Five-person teams will animate 12-foot, rainbow-colored marionettes designed by chuch member and nationally known puppeteer Dan Peeler
Seven puppets each 12 feet tall will dance down Cedar Springs Road accompanied by more than 300 members of Cathedral of Hope as the church’s entry in the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade.
“The puppets are being clothed and getting personalities right now,” said COH staff member Travis-Lee Moore.
Each will be in a different rainbow color plus one in fuchsia that will march in a sea of people wearing that color.
The puppets are made of foam and are actually rod marionettes that take five people to animate — one on each hand and foot and another to operate the body.
“Some people feel strongly they should have a choreographed number,” Moore said — something to perform as they proceed down the route for the judges.
But others building the puppets are afraid they’ll have trouble just holding them up, especially if it’s windy.
Moore credits COH’s colorful balloon entry last year with getting so many people interested in participating this year. He called it a dramatic aerial view in a sea of color. He credits the Rev. Tod Scoggins with that creative endeavor. This year’s creativity is thanks to Dan Peeler.
Peeler learned puppetry from his mother, who was a puppeteer. Growing up in the 1950s, he said all children’s shows revolved around puppets — Howdy Doody, Kukla, Fran and Ollie.
He joined Puppeteers of America.
“I got involved as a teen and met them all — Bil Baird, Jim Henson,” he said. “They were extremely generous in sharing.”
Peeler was one of the original animators on Sesame Street and today does projects for the State Fair and Six Flags.
One of his best known and enduring projects was redesigning Chuck E. Cheese and five other characters for the company in 1991.
He’s also been a children’s minister at Cathedral of Hope for 17 years. Moore said when he realized what talent was in the church, he couldn’t let it go untapped.
He’s designed other figures for the church’s parade entries, including butterflies that fluttered down Cedar Springs Road and fish that floated around a lighthouse and a mermaid.
To begin this year’s project, Peeler designed a 4-foot-tall prototype. He projected the figure to create the pattern for the 12-foot puppets that will appear in the parade.
The weekend before the parade, more than 25 people were assembling the puppets in the church. Each foam piece was painted a base color. The pieces of the arms and legs were strung together and attached to the body.
Peeler showed the group how to insert rods and broom handles to animate the figures.
They put one of the puppets together before assembling the others to test it out. Peeler said it was heavy, but not too heavy to make it down the street.
As they carried it around the building, Peeler warned them not to make sudden moves.
“There will be wind resistance,” he said.
And he showed them how to wave the puppet’s hands to the crowd.
“Wave Big Tex style,” he said.
By that he meant back and forth, very slowly.
A week before the parade, none of the giant puppets had been dressed or given their personalities.
Peeler said he wasn’t getting involved in that. He was letting each group assembling a puppet decide how theirs would be dressed to create their own characters.
Moore said it was important for the church to have a creative presence in the parade that people will remember. He said it’s one of the best ways to reach out to the community.
He said he’s always surprised by how many people he meets in Dallas who haven’t heard of Cathedral of Hope.
“We’re kinda fun to hang out with, so come on down,” he said against a backdrop of puppet builders frantically trying to finish assembling their giant marionettes.
But more seriously, he added, “You don’t have to give up on God, because God hasn’t given up on you.”
After the parade, the church will have a booth at Lee Park.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 13, 2013.