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Pumpernickel Puppets visit the library

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By James Kinneen
Hometown Weekly Reporter

On Friday afternoon, John McDonough of Pumpernickel Puppets paid a visit to The Wellesley Library, where he entertained a crowd of children and their parents with a puppet show - and a peek behind the scenes of what makes his show tick.

To begin, McDonough got under his black table and, using a dragon, dog, bat, knight and princess puppet, told the story of “Sir George and the Dragon.” In a nutshell: a princess becomes friends with a friendly dragon, only for Sir George to attempt to slay it. When the dragon explains that it is friendly, he and Sir George opt to stage a fake fight for the knight to appear brave. While this was the only story McDonough told for this library visit, he also uses “Peter Rabbit,” “The Three Billy Goats Gruff” and “The Lion and the Mouse” in his shows.

Tabby the marionette drew a lot of attention when she was paraded through the crowd.  Photos by James Kinneen

Tabby the marionette drew a lot of attention when she was paraded through the crowd. Photos by James Kinneen

While the show itself was entertaining, it was perhaps what McDonough did after that was most interesting: he emerged from under the table and began showing all the puppets he had used. After bringing up a pair of volunteers, McDonough showed off the bat puppet (which is a stick puppet) and how one can make it fly with a quick flick of the wrist. Then, he explained that the dragon was actually two puppets: the mouth that he made move with one hand, and the tail that he wagged with another.

Outside of the puppets used in the “Sir George” story, McDonough also brought out Tabby, his cat marionette, to explain how those puppets work. He then strapped himself into Goldie, a large blonde woman puppet that lip-synchs “These Boots Are Made for Walking.” While McDonough creates all the puppets, he wanted to show the kids they could make their own as well, so he brought out a chicken puppet he had made out of a Nerf Football, a bleach bottle, and some old balloons.

While McDonough could have easily filled the hour with fun puppet shows, showing off the art of puppetry was special to him. McDonough himself was inspired by a show he saw as a child and has done nothing but puppetry ever since.

“I saw a puppet show when I was about three or four years old in Lancaster, MA, and ever since then I was interested in it and I’ve never looked back. This is all I’ve ever done for work. It’s been almost fifty years now that I’ve been doing it. About 250 shows a year, I do.”

Who knows if any of the children in the audience will be inspired, like McDonough was, to pursue a career in puppetry. Either way, he certainly had them entertained and fascinated.

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