Pulling on the heartstrings

Story by Emily Gresbrink

The lights rise on a platform in front of a black curtain. There is a collective gasp as 42 strings and two hands walk an elephant onstage, where he lifts his trunk and eats an apple.

The Cashore Marionettes performed their vignettes of “Life in Motion” Tuesday night in Schofield Auditorium as part of the Artists Series.

More than 10 stringed puppets, operated by Joseph Cashore, created various scenes of life set to classic music — whether it was a young boy flying a kite on a blustery day or a horse running through a pasture.

Sophomore Emily Hawk said a professor recommended she attend the performance — and it ended up being something she didn’t expect.

“It was insane how much emotion came out of it without words and just music and movement,” she said. “You couldn’t even notice he was behind the puppet. You just saw the
puppet itself.”

Nicole Rindone, the arts and events coordinator for the Artists Series, said the Cashore Marionettes were brought in because the show is unique.

“We learned about Joseph Cashore through a booking and managing service previously used by the university,” she said. “It’s different to have a marionette group here.”

Cashore said the show went well for him.

“It was great, especially if everything is going right, but when something goes wrong it’s flustering and can be tough,” he said.

Despite one minor technical hiccup — a puppet “dropped” a flower — Cashore said the Eau Claire audience was great, and they connected with the performance.

“I like the feeling of communication with the audience, that we’re watching the same thing and that feeling of attention in the room,” Cashore said. “It’s hard to put your finger on it or put it in words.”

The Cashore Marionettes have performed internationally since 1990, with 120 to 160 shows annually. Each puppet, built from scratch, takes six months or more to make,
Cashore said.

“The more complicated and specific the movements are, the longer it takes,” he said. “They don’t always work out the first try either.”

During the show, the audience viewed a variety of scenes in the 90-minute presentation. All of the puppets were operated by Cashore and the stage was set up with the help of his wife, Wilma Cashore.

Hawk said a favorite moment of hers was a scene where a mother rocked her squirmy baby to sleep to Brahm’s “Lullaby.”

“It brought back memories of when my brother was little,” she said. “It was just the little things that the character did were similar things that my mom used to do.”

The Artists Series showcase a variety of different events with theatre and music. The Cashore Marionettes were theatre and music in one performance.

Rindone said it’s always tough to know how people will react to a show such as this, but this show was an exception.

“I think because it is unique, that’s what draws people in,” she said. “There’s not a lot of marionettes or places to see puppet shows around here.”

Next week, the Artists Series reconvenes with a performance of “Of Ebony Embers: Vignettes of the Harlem Renaissance.” The performance is at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in Schofield Auditorium. Tickets are available at the Service Center.