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I-Fest Reflections

The annual International Festival of Christian Puppetry and Ventriloquism was, as always, an unforgettable experience. To describe I-Fest to non-puppet people is nearly impossible, since nobody really understands what it is we do in the first place. To quote a favorite Muppet, “I can sum it up in one word: Indescribable!”

Simply put, I-Fest is a conference designed to encourage, equip, and train Christian puppeteers and ventriloquists to better utilize their arts in ministry. Sound odd? Well, it is. And we love it. For me, I-Fest is a time when I leave reality behind and enjoy a full week of creativity, new ideas, silly people, and short nights. When it’s all over, I am explainably exhausted yet strangely energized and full of ideas.

Friends. As always, it was great to reconnect with old friends (loved those lattes, Sheri), and develop new relationships (those PJs folks are AWESOME!) I enjoyed connecting faces with screennames (LJ,PJ,Scooter,jack,Mike,Runnin,Elaine,&others) and catching up with folks that have been like family. Sometime I should tell you stories about living with the Murphy’s, but that’s another story, never mind, anyway...

Performances. I tell you what, wow! The best of the best come to I-Fest and this year was no exception. Master puppeteer David Simpich presented his amazing “Pilgrim’s Progress” show twice this year. What artistry! And what an amazing message, too. That’s what I enjoy best about David’s performances... he does not veil the gospel message.

Even though I did not get an opportunity to catch all the performances throughout the week, I thoroughly enjoyed those I saw including POWER Co of Wheaton IL, Glory Fingers of Buffalo Grove IL, Trinity Puppeteers of New Zealand, Andy Holmes of Abilene TX, Brian Cockerham of West Monroe LA, Judy Buch of Tolland CT, Natalie Miller of Australia, Tim and Amanda Cowles of Sherman TX, Maegan Bruce of Weatherford TX, Tony Borders of Sacramento CA, and lots others I’m sure I’m forgetting.

The Dream Team performance was another highlight for me. OK. I guess this one is kinda selfish. The writers/directors are close friends, a number of the young performers are friends, and they were using some Amy Harder Originals... singing Big Macs, Large Fries, and Cokes. (Not to mention that fabulous double-360-spin! Go penguins!) I truly enjoyed getting to know the members of the 2006 Dream Team and hope we can "play" again soon!

Worship Times. I-Fest is a unique ministry arts conference. Emphasis on individual and corporate worship is an important part of the festival experience. This year we enjoyed the music and ministry of Peder Eide as well as the ever-challenging words of Paul Morley. The Festival theme this year was “More Than Me” based on John 3:30, “He must become greater, I must become less.” I was particularly struck by the appropriateness of this message for this group of performers. We all stand center stage in the spotlight and enjoy the attention that our arts bring us. But how many of us remember on a daily basis that we are doing these things for the glory of God and not ourselves? Thanks, Dale & Liz, for the great message that will remind and challenge us for years to come.

Classes. This was my busiest year ever at I-Fest: six regular classes, three hands-on workshops, three private coaching sessions, one panel, one performance, and one competition judging session. Eek. But even though it was a hectic time, I particularly enjoyed my classes this year. Maybe it was because I had so many new titles and the content was fresh. Maybe because the folks in my classes were so eager to learn. Or maybe it was just because I got to team-teach a class with Andy Holmes, I dunno. What I do know is that I am so encouraged by all the great people I met and how wonderful it is to be able to share ideas with folks from all over the world.

One of my new classes this year presented a number of interesting challenges. Susan at OWS thought it would be good for me to teach a class on the technically difficult puppetry moves and call it, "The Harder Moves". (I know, I know.) My first challenge was coming up with two hours worth of material for this hands-on class. The next challenge was to determine how, exactly, to conduct a 2-hour manipulation class without killing the arms of each attendee and myself. But then I also had to come up with a way to describe all these moves in the lecture notes that each participant would take home. How could I possibly (and accurately) describe how to hold your fingers around the rods to make your puppet rub his tummy while patting his head? Enter video camera & new computer. The solution? My first-ever video lecture notes! :-) What a fun project that was! And who knows? Maybe by next year that 15-minute video will be expanded to a full 60-minute product! Stay tuned for details.

Well, that’s my 2006 I-Fest experience in a nutshell. It was my ninth year at the conference and I hope there will be many more!

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