Talk to the hands: Renowned puppeteer Gabriel Ponti to perform for UI Theatre Arts benefit

click to enlarge Puppeteer Gabriel Ponti explains that puppets don't need to be complicated during a master workshop for theater students at the University of Idaho on Monday, Nov. 2. - GEOFF CRIMMINS
Geoff Crimmins
Puppeteer Gabriel Ponti explains that puppets don't need to be complicated during a master workshop for theater students at the University of Idaho on Monday, Nov. 2.

By DOMINIQUE WALD dwald@dnews.com

MOSCOW — Gabriel Ponti has spent 42 years as a professional puppeteer, using everyday materials such as foam, plastic and scarves to bring inanimate objects to life.

Ponti’s impressive resume includes the time he spent working with Les Baladins du Mirroir in Belgium, Amsterdam’s Festival of Fools and Fete du Pont Neuf in Paris. This weekend he’ll showcase his talents at a special benefit performance for the University of Idaho Theatre Arts Department.

Ponti’s introduction into puppetry came at a time when he was aspiring to be a painter or sculptor. A graduate student, however, suggested he attend a puppet class.

“I remember sitting in the class and realizing this was something I always felt, but never knew how to express it,” Ponti said.

With training in theater and acting already, Ponti found that puppet theater has all the same rules as traditional theater — including a few extras.

“Puppets can lose their legs on stage, if that’s part of the story or their character,” Ponti said. “Actors can’t.”

Ponti said the essence of puppet playing stems from inspiration, because that’s where pure creativity is found. Early in his career, Ponti said, his perception of puppets opened up when he realized the culture and art behind puppet and figure theater.

It hasn’t always been easy. Ponti said during his time as a professional he has noticed the burden puppeteers carry. He’s used his career as a method to open up a new way to look at puppet theater.

“People hear ‘puppet theater’ and instantly think low quality children’s entertainment,” Ponti said. “It’s a burden we try to overcome, but I don’t think we can do anything about it.”

Ponti said puppetry has a long and respected history as a tool for creative storytelling in Europe, but in the United States it is just beginning to receive recognition. Broadway hits such as “Lion King” and “War Horse” have paved the way for aspiring puppeteers.

“It’s important for puppet players to not limit themselves to the same techniques,” Ponti said. “Poets don’t use the same 25 words, why should we?”

Ponti is on the UI campus as a visiting guest artist of the College of Letters Arts and Social Sciences and the theatre arts department to lead a master workshop for theater majors. He is also involved in puppet creation for the Idaho Repertory Theatre and the theatre department’s production of “A Christmas Carol,” which will open Dec. 3.

If You Go What: Gabriel Ponti When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday Where: Hartung Theater on the University of Idaho Campus Cost: Tickets are $7.50 for children 8 and older, free for UI students. Tickets can be purchased at BookPeople of Moscow, by calling (208)885-6465 or at the door.

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  • Brad Upton

    @ Marcus Whitman Hotel & Conference Center

    Sat., June 19, 7 p.m.