by Tara Brandman –
Rivertowns residents may often wander the streets of the villages wondering what worlds exist within the doorways and windows of the many artists’ ateliers. One such studio which the lucky wanderer may chance upon is that of Bruce Robbins, a Dobbs Ferry puppeteer.
The fantastical display in Robbins’ window hints at the enchantment within. The visitor who enters is ushered into the magical world Robbins has created – a veritable wonderland inhabited by puppets from the realms of the political, the grotesque, and the magical. One would be thoroughly unsurprised to see Titania, Oberon, or Puck peek out from behind the curtain to guide the fairy puppets off their shelves.
Aspiring puppeteers, artist-wannabes, and curious experimenters are all welcome to attend “Party with Puppets” workshops with Robbins. While participants will learn some trade secrets, they are also encouraged to bring wine if they like. Robbins provides cheese and crackers. Thus, his workshops are equal parts puppetry and festivity – a night out and an art lesson.
The two-hour workshop begins with the choosing of a puppet: all are simple, bright hand puppets. Following puppet selection, Robbins instructs participants on how to manipulate the puppets to enable these noseless and mouthless creatures to seemingly transform into sentient beings. Robbins further encourages students to forge a connection to the puppets by adding costumes, which include impossibly perfect puppet sized top hats, and lush, warm fabrics suitable for a princess, or perhaps a thief if one prefers.
Once students have more or less mastered the basics of puppet movement, Robbins instructs them to perform simple scenes on camera—yes, he has erected a puppet-sized stage in his studio. And somehow, watching the performances, one becomes convinced that these hand puppets experience loneliness, joy, terror, and confusion. Robbins marvels at this illogical leap of the human imagination.
“I continue to be charmed by the fact that we know that the inanimate object is being manipulated by a human, yet we can somehow find ourselves moved by the emotions being brought to life by the puppeteer,” he said. “In other words, how did that sock just make me tear up or make me laugh? It’s a magical moment when that happens!”
Robbins described his love of puppetry as an art form that “allows me to combine my passion for both the visual and theater arts. I love that it gives free rein to imagination and creative exploration while focusing on and discovering ways to communicate and share ideas with others.”
Robbins applauds his students’ efforts, and manages to see the artist in anyone, believing all people can be touched by the muse of puppetry.
In addition to adult “Party with Puppet Workshops,” he also offers children and family workshops.
Robbins’ studio can be found at 50 Main Street in Dobbs Ferry. Visit his website at www.bcrobbins.com for more information about him, his puppets and his workshops.