GREENFIELD — There’s something magical about puppets — especially the ones on strings, called marionettes. You pull one string and the creature, say, a clown, raises its hand to wave. Pull another string, and you can get him to nod or shake his head. If you work awhile at pulling two strings, you can make the clown look like he’s walking across the stage or down the street. Puppets make people smile.
And Peggy Melchior Pearson is hoping for a lot of smiles when she brings Melchior’s Marionettes to Lizabuth Ann’s Kitchen behind the Riley Boyhood Home at 1 p.m. Sept. 26.
Describing her performances as ‘marionette puppet shows,’ Pearson will bring a select group from her collection of more than 200 puppets. She will then present a variety show that includes puppets who sing, dance and entertain — with her help, of course.
Pearson’s appearance at the Riley Home will include not only the performance, but a PowerPoint presentation on the history of puppetry, an international display of marionettes and a children’s puppetry workshop.
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Pearson is committed to sharing the history of puppetry.
“A lot of people think that puppetry is a little amusement for children,” Pearson said. “It has a long history from before people could read.”
Puppetry dates back to at least the 1600s, Pearson said. When most people couldn’t read, it was a vehicle for not only storytelling, but education, religious messages and sharing news events. Puppets were used for illustration.
Punch and Judy, two classic puppetry characters were a huge hit during the Renaissance (1300 — 1600 A.D.). Pearson described Punch and Judy puppet shows as soap operas, where the ‘common man’ Punch was a hero.
“He had no job, he drank too much, his wife verbally abused him,” Pearson said. “He was politically incorrect but audiences loved him.”
Punch and Judy may not be a part of Melchior’s show, but after 40 years of performances, there are definitely some audience favorites in her cast of stringed characters.
Among those is an alien in a flying saucer who lands on earth and dances to an instrumental piece called “Axel F” from the 1984 film “Beverly Hills Cop.” Another in a worm who comes out of an apple, a bit handed down from Pearson’s mother, who was also a puppeteer.
Melchior is a first-generation American and a second-generation puppeteer. Her mother Erika was a German immigrant who moved to the Cleveland, Ohio, area when her husband got a job with U.S. Steel. Erika Melchior began by making and performing shows with fairy tale character puppets.
When Peggy reached her teen years, her mother gave her a couple of puppets of her own, and together the mother-daughter team performed at shopping malls and at events with the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus.
“Our business has morphed,” Pearson said. “My mother used to do cruise ships; now we do elementary schools and pre-schools.”
Some 40 years later, Pearson has handed down the puppet legacy to her daughter Heidi Shackelford. Shackelford worked with Pearson’s partner Debbie White to create and present Gertrude’s Slightly Haunted Halloween Puppet Show, a variety presentation with a humorous Halloween theme that’s pre-school safe.
Melchior’s Marionettes show on Sept. 26 is free and open to all ages, but space is limited. Reservations are available at greenfieldin.org/parks-online-registration/product/listing and scroll down to Melchior’s Marionettes. For more information, visit facebook.com/jameswhitcombrileyboyhoodhome.