeteer and production consultant for "Sesame Street," and the author of "10-Minute Puppets."

MacNeal -- who played Bear in the Disney TV series "Bear in the Big Blue House" -- will be coming to the August Wilson Center for a Family Puppetry Workshop, based on his book released last month. He plans to demonstrate to kids and adults how to make the simplest puppets in as little as 10 minutes, using everyday materials like paper bags, napkins, socks -- even your hands.

"I made this book as friendly and simple as possible," says MacNeal, who lives with his wife, Susan, and their son, Matthew, who appears on the cover of "10-Minute Puppets."

"It was my way of reintroducing the magic of puppets to this generation -- not only to kids, but also to parents," MacNeal says.

Participants, he says, will enjoy the empowerment of learning how to make puppets: "Look at what you can do with what you just made," MacNeal says.

After the workshop, MacNeal will do a book-signing, and visitors can enjoy a meet and greet with Lionel from "Between the Lions."

He says he is excited to perform at the August Wilson Center, which represents part of his racial heritage. MacNeal's mother is half African-American and half Native American; and his father is half African-American, half Italian. MacNeal, who was born and raised in Harlem, N.Y., says that the Family Puppetry Workshop should draw members of any ethnic background to the center.

"It's a great way for the August Wilson Center to let people know we're here for everybody," MacNeal says. "It's a great way for the community of Pittsburgh to know about what's there."

Joe Wos -- executive director of the ToonSeum, which is partnering to present the workshop -- says puppetry is an instant form of animation. Skills of puppetry even apply to modern, high-tech entertainment like video games: the player manipulates an onscreen characters' movements. Still, classic puppetry with real-life puppets is priceless, Wos says.

"There's a magic to it; it's almost unexplainable," he says. "It can be charming in its simplicity, too -- that magic of ... a simple object and watching an artist bring life to it."

MacNeal, Wos says, is "an extremely talented performer -- one of the best."

Kellie B. Gormly can be reached at kgormly@tribweb.com or 412-320-7824.

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