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Denver's First Puppet Slam To Bring Audiences Behind The Felted Curtain

Courtesy of Cheyenne Michaels
Denver puppeteer Katy Williams sits with her creations Morrie the Monster and Milky White Cow

Katy Williams is used to having to explain her work.

“I’ll tell people I’m a puppeteer and they’re like, ‘Oh, so like The Muppets?’” Williams said. “And I’m like, ‘Yes -- but no.’”

Because what Williams does is so much more than felted fabric.

“You get to create life out of nothing,” said Williams, who owns the puppetry, prop and stage design company Katy Williams Design. “When I ask kids -- or even adults -- what it means to animate something and to bring it to life, it really takes a minute for people to think about that because I think we take […] breathing and being able to walk for granted.”

Credit Courtesy of Katy Williams
One of Williams' favorite puppets, a life-sized Pegasus, will greet audiences at the Rocky Mountain Puppet Slam.

For Williams -- who focuses on life-sized, hyper-realistic puppetry -- the best feeling is getting the audience to do a double-take on one of her works.

“I just think it’s this cool form of magic that is very ancient, but people haven’t really tapped into,” she said.

That’s why Williams is organizing Denver’s inaugural Rocky Mountain Puppet Slam.

So, what’s a puppet slam?

“It’s kind of similar to a poetry slam,” she said. “You have a couple acts -- each one has several minutes to present a piece of work.”

While some slams are competitive, Williams said she wanted this first event to be more of an introduction to Denver’s growing puppetry scene that includes The People’s Theatre of Denver, which recently produced Death Goes on Strike. The puppet-based opera is based on Der Kaiser Von Atlantis (The Emperor of Atlantis), which was written by Viktor Ullmann and Peter Kien during their last days in a Nazi concentration camp.

Credit Courtesy of The People's Theatre of Denver
A scene from The People's Theatre of Denver production of 'Death Goes On Strike.'

To help audiences understand more about the broad array of styles of puppetry, as well as the engineering and artistry behind it, there will be a puppet lab before and after the slam.

“I want to take away this wall of -- ‘Puppets are creepy’ or ‘I don’t understand puppets,’ or whatever their misconceptions are,” Williams said.

Eventually, she hopes to expand the slam to three events a year, including adult events -- like this inaugural one at Syntax Physic Opera -- as well children’s and other themed slams. She hopes these events will inspire people to look more closely at puppetry and maybe even try their hand at it.

Credit Courtesy of Katy Williams
Puppeteer Katy Williams in the show 'Lobstermen in Love.'

Her first real exploration of puppetry came from a high school production of Avenue Q, Williams said.

“I started to realize that I really loved this art form because not only do you get to be on stage -- which as a kid I just loved -- but you also get to bring something else to life,” she said. “Suddenly, your performance wasn’t about you.”

The first Rocky Mountain Puppet Slam will be held on March 24, 2018, 6 p.m., at the Syntax Physic Opera, Denver.

Stacy was KUNC's arts and culture reporter from 2015 to 2021.
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