On tour this weekend at HCC - featuring Blue Sky Puppet Theatre in 'The Barker of Seville'

On tour this weekend at HCC - featuring Blue Sky Puppet Theatre in 'The Barker of Seville'

August 15, 2002|by KEVIN CLAPP

Ten years ago, before joining the staff at Hagerstown Community College, Jamie Shyda saw the Blue Sky Puppet Theatre in action and was captivated.

When it came time to program this weekend's free family festival, part of the college's Sounds of Summer concert series, recruiting the University Park, Md., troupe to perform "The Barker of Seville" was a natural.

"They interact so well with children and families," says Shyda, HCC college activities specialist. "Some of their different performances are a little more geared toward certain topics and this one is just a fine arts musical comedy type of show, so it's something all children and adults can enjoy."


Taking its lead, or at least its name, from the 1990s music festival organized by Jane's Addiction frontman Perry Farrell, Lollipopalooza is no less diverse than its predecessor.

True, the music fest had its share of ear-splitting vocals and mosh pits, and this weekend's event will have families scarfing down the contents of pic-a-nic baskets instead.

But upon second glance, the two may not be as different as you'd might think. Witness:

Lollapalooza: Populated by fans sporting piercings and body art.

Lollipopalooza: Features face painting for youngsters.

Lolla: Provided a forum for organizations such as Greenpeace.

Lolli: Provides a forum for local nonprofits such as Hagerstown YMCA, Washington County Free Library, and Boys and Girls Club of Washington County.

Lolla: Typified by crunching guitar solos and crashing cymbals by bands ranging from Metallica to Smashing Pumpkins to the Ramones.

Lolli: Will feature Woodstock, N.Y., guitarist Mark Rust teaching kids about acoustic instruments before electricity allows them to crunch and crash.

"We try to make it just a fun, interactive experience, because we know the kids like to move around," Shyda says. "We have this beautiful facility and find it important to program to our students who have children and the community as well."

Pegged to coincide with back-to-school, Lollipopalooza can be seen as a last hurrah before pencils, books and dirty looks are back in vogue.

The art of face painting and balloon sculptures will be on display, while Children in Need Inc. will collect school supplies for kids in need of materials some might take for granted.

Last year, 500 people took a lick from Lollipopalooza, made possible in part by a Washington County Arts Council Grant. Trying to mix the program up, much like its alt-rock ancestor, this year's festival features main stage acts completely different from the musicians who performed last August.

Founded by Michael Cotter in 1974, Blue Sky Puppet Theatre features five full-time performers who stage 14 different shows, and they do as many as 1,300 shows a year. Though "The Barker of Seville," a musical comedy about an aspiring opera singer, isn't as educational as other shows Blue Sky does, there is still a message to be gleaned from the story of a dog with a dream.

"If you work hard and stick to what you believe in, things will come out all right," says Cotter, also an adjunct professor in the University of Maryland Theatre Department. "It's kind of positive, All-American type of ending. No cynicism here."

Jazzed by performing for children, Blue Sky performer Jessica Macie says it is a thrill to have 200 or 300 children roaring with laughter at their antics.

Still, adults shouldn't feel immune to the silliness, either. Some zingers, such as references to an "Aida pizza" and "Pavarotti Pot Pie" are aimed squarely at the parenthood set.

"Barker is a really funny show," the 24-year-old puppetteer says. "There's a lot of really good jokes playing with words and a lot of puns, so the kids laugh because it's silly and the adults laugh. And I love that, when our show appeals to all audiences."

And with a median age of 29 for students, Shyda says HCC is well-aware of their responsibility to those adults balancing studies and family life.

"A lot of (our students) have children and we feel it's important to offer them family activities too," she says. "When you see children having fun and families together, it's a feel-good kind of thing."

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