During â€œThe Wolf Crystal,â€ wolves stalk the streets of Abingdon, puppet wolves, of course.
Dancers provide the movement for the wolves, and Heidi Rugg creates the puppets.
Ruggâ€™s company, Barefoot Puppet Theatre, is the only puppet company in Virginia that is on the Virginia Commission for the Artsâ€™ touring artists roster and Arts-in-Education roster. Thatâ€™s where Becky Caldwell, Virginia Highlands Festival executive director, found Rugg.
Sheâ€™s building eight puppets plus some masks/headwear. There are three rod puppets (wolf, butterfly and crow) and five shadow wolves. She is constructing the puppets from locally-sourced natural materials through a feltmaking process. The wool came from Grandview Farm, Abingdon, Virginia, and the alpaca from Dreamland Alpacas, Meadowview, Virginia.
â€œIâ€™m very excited to be working with these materials, especially with the shadow wolves, which will be a truly unique type of puppet. I love working with natural fibers, so being able to incorporate feltmaking, fabric quilting and other materials is a pleasure. Itâ€™s such a good fit for this project. The puppets will all be controlled externally,â€ Rugg says.
The planning team decided to have the three rod puppets because they have roles in the aerial battle. The shadow puppets (wolves) are moved by dancers from Highlands Ballet Company.
â€œDancers make the best puppeteers. This will simplify the rehearsal process, as the performers will have prior experience working together as a group,â€ Rugg says.
In addition to creating the puppets, Rugg coaches the performers and consults on other aspects of the performance.
â€œThere are a lot of moving parts,â€ she says â€œI have done commissioned building for numerous projects, but the community involvement portion of this project is unique. Iâ€™ll also be making some puppets that are equally unique.â€
Rugg began building puppets in elementary school to fulfill visual aid requirements for book reports. Anne Frank and the entire cast of characters from Lloyd Alexanderâ€™s â€œThe Book of Threeâ€ came to life that year. These first puppets were created using simple materials that she found around her house.
Now Heidi writes, builds and directs shows that tour throughout the country. She is also an active puppeteer and performing artist who leads workshops on puppet building and puppetry skills for children, adult hobbyists and professional puppetters. Her passion for combining science and puppetry has led her to becoming an advocate for arts integration.
She has become well-known for her puppet voices, her innovative puppet mechanisms and original designs. She loves coming up with ideas for new shows and working with a variety of media (especially handmade papers, wool for wet-felting, raw silk and slinkies).
In 2014, Rugg founded Puppets Off Broad Street in an effort to support more local puppetry performances in the Richmond, Virginia, region. She is also the chief instigator of the Fettig Project and the Naked Puppet Exhibit, a hands-on puppet exhibit that explores the functionality of puppet mechanisms. She can be found in her basement studio, Build RVA, a makerspace in Richmond. She is a teaching artist with the Virginia Commission for the Arts.
Visit barefootpuppets.com for more information.