Thursday February 4th was a cold and raining morning as I sat in my car preparing to step into the Venue on 35th Street. I wanted to know more about the Puppet Show on Black History that was in town for a one-day showing. The chosen theme was “Follow Me! A musical journey with the Tuskegee Airmen.”
Patti Wray and Lucy White are the proud owners of this thriving house of plays, spoken word and entertainment plus. Inside the Venue, I met with my good friend James Cooper. (Incidentally, a master puppet handler, singer, actor, sound and light man and also the new facilitator of the Venue.)
James introduced me to his assistant, Michael Singleton, who was at the time setting up and checking the stage area, waiting for the equipment truck’s arrival.
We chatted for awhile as we waited for the Rainbow Puppet truck and crew to show up. They were delayed because rain had slowed traffic eastbound from Hampton.
The next thing I knew there was activity at the front door. (You know how we act when we are trying to get inside out of the rain while caring a load?) Once everything was unloaded inside, I had the pleasure to meet David Messick, the owner, creator and mastermind behind the Rainbow Puppet Show along with his two expert puppeteers/ stage crew, Kate Bickley and Tony Gabriell.
During rehearsal, I found myself caught up in the moment as the puppets swayed side to side, heads extending visibly above the near six foot enclosed blue tint curtains. The legendary entertainer Mickey Rooney was a strong voice supporter of the Rainbow Production before his death in 2014. The man is missed; yet, his voice lives on, said David Messick.
The sound system provided great clarity as puppets opened and closed their mouths on cue as the voices from the CD track penetrated the room. (It was like being at a play on Broadway – you can tell I don’t get out much!)
The content of the message about the Tuskegee Airmen was on point. Listening to the true accounts of heroics and the heroism of the first Black men to fly combat planes in the Air force during the 1940s was refreshing, even though I knew this story.
Finally, it was showtime, as the audience of 45-50 pre-K, 1st graders, and maybe 10 teachers reached their seats.
The young students came from St. Paul Learning Center and #2 Uplift Child Care in Norfolk.
Once everyone was settled James gave a 15-minute mini-training camp demonstration on how to safely operate the puppets, and he answered questions. There was plenty of interaction with the kids and teachers. They danced in their seats, clapped hands and sang along in joy.
I heard the rest of the show went well, Unfortunately, I had to leave early due to another engagement, darn.
All ended well, and from what I hear, the Tuskegee Airmen are true heroes in the eyes of the young ones.
For more information on upcoming events at the Venue on 35th St., call (757) 324-3729.