Kids get hands full at puppet workshop

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- Hunkered down in the crowded puppeteers' pit, Peyton Ellis, 7, left, and Mia Piazza, 7, react as their cat puppets are 'attacked' by an alligator puppet during a puppetry workshop Friday at The Octavian Foundation for the Arts' Studio in Hammond.
Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- Hunkered down in the crowded puppeteers' pit, Peyton Ellis, 7, left, and Mia Piazza, 7, react as their cat puppets are 'attacked' by an alligator puppet during a puppetry workshop Friday at The Octavian Foundation for the Arts' Studio in Hammond.

Landry Smith, 8, a student at St. Joseph’s Catholic School in Ponchatoula, put her creative skills to work as she glued some soft, tan material to a plain white sock Friday at the Octavian Foundation for the Arts headquarters.

As she looked her creation over, Landry, who attended a puppetry workshop with some friends, decided to give her puppet some eyes and a name.

“He’s a monkey, and I’m going to name him Murphy,” Landry said.

About a half-dozen youths learned more about the inner workings of a puppet show during the workshop sponsored by the Octavian Foundation for the Arts. The workshop, last held during the Christmas holiday break, taught youths how to create puppets and characters, and how to write a script and act out a puppet show.

As the youths practiced beneath the tiny puppet stage, each of them read their lines aloud, practicing a run-through of the puppet show they authored.

“It’s fun,” Landry said. “I like to make puppets.”

For Landry, the experience was a new one. Landry, who said she’s never been behind the scenes of a puppet show before, said she liked being involved in the production much better than simply watching one.

While Peyton Ellis, 7, of St. Joseph’s, had created a puppet from a paper bag before Friday’s workshop, she was amazed at how “squishy” it was in the puppeteer’s pit.

She said the youths’ first puppet show was about an evil stepsister, Cinderella, two cats and an alligator.

Mia Piazza, 7, also of St. Joseph’s, said she has never been involved in a puppet show before except the ones she has created by herself.

“I have to play with imaginary friends since I’m an only child,” Mia said.

The workshop was just one of the programs offered by the Octavians to keep youths in the community involved in acting.

“We went over the basic acting techniques and the three tools every actor has to work with: their mind, their body and their voice,” workshop instructor and Octavian Foundation for the Arts assistant director Jessica Cressionnie said.

“They’ve learned a lot about performance technique and played theater games,” Cressionnie said.

“They’re having fun and learning at the same time,” she said.

Next month, the Octavians Troupe de Tour will begin performances of “The Princess and the Pea” at area libraries and other festivals and community events.

Members of the group are trained to perform in the commedia dell arte style. This style was developed in 15th-century Italy. It is what brought slapstick and improvisation to live theater.

The group has been developed to perform at fairs, festivals, nursing homes, libraries and the like.

It’s scheduled at the Tangipahoa Parish Fair, The Strawberry Jam’N Toast Festival and various other locations throughout the year.

On March 8-9, the Octavians will host auditions for “The Jungle Book,” for ages 6 to adult, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The performance dates are June 21-23 and 28-29.

To learn more about the programs sponsored by The Octavian Foundation for the Arts, log on to http://www.theoctavians.com or contact Cressionnie at (985) 974-9722.