After nearly a quarter century in Vermont, the Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts is being presented to Eric Bass and Ines Zeller Bass and Sandglass Theater, the company Eric and Ines founded in 1982 in Germany, and haved helmed in Putney since 1986. On Feb. 11 they will be honored by Governor Jim Douglas and the Vermont Arts Council in a ceremony at the Vermont State House.
The Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts is presented to Vermont artists who have made a significant contribution to the advancement of their chosen art form and a personal commitment to the development of cultural life in Vermont.
Sandglass Theater is an internationally known company that specializes in combining puppets with music, actors and visual imagery. Their productions have toured 24 countries, performing in theaters, festivals and cultural institutions and winning numerous international prizes.
Eric and Ines met in Germany in 1980. They were both puppeteers, Ines was German, and Eric was on tour. In 1982 Eric moved to Germany and they started Sandglass Theater. In 1986 they moved to Putney, which serves as homebase to the internationally touring puppet company.
Ten years later they would open their theater in Putney, and change from a "touring company to a more locally based theater," Eric said in a recent interview, performing at the Putney theater and in many nearby venues.
Eric and Ines speak with pride of how long their company has survived. "That's really important," Eric said. "In the arts, success is not measured by the profits you make, but by your survival and longevity."
"When people think of puppets," Ines said, "they think of performances for children. But we're doing puppet theater for adults. We're really riding on a strong enthusiasm, idealism and a passion for our work. We take this honor gladly," she said of the Governor's award.
"We see it as a recognition of puppeteers," Eric said, "recognition of the art form, and recognition of the relationship of arts and the community. I think the award is also in recognition of our diversity of programming in the theater. We work to connect our art to the community."
They also are connected with the international world of puppetry, hosting a biannual event, Puppets in the Green Mountains - A Festival of Unusual Theater, that brings puppet companies from around the world to the Southern Vermont region for several days of performances. This coming September will be the seventh event, and puppet companies from Hungary, Spain, Germany and France will participate.
Eric explained that puppetry is a different form of theater. Even if the puppets look like the human figure, he said, "they are not human actors. They are a reflection of our lives, not a portrayal of our lives. Working with puppets offers a different perspective of where we are and who we are. It's more metaphoric, more visual and less textual."
Eric and Ines said they have been deeply influenced by their adopted Vermont home, and that has been reflected in their work. One of their more recent shows, All Weather Ballads, is a story about two people in Vermont who grow up there, marry and grow old together, using the ever-changing Vermont weather as a metaphor.
"Puppetry can deal with some deep and profound issues," Ines said.
Upcoming performances of the Sandglass Theater, and news about the upconing Puppets in the Green Mountains - A Festival of Unusual Theater, can be found at www.sandglasstheater.org.