by Leanne Loy
To meet Brother (Br.) Paul-Vincent is to understand what it’s like being in the presence of a kindred spirit. Br. Paul has been a Benedictine monk at the St. John’s Abbey since 1993. In 1995, he started teaching and directing theater at St. John’s Preparatory school. Before that, he spent 13 years working in a circus. During that time, he did magic tricks, swallowed fire and was a puppet master, among several other job duties.
When asked how someone gets into the circus, Br. Paul said, “you just show up.”
And from there, they’ll put you to work. Of course, Br. Paul had been doing magic and puppet shows since he was a kid, so he did have some experience beforehand.
Br. Paul has this vision for the arts that breathes life and inspiration to any room that he walks into. He sees the world differently and finds beauty in what some may call the mundane. It’s this vision and enthusiasm that brought the opera, “Amahl and the Night Visitors” to St. John’s Preparatory school.
To see Br. Paul and the opera, “Amahl and the Night Visitors,” head over to this year’s Winter Walk. The show is being performed at the St. Joseph Catholic Church at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec 3 and 1 p.m. Saturday, Dec 4.
When Br. Paul got word there were larger-than-life puppets sitting in London that had been made specifically for Queen Elizabeth II, he didn’t hesitate to start figuring out the logistics of how he was going to get them here.
An old friend of his by the name of Liz Fentress happened to be in London for school and working at a little theater called, The Little Angel Puppet Theater. The puppets that had been handmade for the Queen by Lyndie and John Wright of London, were about to be put up for sale on Ebay and separtated, unless they could find someone who wanted them.
Fentress contacted Br. Paul and told him about the puppets and asked if he had any interest in them. Turning down life-sized puppets that were made for the Queen is simply not something you do. But it took some time and a lot of phone calls to DHL shipping to figure out how to get them here.
He didn’t even ask for permission. Not wanting to dive in too deep and spend too much money until he knew what he was getting into, he asked to have just the main characters sent over, which was five puppets. Before he even had them completely unpacked, he knew he had to have the rest and eventually, all 23 puppets made there way to the Prep school and into Br. Paul’s hands.
The puppets themselves are beautifully crafted. Some are made with wood, others with foam. The mother’s face is made from leather, giving her a life-like look. And the colors of the clothing and painted faces are vibrant and eye catching. If you happen to make eye contact with one of them, it’s hard to look away.
The story of “Amahl and the Night Visitors” follows a little boy who happens to be crippled, and happy and playful despite he and his mother’s poorness. He hears a knock on his door one night and is greeted by the three kings, otherwise known as the wisemen. They are on their journey to find the baby Christ. To his mother’s chagrin, Amahl helps the kings on their journey in his own unique way.
The opera takes a team of 100 people to perform. This includes an orchestra, a choir, soloists, and of course, the puppet masters. Each puppet takes at least two individuals to control them, but the main character, Amahl needs three people to help him move. These three individuals must stay on their knees, behind Amahl for the entire 55-minute play.
The students of St. John’s Preparatory are that team, along with the help from some of the staff members.
“The students love this,” Br. Paul said, “and it teaches them so much.”
He recalls one student’s remark who, when given a compliment on how beautifully she was carrying herself on the stage in a different play said, “I learned it from the puppets.”
Br. Paul is more than a theater director. To these students and to everyone he meets, he inspires and teaches that life is filled with beautiful, artistic things, if you only know how to see it.
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