What: "Beastie's Birthday Party."
When: 7 p.m. today, 2 p.m. Saturday, Sunday.
Where: Mountain Arts Community Center, 809 Kentucky Ave., Signal Mountain.
Admission: $5; additional $3 for backstage tour and puppet-making session after the show.
Fred Arnold, who toiled for more than 50 years to keep the art of puppetry alive and thriving in Chattanooga, has come out of retirement to work with Signal Mountain artist Colleen Laliberte in staging a new puppet theater production, "Beastie's Birthday Party."
The small-scale show will be offered at the Mountain Arts Community Center on Signal Mountain today through Sunday. Other, larger productions will follow.
"Beastie's Birthday Party" was expanded from a script Arnold wrote for the shows he staged annually between 1959 and 1973 at the Plum Nelly Art Show on Lookout Mountain.
"It's so charming and sweet," Laliberte said of the 35-minute production, which includes about a dozen puppets and is staged by eight young puppeteers and one adult.
The main character is Beastie -- "a giant, fantastical animal of unknown origin," in Arnold's description -- who throws himself a surprise birthday party upon finding a less-than-welcoming atmosphere after moving to the woods. After all, he figures, nobody can be unhappy at a birthday party.
Surrounding the three-puppet Beastie in the story are, among others, Constable Cat, a field mouse, a groundhog, a mole, a possum and a rabbit.
The voices on the soundtrack, which includes new original music and songs by Arnold, include Rhonda Catanzaro, Kim Thompson, Rob Inman, Glenna Inman, Mike Sayne, Ray Laliberte and Dr. Joe Holmes.
"It's a great cast of voices," said Laliberte, who worked with Arnold, 81, during several shows in his 30-year puppet theater run at Oak Street Playhouse from 1981-2010.
Laliberte directed the production and, with a desire to continue a puppetry center in the area, built the puppets with the longtime puppet master.
"He is such a genius," she said. "I wanted to learn as much as possible from him. Each week [in building the show] was a lesson" in "how to make [the puppet] do what you want it to do. I learned every step of the way."