HISTORY OF OUR PUPPET SHOWS
Lenny with Punch & Judy stage 1951
Lenny in 1952
The Sad Clown
Madeline Gerwick 1951
Debbie's first puppet 1960
Debbie with store bought puppets on our first stage 1975. Photo by John Merritt
Christmas show performed 3 times - set by Lenny 1974
Debbie as a clown on 1st puppet stage 1976
Rumplestiltskin 1976 Photo by David Bradshaw
Remade Aladdin puppets 1985-1987
Lenny and Debbie 1979
Debbie & Lenny
Inside the Haunted House set 1981
Lenny with outdoor truck and stage
Mask of Neville by Debbie
Katrinka from Midwinter Magic 1996
Emily Gerwick & Molly McAdow
Massasoit and Samoset by Debbie
Map of Cape Cod by Irene Gerwick
Mask of King James I by Debbie
Debbie with Rip puppets 1994
Rip scenery of the Catskill Mountains
Shadow Puppets for Shoemaker and the Elves
Debbie with commissioned lifesize puppet
It began in the Bronx in March 1950 when Lenny Gerwick, whose tenth birthday was coming up, saw a Punch and Judy theater in a store on Castle Hill Avenue. He wanted it for his birthday and soon knew he would get it because he saw it hidden on the top shelf of the linen closet. It had a cardboard stage, two hand puppets, a bat and rolling pin, tickets and a script. The next fall was the first performance, Punch and Judy, as well as an original play. Refreshments kept the audience content.
Through the next two years he gave performances with a friend, Barry Michlin. They lived in the same apartment house, Barry on the sixth floor, Lenny on the third. They're still friends. Barry's a photographer in Los Angeles. The shows smoothed out with scenery, a light and sound effects.
Debbie grew up in Lancaster, New Hampshire in rural New England. She had been looking forward to fifth grade because “Mrs Chase’s” class always made puppets and put on a show. Debbie’s two older brothers both had Mrs Chase. Fifth grade came and Debbie got the other teacher – no puppets. Debbie’s mother suggested she could at least make a puppet, so, she did with absolutely no idea how to do it. She started with a paper bag bunched at the neck and the head was stuffed with newspaper. She just added on newspaper strips with paste one little piece at a time and when it was dry she painted it with tempera./smaller>
Debbie and Lenny met at a life drawing class at the Copley Society in Boston, Massachusetts. They were married in June 1974. Lenny had all his old puppets and stage packed away and during the summer he performed The Enchanted Princess, one of his old shows, for Debbie. They decided to do shows together for friends, just for fun.
The premier was at the Franklin Library during the National Book Week in November of 1976. Aladdin and the Magic Lamp - for which Debbie made her first set of papier mache puppets - quickly followed this. Debbie began making puppets out of clumps of newspaper and masking tape. Through more than twenty years she experimented with many kinds of papers, cloth and glue. Today puppets and masks are first sculpted in plastilene clay, then covered with two layers of boiled brown craft paper. Rumpelstiltskin was retired long ago but Aladdin is still performed. Everything has been remade: new scenery, revised scripts, puppets and music- some of which are in their fourth generation.
It was crucial to advertise Gerwick Puppets, and beginning in 1976 a flyer was printed and mailed out every year. This became the backbone for all bookings. Initially Debbie and Lenny silk-screened the first flyers themselves. By the late seventies they were having brochures printed in two colors. Since the early nineties brochures have been printed in full color. Mailings were twice a year and sent throughout New England. Between 1995 and 2007 Gerwick Puppets mailed a newsletter in the winter - The Gerwick Puppets Gazette, and a color brochure in the fall. Adventures from Thornton W. Burgess was added to the repertoire in 1977. Debbie grew up with these books of the Massachusetts naturalist author. The idea of transforming some of his stories into a puppet show was suggested by Cynthia Thomas, the Director of Stony Brook, an Audubon Sanctuary in Norfolk, Massachusetts.
In 1977, Debbie and Lenny bought a pickup truck and with a friend, Andy Perlmutter, built a six foot high aluminum back on it which functioned as an outdoor stage. It could be rigged with lights for evening shows. A sound system became imperative. Since then all performances are amplified; but acting is live, only the music is prerecorded. The outdoor shows evolved into a Festival of Fun for Children. Debbie and Lenny, along with Marcia Estabrook (a friend who worked with Gerwick Puppets for five years as a performer) performed a two or four hour festival. Marcia then created her own business, "Characters Educational Theatre".
The festival consisted of songs, puppet shows, mask skits, games and a children's parade. For the parade, banners and rhythm sticks were handed out to the children. Exhaustion (of the performers) ended this in 1985. During the same years, Gerwick Puppets performed regularly at the Children's Museum in Boston, Massachusetts. From 1980 to 1983 they did two or three performances a week on "Puppet Sundays."
The show was built through the year; in early December it was a frantic race to have everything ready. Debbie got sick. Marcia Estabrook filled in for Debbie at the first performance. Then she got sick! In mid-month, Debbie was carrying one of the big boxes of puppets, stumbled, fell and broke her foot. The production was to be presented again the next morning and although Debbie insisted she would be able to perform, she couldn't. So Lenny did the entire show himself. For the rest of the winter, Debbie performed with a plaster cast on her leg from her knee to her toes.
The following year Gerwick Puppets commissioned Jon Klein, a jazz composer and instructor at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, to write a score for a new summer show, The Case of the Missing Wood Pile. The story was written by Ron McAdow. He and Debbie were married in 1982 and had a daughter Molly, in 1984. During the latter part of Debbie's pregnancy and the first months with the new baby, Lenny performed with Barbara Fay Wiese, former exhibits director at the Ballard Museum of Puppetry at the University of Connecticut. Lenny also remarried in 1982 to Irene Boyle Mazmanian and had a daughter, Emily, the following year. By the time Emily and Molly were five and six they were dancing as snow sprites in Midwinter Magic. During other shows they were backstage with their miniature horses and Barbie dolls creating their own stories.
The puppet stage has been rebuilt many times from the first one made of plywood in 1974. In all, six stages were built for indoor use. The current stage was enlarged a number of times to allow scenery to slide off into the winged sides and to have greater depth on stage for layers of scenery and lighting. The size of the stage had to stay within the limits of what could be transported in an "extended" van. Performers had to be able to carry the whole thing into schools (occasionally up a flight of stairs) and set up in a reasonable time. The setup usually took an hour and a half.
Marcia Estabrook, Debbie and Lenny produced Pilgrim Adventure to America in 1983. This was an historical production compromised of eleven scenes. It demanded a large cast of characters in period costumes, a model of the Mayflower, a map of Cape Cod and a redesign of the entire puppet stage. Debbie also created masks, which she and Lenny wore in scenes performed in front of the puppet stage.
Four years later in 1987, Gerwick Puppets celebrated its two thousandth performance with an exhibit at the Arts Center at Southborough, Massachusetts. On display were all of their puppets, props and scenery. Gerwick Puppets hired Roberta Lasnik, a former dancer and costumer for Revels, Inc., to perform and make puppets. Roberta helped redesign and rebuild Aladdin, Pilgrim Adventure, Midwinter Magic, Haunted House, and Thornton Burgess. She continued with Gerwick Puppets until the mid nineties. In 1987 she and Debbie helped Lenny mount a new solo show, Aesop's Fables. This show required a new configuration of the puppet stage, as Lenny was mainly visible working with the puppets. The large, soft moving mouth hand puppets - a departure from their usual style - were made by Karen Larsen, a puppet maker and quilter, and former Artistic Director of The Puppet Showplace Theatre in Brookline, Massachusetts.
In the eighties, Gerwick Puppets produced miniature toy theaters. They consisted of all the characters, scenery and a stage (which Lenny drew) as well as Lenny's and Debbie's story line for each show. Much of their repertoire was reproduced in this miniature style. In 1994, Bob Garrett and Bob Mack of Cambridge, Massachusetts asked about doing a video of puppetry. The result was two videos: Fun with Puppets and Debbie Makes a Puppet.
These were produced by Two Bobs Productions and are sold here on-line in a DVD format. Excerpts from Aladdin, Gerwick Puppets' oldest show, is seen in "Fun". In both videos, one sees the years of experience of Debbie's puppet making.
In the early nineties Gerwick Puppets performed at two regional puppetry festivals in Pennsylvania. They did Pilgrim as an example of educational content in a puppet production. At a later festival they performed their largest show, Rip Van Winkle that premiered in 1992. In 1993, Debbie taught a course in puppetry at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts. Lenny reworked the jazzy Case of the Missing Woodpile into a solo production that could be performed inside or outside in the summer.
Through the decade Debbie began a whole new direction of puppetry for pre-school and kindergarten children. Her first endeavor was the creation of a shadow puppet production, The Three Pigs and Other Tales. This was followed by The Twig Family in the Oak Tree her own original story about a family of imaginary twig people who live in an Oak tree in harmony with nature. She built the entire puppet stage, a six foot high Oak tree, out of sturdy papier mache and she tells the gentle story as she moves the puppets around in the tree.