Xavier students bring life to big parade puppets
This year, pregnant Mary plays a major role
in 'Great Expectations'
By Joanne Flemming
APPLETON -- Puppets made by Xavier High School students again played a giant role in Appleton's 2001 Christmas parade scheduled Nov. 20.
Lynn Zetzman, art teacher, said the school entered 11 puppets, including three new ones which fit with the parade theme, "Great Expectations."
Two of the new ones were Estella and Miss Havisham, characters from Charles Dickens' novel Great Expectations. The third was Mary, who is expecting Jesus.
It takes 60 students to carry and operate the giant and auxiliary puppets and twirl the 10-foot streams on poles which accompany them.
In 2000, Xavier students did all the work. This year, the high schoolers handled the giant puppets with support by six students from each of the other schools in the ACES/Xavier system.
The puppets are definitely a crowd-pleaser because they are different, Zetzman said. "There is a lot of motion and energy to the presentation."
The unit won the Bernie Pearlman Memorial "Through the Eyes of a Child" Award in 1999 and the Best Non-Commercial Entry in 2000.
Zetzman said she and her students got involved with the puppets in 1999 when puppetmaker Joan Mosling of Pickett asked if the Wisconsin Puppeteers Guild could hold its fall meeting in the Xavier art rooms. Mosling said the students could finish what the Guild started.
That was "Angelica," the angel that was the first parade entry. The Guild built the body and applied the first layer of papier-mache, Zetzman said. Six Xavier students worked with them that day. Mosling eventually finished the puppet at home.
Other students, working through the Xavier Art Club, built companion angels for "Angelica."
Last year, Zetzman received grant money from the Community Foundation of the Fox Valley Region and the Appleton Arts Alliance to build 10 more puppets -- the three Wise Men, three trees, three penguins and Craven the caterpillar.
Seven puppeteers are needed to operate him, she said, because Craven's tail moves and "can get a huge sweep."
Zetzman, Mosling, paper artist Tom Grade and Zetzman's husband Frank, University of Wisconsin-Fox Valley art professor, worked six weeks with four classes of art students on the puppets.
When they were completed, Zetzman said, Grade told her the puppets "were the best thing in the parade. You should just keep adding to them until they become the parade."
The 2000 puppets were also in the Madison Christmas parade.
Zetzman said Appleton Downtown Inc., the Christmas parade sponsor, chose the "Great Expectations" theme because of the changes being made in the downtown, including the Performing Arts Center construction and College Avenue's refurbishment.
Before beginning work on the two Dickens' characters, she watched videos of Great Expectations, which she found so depressing that "something more uplifting" was needed for Christmas. That's why she and Art Club students made Mary.
Each puppet took 70 to 100 hours to complete, she said. The faces are made from papier-mache; the bodies, from plastic plumbing pipe. At the bottom of the pipes, there's a "backpack," which rests over the puppeteer's shoulders and is tied at his/her waist.
Each puppet's costume was attached at the neck and dropped over the pipes and the puppeteer. The student looked out through a mesh dyed the same color as the costume and sewn into it.
When placed on a puppeteer's shoulders, a puppet can be 12 to 13 feet high. Carrying it indoors is not uncomfortable, but it can be strenuous outside in the cold and wind, Zetzman said.
The puppet's hands are attached separately, and the puppeteer can move them.
While the art students have made 14 giant puppets, only 11 were in Tuesday's parade because some have been damaged.
The puppets present two problems -- transportation and storage. Last year, they were taken in three mini-vans to the parade staging area.
This year, a Xavier alumnus who owns a trucking business volunteered a semi to transport them to Catholic Central's gym at St. Mary Parish Tuesday morning and back to Xavier after the parade.
The puppets have to be taken apart, including detaching the heads and costumes from the bodies, before they can be stored in one of Xavier's basement rooms, Zetzman said.