'Popol Vuh' Transformed Staff (and Community) into Puppet and Mask Makers
Mounting Popol Vuh: Heart of Heaven this past fall was a highlight of 2015 for Center Theatre Group, and like nothing we’d ever done before—from the giant puppets to the staging in Grand Park to the unprecedented collaboration with Boyle Heights community members and El Teatro Campesino (ETC). Which is why we called on staff members across nearly every department in the company to help out in one way or another. In fact, even before rehearsals began, staff members volunteered their time—on some of the hottest weekends of the summer—to assist with puppet- and mask-making workshops at Self Help Graphics in Boyle Heights, which were designed by master puppet maker Beth Peterson and ETC. Here are some of our staff members’ impressions of the experience, and what it was like to participate in a Center Theatre Group production in a very different capacity from usual!
The mask-making workshop was one of my favorite things I’ve been a part of at CTG. Right away, I found a flamingo mask in need of painting, and the next couple hours completely flew by. I talked to children, grandparents, teenagers, mothers and fathers while I worked—the whole experience felt like one big family event. What really blew me away was the artistic caliber of work that came out of this workshop. The community-made masks are really stunning. Everywhere I looked, there was such a sense of great diligence and pride in the artmaking going on, and the results were beautiful.—Katy Hilton, Development
I was amazed and impressed by the dedication, artistry, and enthusiasm demonstrated by the participants. Despite the heat, they transformed glue and paper into intricate and emotive masks and puppets. In the process of creating together we transcended personal and societal barriers, becoming a community and a team.—Dillon Slagle, Marketing
I got to make friends with my creative partners—a family of three who live in the area. We worked together on two bird heads and a jaguar head. We were a great team and finished the papier mâché work while chatting away about our lives. The kids had come to all the workshops, and learned so much. The little boy will voluntarily go to bed early on Friday nights just so he can wake up early on Saturday for the workshop!—Charity Wu, Development
I was so moved to see the puppet-making workshop being used as an opportunity for families to work, create, and play together across generations. Some families were represented by at least three generations! And I also loved that there were a couple of families who happened to stop in because they were curious and they came back, even though they’d planned a day at the pool!—Pier Carlo Talenti, Artistic Development
One mom told me that she never thought she could do anything artistic until these workshops, and raved about how much fun she and her daughter were having, even though they had originally come because of her son. She said that school inhibits creativity by teaching there is just one way to do things and forcing kids to color within the lines. She loved that at the workshops they could use their imagination and didn’t have to be “perfect.” It was really sweet and inspiring.—Jean Lamborn Kling, Development
Families, individuals, and community members from across Los Angeles came to Boyle Heights to participate in multiple puppet making workshops. On the day I volunteered, a retired teacher who worked with the Education and Community Partnerships department joined, as he was recently retired and looking to stay active with Center Theatre Group. People felt ownership and pride with these workshops.—Katie Mackenzie, Education and Community Partnerships
I don’t know much about the production process for theatre, and it was amazing to witness the life the developers bring to the process. Everyone was so creative and incredibly talented that I actually found myself in awe of everyone’s creations.—Shynasty Wilkes, Accounting
The workshop began with everyone saying their name and why they’re there. A little munchkin in the middle had been to every single workshop. Most people said they were there to learn about mask making or to meet new people. This little guy said, “I’m here because I’m an artist.”—Joy Meads, Artistic Development
I have been attending cultural events in Los Angeles for over four years now, but I was still blown away by the level of engagement at the Popol Vuh workshops I attended. The commitment and excitement of the participants was matched by their artistry, and it was a delight to watch and an honor to be a part of!—Sarah Rothbard, Marketing
My husband Norman and I always volunteer when we can for things like this. We had a vague sense that we would be checking people in and maybe helping monitor some mask-making activities. Little did we know that we would fully participate. We are both visual artists ourselves, so the chance to roll our sleeves up and dip our hands into the papier mâché mix was right up our alley. It was also a real thrill to work with members of El Teatro Campesino. I have long been a fan of what they do, and I also happened to be reading Todd London’s book, An Ideal Theater, in which they are featured. To go from the theoretical—reading about them in the book—to the actual—participating with them in this workshop—was a thrill.—Patrick Owen, Development
To learn more about Popol Vuh, view photos of all the workshops and watch videos of the process of making the show.