One of the highlights of this year’s theater season at Fort Lewis College will be the April production of “Avenue Q,” so this weekend’s visit by master puppeteer Blair Thomas seems to be a perfect warm-up.
The Chicago-based Thomas is the brother-in-law of FLC President Dene Thomas, but that’s just a fortunate coincidence, and there’s no danger of unmerited nepotism. Thomas the puppeteer is one of the best in the business, and he’ll perform his program “Hard Headed Heart” on Saturday night.
“We’ve been bringing in lots of puppeteers leading up to ‘Avenue Q,’ and we found out that not only is he a puppeteer, but one of the most well-regarded puppeteers in the country,” said Shan Wells, media coordinator for the FLC Theatre Department. Thomas also will give a puppetry workshop for FLC theater students.
Like “Avenue Q,” this is not a child’s puppet show. Adult themes and language permeate the performance. The puppets are works of art and Thomas’ sets are no less intricate – hand-painted backdrops are rolled on scrolls to create the impression of motion as Thomas expertly manipulates marionettes, hand and shadow puppets to a story based on the writings of Federico Garcia Lorca and Wallace Stevens.
Thomas started his first puppet company, The Palace Puppeteers, when he was 10 years old and for three years toured churches and schools in his home town of Jacksonville, Ala. He started and starred at the Redmoon Theater for 11 years in the 1980s and ’90s and was the first artist to fill the Jim Henson Artist-in-Residence position at the University of Maryland. He currently teaches puppetry at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He has led Blair Thomas & Company, a national and international touring puppet theater company, since 2002.
Other programs in Thomas’ repertoire include adaptations of Moby-Dick and Oscar Wilde’s The Happy Prince as well as “Cabaret of Desire,” a staging of other short works by Federico Garcia Lorca; “The Ox-herder’s Tale,” an interpretive staging of the Buddhist parable of 10 paintings of enlightenment; and “A Kite’s Tale,” an original story staged to a live performance of Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.”
Thomas’ company twice has received the international American Chapter of Union Internationale de la Marionette award, the award for excellence from the world’s oldest theater organization in the art of puppetry.