Puppetry is an ancient art form used to pass down centuries of oral storytelling, but did you know that there is a small, yet vibrant, community of puppeteers in Puerto Rico as well?
The Para Cristo Puppet Slam (PCPS) was founded by Brenda Plumey Morales a year ago. “At the beginning of the pandemic, people were sad and looking for something new to do,” said Morales in an interview with THE WEEKLY JOURNAL.
So, Morales began giving free virtual workshops to interested individuals, showing them how to craft sophisticated puppets by recycling objects in their homes, simultaneously providing them with much-needed art therapy to get their minds off the fears and challenges of the ongoing pandemic.
This past week, PCPS staged their first live production in the Teatro América in Vega Baja. Six puppeteers performed, while another 35 assisted with the on-stage production. Just a year ago, these six puppeteers barely knew the first thing about their craft.
Morales, a multidisciplinary performer, educator, and expert puppeteer, wants to see people engaged in the community. Despite the group’s name (“Para Cristo” means “For Christ”), participation depends solely on your interest in learning something new and meeting new people, and not on religion. Instead of an escape from reality, Morales provides a different way to experience it. Her goal is to “spread the love, even if I have a different belief than you do”.
Following a few months of Zoom workshops, the group’s first production was broadcasted online. The participants, who previously had close to zero experience in puppeteering, theater, filming and editing videos, managed to create an entire online show. Since then, they have hosted another online event and the performance in Vega Baja.
Morales’s background is as an actress, having received a bachelor’s degree in Theater from the University of Puerto Rico, in addition to a Master’s in teaching theater. She fell in love with puppeteering after meeting iconic artists in the field. As for inspiration, Morales draws it from biblical verses and her care of the elderly.
“When I choose a bible verse, it’s mostly based off some experience that I’m living, or something that I want to share with another person,” said Morales, “When I performed in this third performance, I was looking for bible verses that inspire love, faith, and forgiveness. If you come to see my show, you won’t feel like I’m judging you or that you must become Christian—it’s always, always focused on respect and love for each other”.
The aesthetic of her puppets comes from elderly people. “Most of my puppets are based on elderly people that I see and am I taking care of. I’m inspired by their faces. Almost all of my puppets came from their faces. I love wrinkles and their stories, so I also select bible verses about taking care of people and how much they (elderly) give us,” Morales recounted.
Supporting the arts
These productions aren’t simple. There are pre-production, production, and post-production processes that need to happen to achieve the caliber of performance that Morales and the PCPS put on. They hope to hold their 4th puppet slam this summer and are looking for any community funding and support that can be offered for materials, a location for in-person workshops, as well as support from colleagues in the arts.
“People are hungry to learn something new, how to use a milk jug to make a puppet, to communicate, and heal with art during the pandemic,” Morales reflected.