Puppet man returning to festival

Entertainer: Jack Foreaker enchants young and old with his whimsical creations.

SUMMER In Harford County

August 07, 2005|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

A passion for puppetry took hold of Jack Foreaker when he was 4 years old.

"Our mailman gave me a puppet for Christmas one year and I jumped into a clothes hamper, which was my first puppet theater, and did a rendition of `Purple People Eater,'" said the 55-year-old Foreaker. "And I've been doing it ever since."

Despite his enthusiasm, Foreaker had to improvise because puppets and accessories weren't widely available.

"Puppets were hard to come by in the '50s and '60s, so I had to make my own," said Foreaker, an accomplished figure in the world of puppetry who worked with Muppets creator Jim Henson. "I created my own characters, and each one needed a puppet. I started my own make-your-own process. Where else could I get a giant talking toilet?"

Next weekend, Foreaker and a host of other performers and artisans will vie for the attention of an expected 20,000 people at the 25th annual Havre de Grace Seafood Festival at Tydings Park. And they'll have their work cut out for them because much of the focus will be on an enviable assortment of seafood, as well as other food and drink.

In addition to food and performers, more than 250 artisans and craftspeople will show their work.

"Every year I go through hundreds of applications and choose the best of them," said festival coordinator Lori Maslin. "This year we'll have all sorts of artists, including a copper artist, painters, pottery, decoy carvers as well as local candlemakers."

New to the festival this year is a 15-foot climbing wall, face-painters and temporary-tattoo artists. Also, a silent auction will be held each day. The Chesapeake Hospice will host a raffle for a 2005 Ford Mustang.

All proceeds from the festival -- after expenses of about $15,000 -- will be donated to the Haven House Alcohol and Drug Treatment program. Hours for the event will be 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. There is no admission charge.

Maslin said Foreaker has become a crowd favorite. He was invited to entertain a few years ago when Maslin was looking for something new, and now he's back by popular demand.

"We come every year to the festival, but my friends and I will be watching the puppet shows," said Brittany Cordell, a 20-year-old Bel Air resident. "They're hilarious. Not at all what I think of when I think of a typical puppet show."

In addition to performing, Foreaker makes puppets, spending hours each day working on his creations.

"I get an idea in my head and I do it as I go," said Foreaker. "I never use a pattern."

His first break as a puppeteer came in 1981 when he called Henson and was invited to visit him in his office.

"I just picked up the phone and called him and they actually patched me through to him," said Foreaker. "I then met and spent some time with him. I sent him videotapes of the work I did on PBS, and he critiqued it for me."

But the bigger break came for Foreaker when he auditioned in New York for Henson's film Muppets Take Manhattan.

"Through the process of elimination of about 600 people I won the role of the background puppets for Miss Piggy's wedding in the movie," Foreaker said.

Foreaker said he learned a lot from his mentor.

"Henson told me once after we'd gotten to know each other that he didn't like puppet shows, he just did what made him laugh," said Foreaker. "What he meant was, he didn't like doing things like Little Red Riding Hood or the traditional types of things. And I am the same way."

A few years later, Foreaker landed a spot as the opening act at the Three Little Bakers Dinner Theater, in Wilmington, Del. He's opened for such stars as Mickey Gilley, Charlie Daniels, Boots Randolph and the Beach Boys.

When he's not working with puppets, Foreaker is the executive director of Haven House. He has used some of his puppets to teach his patients about things like 12-step programs.

Since he does much of his work on the road, Foreaker has designed a portable puppet theater that folds up and fits in his van.

"The theater is 10 by 15 feet, so it takes quite a while and a pretty large space to set it up," said Foreaker. "Most of my puppets are done from the top of a covered step ladder that I cover."

Foreaker also hits the festival circuit during the summer, including the seafood festival.

"Last year I did a religious show Sunday morning with different nondenominational hymns, and people seemed to love it," said Foreaker. "I try to come up with shows that fit the occasion."

Foreaker will perform one show Aug. 13 and four Aug. 14.

In addition to Foreaker's shows, other entertainment and attractions will be provided throughout the weekend.

Among the artisans and craftspeople on hand will be candlemakers Sandra and Keith Williamson, owners of Chesapeake Country Candle in Havre de Grace.

"We go to a lot of the festivals and meet a lot of people," said Williamson. "Many of the people we meet that sit as vendors at the festivals get repeat customers and a following established, so we'll see if we get that this year."

Event coordinator Maslin said ending admission charges a few years ago has made a difference in attendance.

"We used to have people pay to get in, but now we changed that to having them pay for what they buy," said Maslin. "Attendance was low, and when we took the admission charge away, more people came. It's a great location, and people can come by car, or boat or on foot. There's fun for everyone, and we hope to get a great crowd this year."

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