Puppets invade Brattleboro: International Puppets in the Green Mountains Festival Sept. 19-23

Joshua Holden brings “The Joshua Show” to the International Puppets in the Green Mountains Festival in Brattleboro at 11 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 23. It’s part of a five day celebration of puppets. (Photo by Richard Terine)

Joshua Holden brings “The Joshua Show” to the International Puppets in the Green Mountains Festival in Brattleboro at 11 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 23. It’s part of a five day celebration of puppets. (Photo by Richard Terine)

Every couple of years the little town of Brattleboro is transformed into a playground of puppeteers from around the world when Sandglass Theatre presents the International Puppets in the Green Mountains Festival, in theaters throughout Brattleboro Sept. 19-23.

This year’s festival called “Opening the Doors” mixes renowned performances with community discussions around timely issues.

“It has a lot to do with identifying issues we face in this community, and how we can support them by the programming we bring in,” explains Shoshana Bass, festival producer.

This year’s program focuses on inclusion and play. Through topics as diverse as the marginalization in society of people with disabilities, to the complicated issues of the refugee crisis, the stories shine a light upon access and inclusion through performances, workshops, discussions, speakers, puppet slams and an array of other events.

But it’s not just for kids.

“Puppet and its Double in Mr. Ruraru’s Yard” (Courtesy Sandglass Theater)

One of the puppeteers this year is Joshua Holden, 35, who lives in New York. He was part of the Broadway national tour of “Avenue Q,” and spent the last six years developing “The Joshua Show,” a whimsical act with a beautiful message at the heart of it.

“Its inspiration is really how I am reacting to life right now,” Holden said recently by phone. “The show in Vermont is about the determination to not give up when the world around you seems to be falling apart. That’s the message I want to share with kids and adults.”

“We call him the greatest thing since Mr. Rogers,” Bass said. “He has the same kind of contagious joy.”

In “The Joshua Show,” which will be presented at the festival at 11 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 23, a surly hand and rod puppet named Mr. Nicholas takes pleasure in raining on everyone’s parade. Holden says he represents a pessimistic, somewhat more realistic version of himself and probably all of us at times.

“He’ s just an open wound,” Holden said. “He always needs to find the negative in things, sometimes a little too negative, but we all know these (kinds of) characters, or we can look at ourselves in the mirror some mornings and say, ‘Yeah, I’m having a Mr. Nicholas type of day.’”

“The nice thing about him is that he shows that’s a completely valid feeling. But you’re stronger than you think you are,” Holden said. “When things get really hard and you feel as though the chaos is enough to make you want to give up, that’s when you need to find things within yourself that you can do to make a positive impact.”

The 45-minute show started out as a 10-minute sketch for a late-night puppet slam in Chicago. It took Holden a year to develop it into a 45-minute show, after which he was encouraged to create a second show.

“It was never my intention to do any of this,” Holden said. “It just unfolded and it felt like there was a real need for it.”

Sinking Ship: “A Hunger Artist” (Photo by Kelly Stewart)

Although it’s geared toward ages 6 and older, Holden insists it works best with a mix of adults and kids, saying, “It was written specifically for adults to bring kids to the show.”

The festival includes many more acts with visually stunning puppets in thoughtful and relevant shows, as well as daily activities with guest artists and local theaters.

“It has this very homey feeling,” Kirk Murphy, festival producer, said. “Everyone’s eating together and going from place to place together and it builds this very familiar vibe and for me that’s the really special part. And I think our audiences can feel that, too. It’s just a very friendly happening.”

“This festival is only possible because of the community we live in,” Bass said. “We put puppets in all the downtown shop windows and some restaurants. It’s not an effort we could ever do by ourselves and we are deeply grateful that we live where we do, where people support this kind of work. It’s a very unique experience and it’s quite special that this happens here in southern Vermont.”

“I would encourage especially adults to come out,” Holden added. “There’s amazing storytelling happening that’s not to be missed.”

Sandglass Theater

Sandglass Theater presents the 10th annual Puppets in the Green Mountains International Festival Sept. 19-23 at venues in and around Brattleboro and Putney. For tickets, schedule or for more information, call 802-387-4051, or go online to puppetsinthegreenmountains.com.