Kafka-esque puppets perform in benefit at Arts Council Princeton

It’s a rainy winter day, and when Princeton Community TV Operations Manager Sharyn Alice Murray takes off her headphones she can hear the drip-drip-drip behind her. A black plastic waste bucket is catching water from a perpetual leak in the ceiling. The bucket will overflow at any moment.

The condemned Valley Road building, where PCTV is housed, is in sorry shape, but the station’s search for a new home is the least of Murray’s worries. In April she lost her husband to cancer, and a few weeks ago her home in Ewing, N.J. burned to the ground. Murray had no time to contemplate what she might take when she awoke to the fire in the middle of the night. All she escaped with was one of her two dogs.

A musician, artist, filmmaker and puppeteer, Murray lost instruments, computers, cameras, artwork, puppets, mementoes, all the paperwork one needs to document existence – in short, everything.

From her blog in mid February: “Hard to get things without account numbers. I’m irritable and grouchy from lack of sleep.”

Living in temporary housing in Princeton Junction, Murray manages to put on a good face. She is happy to have replaced her lipstick, and is rebuilding her wardrobe, which helps her to feel like herself. She shows off a new pair of boots.

The Arts Council of Princeton will hold a benefit concert for Murray March 13, 7:30 p.m., at the Paul Robeson Center for the Arts (map). It will include music as well as a puppet show with Jawbone Puppet Theater director and Murray’s one-time puppet teacher Adam Ende.

Murray met Ende through one of her graphic arts clients, who happened to be Ende’s father. Ende had returned from Taiwan, where he had a patron who provided a place for him to live, meals, staff and a budget. “They loved and trusted my work and funded me to have complete artistic control,” he says.

The Princeton native moved to Brooklyn with his 5-year-old son and wife, an Indie rocker, because there were few opportunities for Indie rockers in Taiwan. He performs “at oddball western music venues open to performance art,” and supplements his puppet income by modeling at Pratt, the School of Visual Arts and LaGuardia Community College, as well as busking in Union Square. He’s engineered his equipment to fit in a few suitcases. The greater challenge, he says, is gaining audience attention for his Kafkaesque performances.

He likes modeling “because I get paid to sit and think quietly – not always so easy to do with a 5-year-old – and write scripts in my head,” he says.

Ende was an English major at Hopkins, with a concentration in creative writing, but after graduating he stopped writing – “it was too sacred and important” – to teach English in Ecuador and the Canary Islands. “The last time I had a proper job was in 1992,” he says.

He moved to Vashon Island, near Seattle, for 10 years, creating giant ceramic masks for parades, and had the realization that everything he’d been learning and doing all his life – drawing, painting, writing, ceramics, carpentry, sewing, music, acting – were all part of being a puppet maker.

Ende had been living in a shack in the woods, with no running water, electricity or plumbing, performing puppet shows at theaters, libraries and bars, when he was invited to Tapei to build, direct and train staff in puppetry for parades. By the time he returned to Vashon Island, his girlfriend had left him and he was kicked out of his shack.

He returned to Taiwan, as well as Thailand, where he continued to get offers of challenging work. Besides English, the only language Ende speaks is Spanish, so his puppet shows were often translated with supertitles.

When Ende returned to the U.S., it was partly to be closer to family and partly to be able to perform in his own language and culture. But living in Brooklyn, especially without a patron, was more expensive than living in Taiwan, so he was delighted to take on Murray as a student. Together they worked on sculpting, painting, building sets, and writing stories. They made puppets with papier-mache heads as well as two styles of shadow puppets. “We both got a lot from the student-teacher relationship,” he says.

Murray and Ende worked on the puppets for “It Didn’t Have to Happen,” an animated short about a sea turtle who mistakes a plastic shopping bag for a jelly fish and eats it. The film, a project with Sustainable Princeton to help teach kids to use reusable bags, screened at the Princeton Environmental Film Festival in February. Ende, who sounds like he ate broken glass for breakfast, voiced the sea turtle.

“Ninety percent of the puppets were made from trash,” said Murray, an environmental activist. The project included teaching people to make puppets. Even the backdrops were made from recycled bags.

“I don’t care much about material possessions,” Murray said, trying to move beyond the fire. “But I’m sad to have lost 20 puppets.”

Adam Ende’s “Give it Up, Kafka – Intro,” performed in Taiwan in 2006: 

A benefit concert for Sharyn Alice Murray will be performed at the Paul Robeson Center for the Arts, 102 Witherspoon St., Princeton, March 13, 7:30 p.m., with a puppet show by Adam Ende. For mature audiences. www.artscouncilofprinceton.com

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The Artful Blogger is written by Ilene Dube and offers a look inside the art world of the greater Princeton area. Ilene Dube is an award-winning arts writer and editor, as well as an artist, curator and activist for the arts.

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