PUTNEY — Eric and Ines Zeller Bass have a lot to celebrate. As founders of Sandglass Theater, now at a 30-year milestone of being in Vermont, they have managed to make a lifestyle and livelihood through their love of puppetry and each other. They first met at the city museum in Munich, Germany where Ines lived and worked as an English/German teacher, and was part of a student troupe for adult audiences. Eric was in town performing for a German theater. Ines' interest in adult puppetry came after first working in the medium for children, but found she really liked puppetry for adult audiences. She said Eric opened her eyes to that. Eric, who was always involved in all aspects of putting on a performance, from acting to directing to playwriting, found that Munich had a nice culture for puppetry. He said, "I always liked toys and things to play with. I like theater that's rooted in imagery – all those things lead to puppetry." They married in 1982. Together, the Basses formed Sandglass Theater and began collaborating on their first production, "Sand."
Eric said of their shows, "Initially, we grappled with our history, me being Jewish and Ines being German, and what was our influence in the world. Our first pieces were coming to terms with this history in a metaphorical sense."
In the '80s there were puppet festivals throughout Germany and Europe, though not so many in the United States. Soon, the Henson International Festival of Puppet Theater, founded in 1982, began to change that as an influence in sparking interest in the United States. The Basses moved to Putney from Munich in 1986. For Ines, the transition, though difficult at times crossing cultural barriers, loved it. Now with three girls for her to take care of – Jana, Shoshana and Julia – Eric toured solo internationally while maintaining the home base in Putney. When the girls were old enough to join them they became a touring family. Dreams of a physical theater began to take hold and they found a place set back from the road for their theater on Kimball Hill in 1996.
Both Eric and Ines create their puppets and perform, though these days Eric spends more time managing the administrative chores of the theater. Their roles over the years have been interchangeable as necessity dictates in their partnership that is Sandglass, while their shows became more and more a story to tell a social message. Presently in production is "Babylon," a powerful portrayal of the struggle that refugees face garnered out of interviews with members of Burlington's refugee resettlement program. The hope is to strike a chord in the hearts of our communities to take in these new residents.
But these productions take time. From the very first idea to the final show it is a process of discovering what the puppet wants to do, and seeing what comes out of them. Eric said, "I think people think puppeteers have control over the puppets, but it is a partnership. It is our job to discover the puppet's voice and discover what it can and can't do and what it wants." He added it is a meeting place of those two things. That is part of the process as the performance is molded from the original idea to work with the puppet.
In celebration of 30 years in Vermont, Sandglass Theater will present another Puppets In Paradise, on Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 10 and 11 for two days of puppetry, food and performance in the garden of landscape architects Gordon and Mary Hayward. Take a walk through the gardens, enjoy the sight and aroma of herbs, flowers, and other beautiful flora and meet puppets, theater artists, and musicians around each corner and behind every bush. Food and refreshments add to the delight of a beautiful day.
A highlight is kite flyer, Curtiss Lee Mitchell, from AwareNest Productions, a renowned artist specializing in Kites, Puppetry, and Lighting/Projection design from Orlando, Fl. He is known to use any medium appropriate to make messages soar and will be flying his beautifully crafted kites in the field among the fruit trees. And as a special gift this year, Curtiss will be presenting a hand-crafted, original Sandglass kite, which will be for sale over the weekend as a fundraiser to Sandglass.
Lissa Weinmann and John Loggia of Brattleboro's 118 Elliot St. will be joining the creative team with Henry In Paradise, a piece in which Henry Miller reminisces and ruminates. Coni Bloom and Madeline Fan, will present a new performance in the style of a Crankie, The Full Moon Shadow Dance. Eric and Ines will present Mud, an excerpt from All Weather Ballads, a piece celebrating Vermont's rural culture and country life. Chris Yerlig will add a combination of silent comedy, mime and magic illusions. Finn and Tula Campman have developed a piece based on the W.B. Yeats play At the Hawk's Well: An old man resides by an old well said to contain the waters of immortality. He and his raptor guard the well, tell its story, and so explore the complexity of waiting and everlasting life.
Faye Dupra, who delighted audiences during Sandglass' Winter Sunshine series, will be offering a piece from her newest work "I Spy a Butterfly". Sandglass daughter's Jana and Shoshana will both make creative contributions. Jana bringing Zak and Desi Grace to the Stage, and Shoshana collaborating with Nettie Lane and Musician Reiley Goodamote.
Furthermore, audiences can fill out the weekend of festivities by attending the Putney Food Coop's annual Lantern Supper on September 9th, celebrating the Coop's 75th anniversary and benefiting Sandglass Theater.
Ines said, "It's poignant that this might be the last time we do this in the garden, We will move on to other things. It is good to end on a high note. and we feel really good about it."
Eric added, " 30 years ... is almost half of lives in Putney, we've been thinking a lot in the last year or so about what we are doing, what Sandglass might become with Soshanna and Jana."
When asked if he could see himself ever quitting, Eric said, "Artists don't stop being artists." After a pause he added, "We can't afford to." then laughed.
Puppets in Paradise runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m, on Sept. 10 and 11, with the last performance beginning at 3:45 p.m. Please allow at least two hours to experience the garden and performances. Tickets are $10; $32 for a family of four with $6 for each additional family member and are available at the door.
For more information, visit sandglasstheater.org or call 802-387-4051