Puppet Rider
Island Voices

Puppet Rider

By Doug Skove

Salmon puppet photo by Sonya Lang Photography.

The Island is full of people with fascinating lives. Often, it seems that the Island itself has a hand in helping one find a new direction. Enjoy this tale about how one Islander became a puppeteer. Special note: Islewilde is taking place this month, at their art camp on Old Mill Road. See end of article for more information.

Up until 1999, I was in industrial sales. I’d moved to the Island in 1997, so for two years, my old life interwove with my new Island life. I realized it was impossible to maintain this situation, as, due to the long commute, it took time away from my family. I started looking for work on the Island.

My next door neighbor, Adam Ende, was the organizer of Islewilde, and he invited me to come and help with the puppet show. Because I was big and tall, they asked me to help move the puppets, and I did. It was a lot of fun. And then Bill Jarcho created Zambini Brothers, a traveling commercial business that offers puppetry to various events around the country. These events look for the quirky and odd, to beat the previous event’s reputation.

Islewilde was founded by the performance group UMO back in 1992 – at the time Janet McAlpin, David Godsey, Martha Enson, Kevin Joyce, Esther Edelman, and Steffon Moody – copying a form based in Vermont where you have free community art, food, and festival. I served as the managing director of Islewilde for about five years. I’m still a bit supporter, and like to be involved when I can.

Islewilde was transformative for me. I saw and experienced things that I knew weren’t happening anywhere else in the world. Crowds aren’t the point of Islewilde. It’s about the art, and freedom of expression. It was tremendously freeing, and it opened up my creative side.

Because I liked it, I continued my “regular” job at the Park District, but on the weekends I would puppeteer for Bill Jarcho around the country, in Utah, Montana, and other places, and that’s how I fell in love with the performance side of the puppets … spreading fun and joy, and getting paid to do so!

Eventually, I decided to make puppetry my primary career. Zambini Brothers is a troupe of performers who create spectacle and awe with “Giant Puppet Animals & Roving Comedy Characters” at state and county fairs, festivals, schools, libraries, and events throughout the U.S. Our most famous character is the Chicken Rider, a giant chicken ridden by a cowboy named Sheriff Fowler.

The Zambini Brothers is very summer- and fall-focused, with less work during the off-season. So that is when I turn to gig work to maintain a steady income. I found an app-based handyman company called TaskRabbit works best for me. I also install art in museums, companies, and private homes with my company Skove Art Services.

And as a reminder to those who require a possibly similar transformation, Islewilde is happening now until July 29th at their art camp on Old Mill Road (just north of the former Misty Isle Farms). Look for signs. There is a completely free drop-in art camp during the weekdays, with workshops on the weekends, culminating in a performance of a FREE pageant at the O Space on Sunday, July 30th.

July 10, 2023

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