Hansel and Gretel dwell in our house, along with a colourful array of companions, just waiting for someone to pull their strings. For years, these fairy tale characters delighted children in libraries and schools throughout southern Ontario, brought to life by the Adams Marionettes. In the 1950’s, my mother-in-law, Maureen Adams, took a puppetry course at Queen’s University, and was permanently hooked. She began with hand puppets, but as her family grew older, she and her husband, John, formed the Adams Marionettes, consisting of themselves, their four children and a school friend, named Dan. The puppets captivated not only young audiences, but the performers themselves, as the marionettes opened the door to a wide array of creative expression.
My mother-in-law loved puppetry because it involved many forms of art: drama, costumes, scene design, music and story. The performances, enchanting as they were, were only part of the process. First, the Adams chose a folk tale, devised a script, added in sound effects and put the finished product on tape. The marionettes were made out of wood, with the heads devised from a plasticine mould. Next, the family sewed the costumes, painted the scenery and spent a great deal of time in the backyard puppetry workshop, rehearsing the play. It was a family act, complete with Adams Marionette tee shirts and a special van to transport the stage, performers and puppets.
My husband’s speciality was Rumpelstiltskin. As the little trickster danced his way across the stage, to the tune of Ponchielli’s “Dance of the Hours,” Andrew danced behind the stage, copying his every move. Finally, when Rumpel realized he had been outsmarted by the miller’s daughter, he disappeared in a puff of smoke (baby powder), clang of a cymbal and flash of a camera, never to be heard of again.
After the adult children went their separate ways, John and Maureen continued to attend many puppetry conferences in Canada and the U.S. and hold workshops in Brampton and Toronto. Several times, they helped my husband and I with Vacation Bible Schools in the churches we served, assisting with puppet making and performances. John died in 2005 and in 2006, Maureen received “The Arts Person of the Year” award for her outstanding contribution to the arts in her Brampton community.
In early 2011, Maureen’s health declined and we flew from Nova Scotia to see her. I gave her a puppet from Mexico, a gift from my daughter, Andrea. She held the puppet in her worn hands, and stroked and stroked the tiny dress it was wearing. She asked my son, Christopher, to put it up on the bulletin board in her room, where she could see it from her bed. The gift brought her comfort, a reminder of all the stories her puppets had told.
About 9 months after my mother-in-law’s death, I came home one day to find my youngest daughter, Susanna, rehearsing a marionette dance with two high school friends. A short time later, Hansel and Gretel danced upon the stage of Prince Andrew High School, during “The Lonely Goatherd” scene in the school’s production of The Sound of Music. Strings were being pulled for Grandma once again!
Happy Mother’s Day and many joyful memories!
Fran by the Sea