"We figured we might as well take advantage of our mortgage-less status and no kids," says Resnick. An ever-popular lock-picking workshop by locksport champion Schuyler Towne (see "For Those About To Lock," August 5, 2009) has raised the organization's profile somewhat, and they function mostly on local grants.
Sprout offers courses to outsiders (hey, aren't we all outsiders, really?), including "Bring Your Grandma to Math Day," "Getting To Know Electrons," and an upcoming street-theater course designed by Duffy, who is roaming around this afternoon in bare feet, amidst chemical containers and boxes of machine parts.
Boston's puppet government
Boston resident Ron Spalletta wandered into the sea of puppets by accident one afternoon while ducking away from downtown crowds. As Spalletta describes it, he was greeted by a few hand-painted signs along a large brick wall, and a strange little door. The first sign read PUPPETEERS COOPERATIVE and the other one read RING BELL. Below the second sign, tied on with a string, hung a washer with a small label reading BELL.
"It seemed straight out of Alice in Wonderland," recalls Spalletta of his encounter with the Puppet Free Library. "First, there was the question about what it could mean: is it a library free of puppets? Is it a free library only for puppets?"
(They actually loan puppets — ranging from ranging from "12-foot dancing cats" to "a wide variety of dragons" — to be used in neighborhood parades, celebrations, and demonstrations in Boston and New York.)
Inside the Puppeteers Cooperative, Spalletta found a cavernous workshop filled with puppets of all shapes and sizes. "If you're made uneasy by puppets," he warns, "it is your worst nightmare. The room is like a long, low bomb shelter into which all the puppets of Boston fled to wait out World War III."
For more puppets, check out the mask exhibit at Porter Square Mall, through June 30, and A Midsummer Night's Dream at Boston Center for the Arts, which features handmade puppets by Behind the Mask Studios. BMS also offers mask-making workshops throughout the year.
Puppet Free Library | Emmanuel Church (basement level), 15 Newbury Street/20 Grove Street, Boston | 617.263.2031 | puppetco-op.org/libraries.htm | Open by appointment only through August 10
Behind the Mask Studios | behindthemask.org
Under the big top
Where else would a Boston circus collective get its name than via a certified loony from another noted bastion of weirdness, San Francisco? In the mid 19th century, the Bay Area's Joshua Norton — who went bankrupt trying to corner, of all things, the rice market — issued a decree, declaring himself Emperor of the United States. He even started printing his own money.
In his honor, Emperor Norton's Stationary Marching Band (ENSMB) was formed almost three years ago by former Booty Vortex saxophonist Chuck Lechien.
The 10 to 15 band members have a repertoire of what Lechien calls "klezmer and gypsy music, New Orleans second line and jazz, pirate shanties, circus music, as well as traditional tunes and covers ranging from Balkan folk songs to heavy metal to 19th-century marches."
Johanna Bobrow, a blue-haired biologist who plays violin in the group, says, "Since we're large and loud, we can really play anywhere."
Soon after ENSMB took off, Lechien formed the Boston Circus Guild, and the band's performance counterparts, the Madcap Rumpus Society.