Creating a Caterpillar Puppet

The upcoming Uncommon Loons/Grand Rapids Showboat production of ‘Ziibi’ involves a large caterpillar puppet. As with most of the costumes, props and puppets in this show, we hope each element will be its own piece of art. The caterpillar will be a type of marionette with its skin dyed with batik techniques. Here is a log of our process. I’m not experienced in batik or puppet construction, so we are learning as we go. Here’s to trial and error augmented by rigorous research!

Step 1: Cutting the fabric to size and stretching it on a temporary frame. image(3)

Step 2: Drawing a pattern out on paper. Inked in black marker so that it can be seen through the fabric when we flip the frame over onto it.


Step 3: Flip the stretched fabric onto the pattern. Trace the lines in wax. This took three tries to get it right. The first two attempts were not perfect, as the wax didn’t soak through the fabric entirely in some spots. This allowed dye colors to bleed into each other later in the process. The lesson learned: keep the wax hot and move slowly so it can soak through. Straight lines are tempting to do quickly, but the end quality will suffer for it.


Step 4: Brush the dye onto the fabric within the wax outlines.

Step 5: The wax was removed with an iron and newspaper. At this point I should have put the fabric in hot water bath to get rid of the rest of the wax, but with a test wash another piece dyed the same way had bled into one piece of gray fabric blah. So we left it as-is and water-proofed it with clear silicone spray.

After this, I didn’t keep detailed photos of the process, but then the fabric was stitched lengthwise and gave it ribs and form with 7″ metal rings stitched in. The front and back were made from recycled milk jugs cut down, antennae made from foam backer rod.

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Photo from the show in August 2015:


Caterpillar in performance. Photo credit: Jennifer Mariano


Caterpillar in performance. Photo credit: Jennifer Mariano

The Making of a Moose

moose stilts

Concept of moose stilts and costume

The show ‘Ziibi’ we are creating with Grand Rapids Showboat, Inc. is going to be a spectacular performance celebrating life on the river with a lot of treats for the eyes and the ears. Among other elements, we’ll be exploring with stilt walking and puppetry. One element will be crossing the two. Here’s a peek at a life-size moose we plan to build for a performer to wear/manipulate. It seems to work on paper. We’ll see how it stands the test of a physical reality.

Moose Stilts

Stilt schematics

Thankfully cosplayers who like to dress up as werewolves, satyrs, and other creatures have figured out how to turn human legs into animal legs. With a few adaptations and the addition of crutch-like forelegs this still seems feasible on paper.

Antler sketch

Antler sketch

The moose head will be suspended out beyond the actual head of the actor and so the puppet head and antlers will need to be light weight. I’m looking at a 1/2″ or 3/4″ PVC skeleton and fabric with stiff interfacing for the mass of the antlers. The head will likely be a similar construction. In the end it must be light so that the actor can easily move the moose head by moving his own head.



Loons in Residence

Uncommon Loons Theatre Company

Old Central SchoolWell it’s official! The Uncommon Loons will be artists in residence at Old Central School on the third floor for the next three months!

What will we be working on, you ask? Great question! We will be working on Ziibi!

What is Ziibi, you ask? Another great question! First off, the easy answer: ziibi is the Anishinaabe/Ojibwe word for river. It’s the ‘ssippi’ in ‘Mississippi’. Ziibi means river.

What is Ziibi in our context? Ziibi is an upcoming spectacular theatrical production that celebrates life on the river. This is idea we’ve paddling around for some time… since last winter/spring, actually. We were looking at doing Ziibi for summer 2014, but we already had a Shakespeare in the Park project in the wings; with the scope of this adventure we wanted plenty of time to pull it all together. Ziibi is a show that we are creating as…

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Successful Premiere of Picturing Grace


The premiering performances of Picturing Grace were met with mixtures of laughter and tears. A follow-up article published in the Grand Rapids Herald-Review:

The Grand Rapids Players’ fall production, “Picturing Grace,” continues its performances at the Myles Reif Center this weekend. Written and directed by John Schroeder, “Picturing Grace” tells the story of the two men made famous around the world because of the picture “Grace”; the man who posed for it and the man who photographed it.

Eric Enstrom, a Swedish immigrant photographer, is disheartened by the pessimistic views in his community. In his search to capture the photograph that will make people conscious of the things they have rather than the things they have to do without, the international renown picture “Grace” emerged after a chance meeting with a Swedish immigrant peddler, Charles Wilden. The play tells the backstory behind the famous picture, sharing local history in a dramatic presentation that is humorous, heartwarming, and even heart-wrenching at times. Audiences for the show’s opening weekend left the theater with rave reviews.

Performances are on Friday and Saturday, Oct. 17 and 18, at 7:30 p.m., and on Sunday, Oct. 19, at 2 p.m. Tickets are on sale at Reed Drug, the Reif Center, and online at

A few reviews from audience members were published in the Grand Rapids Herald-Review:

Picturing Grace was Spectacular

“PICTURING GRACE” – what a remarkable production going on at the Reif. Written by local artist, John Schroeder, who was inspired by the picture GRACE taken by Eric Enstrom in 1918 in Bovey. If you want a great Sunday, Oct. 19 at 2 p.m. or Friday, Saturday, Oct. 17,18 at 7:30 p.m. this play is a must. The acting is so excellent that I was drawn into the production with emotions ranging from high laughter to sadness and for some even tears.

Those in charge of the lighting and technical aspects create several dramatic scenes simply by just flipping a light on or adding musicians in the background. I haven’t witnessed a production so heart-warming as this in years. The play also delves into the history of the Enstroms, their studio fire, the town being nearly wiped out by the flu epidemic, and of course the ethnic issues created by the “melting pot” of people working in the mines. If I was to rate this production, it is spectacular. Congratulations to the Grand Rapids Players and I hope those of you reading this will venture out for a feature production you will not forget. Pictures tell stories…and this one will make you thankful.

-Brian Carlson, Grand Rapids

Thank you to all involved in heart-felt production

Kudos to the Grand Rapids Players for a very moving and incredibly good rendition of the story behind the picture of “Grace” in their production of “Picturing Grace.”

This performance which my husband and I attended on opening night, Saturday, Oct. 11, held us captivated with the choreography, background music, acting and the history behind this famous photograph.

The special effects with the silhouettes behind which, in black and white, we could see Maggie Anderson and Olivia Skaja, members of the Itasca Orchestra and Strings Program, play their instruments beautifully, interspersed with early scenes of Bovey at the time of the photo “Grace,” was taken by Eric Enstrom, a man, who espied to the theory that we need only the basics to make us happy, the exact feelings he captured and what made “Grace,” what it is today.

If you haven’t already seen this inspiring performance, go to the Reif this coming weekend and see for yourselves, the image of “Grace.” Thank you to all involved in this very heart-felt Production.

-Juliet Jones, Grand Rapids

Amazing ‘Grace’

A special thanks to the Grand Rapids Players and John Schroder for their wonderful play, ‘Grace.’

As a local historian and a theatre buff, we were thrilled to watch the story unfold. If you get a change to go, don’t miss it. This critic found nothing to criticize.

-Stan and Laurie Watson, Grand Rapids