A smile, a helping hand

Puppeteer Jack Foreaker, who trades laughs for donations, will play at Seafood Festival

August 03, 2008|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,Special to The Sun

When Jack Foreaker was 4 years old, his mailman gave him a bird puppet that contained a purple feather.

He bought a copy of The Purple People Eater record and practiced for his first puppet performance.

"I dumped the clothes out of a clothes hamper and slid down inside it," recalled Foreaker, now 58. "I had to flip the record player on - we didn't have a recorder back then - and I sang The Purple People Eater."

Foreaker has come a long way since his clothes hamper days. Now the puppeteer performs throughout the East Coast, mostly to raise money for Haven House, a nonprofit alcohol and drug addiction treatment center in Elkton, where he is the director.

On Saturday and Aug. 10, Foreaker will join dozens of other artists and vendors performing or showing their wares at the Havre de Grace Seafood Festival in Tydings Park.

Festival organizers say 15,000 to 18,000 people attend the event, which raises thousands of dollars for Haven House Inc.

The two-day festival began in 1980 as a fundraiser for the Havre de Grace Maritime Museum and became an annual event attended by 2,000 to 3,000 people. In the mid-1990s, Lori Maslin, an attorney who was promoting other events in Havre de Grace, took over the festival.

"The seafood festival is a shop-and-eat event," Maslin said. "It's a fun way to spend the day. It's something people can do with their family."

Combining food, art and entertainment, the event includes face painting, a car raffle and live entertainment by classic rock and blues performers. Dozens of vendors and artisans - including potters, painters, airbrush artists, soap makers, sculptors and carvers - bring their wares and demonstrate their skills.

Festival committee members try to offer new activities every year, Maslin said.

She recalled the year that vendors persuaded her to take a turn sitting in a dunking booth.

The festival is held during the Cal Ripken World Series in Aberdeen, and many young baseball players come to the event, she said. "Once I agreed to do it, people paid one of the pitchers who played in the World Series to throw balls," she said. "He probably threw 20 balls, and I got dunked about 90 percent of the time."

However, the biggest draw is the food, Maslin said, with food and art vendors coming from up and down the East Coast.

Maslin said her favorite menu item is Oreo Puffs.

To make this "delicacy," an Oreo cookie is dipped into funnel cake batter and then deep fried, she said. "When you bite into an Oreo Puff, the Oreo has become this warm, sweet, yummy concoction."

In addition to homemade ice cream, lemonade and cotton candy, traditional seafood items such as butterfly shrimp, crab cakes and fried oysters are sold at the event. There are also some unusual treats, including alligator nuggets, fried conch, lobster tail on a stick and crabdawgs - crab dipped in corn dog batter.

"The alligator nuggets are made by a company from Florida," she said. "It's hard to get local restaurants because there are certain permits they have to obtain to make food outdoors. Many of them don't have the permits."

The seafood festival is coordinated and run by volunteers, including some who have benefited from the services at Haven House. They greet patrons and sell raffle tickets, Maslin said.

Live entertainment will be offered throughout the two days.

Foreaker, the puppeteer, says he often does puppet shows on the weekends in return for donations to Haven House, which was founded in 1970.

One weekend, he performed for a group of phone operators, and they opened their warehouse of old furniture to the center, he said.

"I get all sorts of in-kind donations, such as draperies and furniture for payment for my puppet shows," he said.

Other organizations give monetary donations to help Haven House meet a $350,000 annual budget for in-patient and out-patient care, he said.

Foreaker honed his puppeteer skills with advice from Jim Henson, whom he met when he appeared as a special-abilities puppeteer in Miss Piggy's wedding in The Muppets Take Manhattan, and during a year on the road with the comedian Gallagher, he said.

Foreaker gears his performances to his audience. He offers a show for senior citizens that centers on big bands, an interactive show for children that he will perform at the festival, and a show for adults that will include stand-up comedy, he said.

Foreaker, who has made about 40 puppets, says his children's show includes a singing frog and a singing plant. Other puppets he has created include some unusual subjects such as a singing toilet and talking shoes.

Although he has been working with puppets for 54 years, he still practices in front of video camera or a mirror, he said. "I watch myself to work out all the glitches. Sometimes I laugh, because it's really funny."

In addition to the wry humor, his shows are easily distinguished from other puppet shows, he said, because he does not use a puppet stage and his shows are interactive.

"Being a puppeteer is therapeutic," Foreaker said. "Puppets can become an extension of yourself. Puppets can get away with murder."

If You Go

The Seafood Festival will be held from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and next Sunday in Tydings Park on Commerce Street in Havre de Grace. Admission is free.

Information: www.hdgseafoodfestival.org.

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