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Published on July 26, 2019

‘Puentes al Futuro’ Explores Lambe Lambe Puppetry

Lambe Lambe
The boys who created “The Magic Box” — with their camp counselor Adrian Lopez-Diaz ’20 (right) — perform a Lambe Lambe puppet show.

With headphones pressed over her ears, the one-person audience peers in through a slot in a box and waits for the show to start. Music buzzes through the headset, the curtain rises and a miniature set is revealed. A cast of puppet characters comes to life and takes the audience on a journey. Two minutes later, the curtain closes, the show is over.

This is Lambe Lambe, a form of miniature theatre that took place at Eastern Connecticut State University during the month of July.

Puentes al Futuro (Bridges to the Future) is the Center for Community Engagement’s (CCE) annual summer camp for local middle school kids. In recognition of Willimantic’s Hispanic community, the educational program spotlights Latin American culture and is funded by a generous grant from the Jeffrey P. Ossen Foundation. This year’s theme was Lambe Lambe.

NYC-based puppeteer and actor Harrison Greene demonstrated the art form and led the group of 27 middle schoolers through workshops on the Eastern campus. Greene participated in an international festival with the group Payasos con Ropa de Calle (Clowns with Street Clothes), a group of performers based in Puerto Montt, Chile, dedicated to spreading Lambe Lambe storytelling.

Lambe Lambe
The girls of “El Dia De Los Muertos” perform for a family member at the Puentes al Futuro showcase on July 25.

“It’s a style that started 30 years ago in South America,” explained Greene. “The whole show is contained in a small box with a peephole. It’s a very personal, fully intimate experience.”

In Lambe Lambe, the puppeteer — or puppeteers — manipulates the characters from above, out of sight of the audience, whose vision is limited by the peephole. The headset plays prerecorded audio and the puppeteer does not speak. The spectator is left fully focused on the action inside the box.

For this summer’s Puentes program, the children were broken into six groups and tasked with creating original Lambe Lambe performances. Assisted by seven Eastern student volunteers, the groups wrote and recorded scripts, designed boxes (sets and scenery) and characters, and rehearsed for final performances.

CCE Program Coordinator Rose Hernandez explained that dreaming is a theme of Puentes al Futuro. “We want the kids to dream beyond their current circumstance and visualize their futures,” said Hernandez, who helped establish the Puentes program eight years ago at Windham Middle School. “This is why we hold the program every year on Eastern’s campus.”

The middle schoolers were asked to tap into their dreams. The result was a rainbow of colorful boxes and storylines.

CCE volunteers and Puentes al Futuro campers pose for a group photo with their finished boxes alongside Harrison Greene (middle, right).

A camper paints a backdrop for her group's Lambe Lambe box.

Student volunteer Katelyn Root works with campers on scenery.

Communication faculty member John Murphy records the campers' script.

Student volunteer Lexie Mastroianni helps her group of campers record their script in Eastern's radio station.

Student volunteer Forest Rappe works on scenery with a Puentes al Futuro camper.

Puentes al Futuro campers rehearse their Lambe Lambe performance.

Eastern President Elsa Núñez watches a Lambe Lambe performance during the Puentes al Futuro showcase on July 25.

In “The Letter,” several girls receive a letter and meet on a boat headed for Hawaii. After overcoming a series of challenges, they find they’ve passed “the test” and are now spies. In “The Magic Box,” Nemo is granted one wish and joins the circus. In “Girl’s Trip,” some friends are headed to see their idol, pop music star Billie Eilish, in concert. The girls meet Billie and are told to follow their dreams.

“Everyone contributed something different to the project,” said CCE volunteer Katelyn Root ’19. “Some kids loved writing stories, others specialized in art. Every talent was used to create the puppet shows.”

Speaking to his group of 11- and 12-year-old boys, Adrian Lopez-Diaz ’20 admitted, “It started out chaotic. Everyone was yelling ideas out, but eventually we narrowed it down. I gave them as much liberty as possible. It was fun to get to know the kids and see who they’re becoming.”

CCE
Harrison Greene, John Murphy, Rose Hernandez and CCE Director Kim Silcox pose for a group photo.

Zaira Hernandez’s ’20 group of girls carried a different level of energy. “My girls were very sweet. They were shy at the beginning, but over the month they opened up, asking me a lot of questions about my life, about college. There’s a lot of pressure on them. They’re just figuring out who they are.”

“Every day is a new opportunity to teach an important lesson to the campers,” said Forest Rappe ’20, “and to relate to them my own experiences from middle school. Our campers are going through a difficult transitioning period in their lives, so I want to give them as much support as possible so they’re happier and more successful in school this year.”

After finalizing the scripts, Communication Professor John Murphy helped the middle schoolers record the audio in Eastern’s radio station. “A universal constant was how surprised they were to hear a high-quality recording of their voice — to hear what they sound like to other people.” He added, “I loved seeing their spontaneity, their fearlessness and ability to act and play different parts.”

The month-long camp culminated on July 25 with final performances on campus. Dozens of family and community members gathered into a crowded and unexpectedly silent room in Mead Hall. Careful to not disturb their audiences — six performances happening simultaneously — the children intently worked their puppets as others shifted backdrops in and out of boxes. One two-minute show after the other, family and friends took turns peering into boxes. As the curtains closed, each spectator removed the headphones with a smile.

“I’m blown away,” said Greene with a tear in his eye. “My expectations are exceeded. It’s exciting that Lambe Lambe is being exposed up here, especially in this community.”

Written by Michael Rouleau