Boundless curiosity lifts a young Chattanooga puppeteer

Boundless curiosity lifts a young Chattanooga puppeteer

November 13th, 2012 by Casey Phillips in Life Entertainment

Garrison Clower, 12, poses with a puppet from "The Bluebird."

Photo by Alyson Wright/Times Free Press.

CLAIM TO FAME

Garrison Clower, 12, has been one of the lead actors in puppet-theater productions at the Mountain Arts Community Center on Signal Mountain this year. He portrayed the lead role in the debut performance of an original play, "Beastie's Birthday Party" this spring, and soon will take on several roles in a reprisal of local theater guru Fred Arnold's adaptation of "The Blue Bird."

ABOUT HIM

Name: Garrison Clower.

Age: 12.

School: Sixth-grader at Center for Creative Arts.

Siblings: Sisters: Mary Jane, 13; Anabelle, 10; and Madi, 9.

Hobbies: Reading, puppeteering, acting and cooking.

Favorite book: "The Fable Haven" series by Brandon Mull.

NEXT UP

Garrison Clower will portray several characters in a production of Fred Arnold's puppet theater adaptation of "The Blue Bird" at the Mountain Arts Community Center, 809 Kentucky Ave., Signal Mountain. Shows are at 7 p.m. Friday, 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $5.

TALENT SHOW

Do you know a child age 17 or younger with a precocious talent in academics, athletics or the arts? The Times Free Press is searching for children to feature in "Talent Show," which appears in the Life section on Tuesdays. To nominate a child as a possible subject of a future feature article, email staff writer Casey Phillips at cphillips@timesfreepress.com or call him at 423-757-6205.

Garrison Clower has always been exceedingly curious, a characteristic that, at times, has spelled trouble for the family appliances.

Some of the victims of his innate desire to understand how things work include the family vacuum cleaner, which he disassembled at age 2. Later, he turned his attention to the toilet, which he flushed repeatedly to figure out how it functioned, eventually flooding the bathroom and leaking water through the kitchen ceiling. The family was forced to evacuate for a week while repairs were made.

"If he sees something he's never seen before, he'll stop and study it," said Garrison's mother, Anna Clower. "I had to learn to slow down with him and stop and study things I might otherwise miss."

For years, Clower and her husband sought an outlet for their son's passion. They tried all the "traditional sports," but none took. Garrison would dutifully take the field, Clower said, but he was just as likely to be bent over looking at grasshoppers as he was to be paying attention to the game.

Last year, however, all that changed when he discovered acting through a class at the Mountain Arts Community Center. After years of play-acting in amateur videos he made with his friends and putting on impromptu home-theater shows for his parents, taking that energy to the stage was only natural.

"I don't really get nervous in front of an audience," Garrison said. "I get excited to show people who I am and how I can act and for them to enjoy a performance I'm putting on."

During his first performance as The White King in "Wonderland," Garrison was a fifth-grader at Nolan Elementary School. The show was presented by Skwalking Heads Production Company, whose director, Colleen Laliberte, recommended that Garrison audition for Center for Creative Arts. He was accepted this fall as a sixth-grader with an acting major and a musical-theater minor.

While working on another production last fall with Laliberte, Garrison wandered into the prop room and discovered a collection of puppets left over from shows designed by local theater impresario Fred Arnold.

When he held the Sea Witch, a puppet Arnold built for his adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Mermaid," his curiosity immediately was piqued.

"She's still my favorite one," he said. "I was thinking it would so cool to be able to hold her and be in a puppet play. I liked how they looked and the attention I would get for being a good puppeteer."

Earlier this year, he got his chance when Laliberte, a veteran puppeteer, debuted a new play, "Beastie's Birthday Party," which she created in collaboration with Arnold. Garrison was in charge of directing the movements of the head of the title character, a massive puppet moved through the coordinated efforts of several actors.

Learning to manipulate inanimate objects and give them life through subtle movements is something Garrison said he enjoyed immediately.

"With puppeteering, you are admired for your skill," he said. "I feel proud that I can be one of the puppeteers.

"The main thing is thinking about the puppet's characteristics and putting it in your performance. It was fun working with others to make one character come alive."

Garrison also has been cast in a reprisal of "The Blue Bird," a play Arnold adapted from a 1908 stage work by Belgian playwright Maurice Maeterlinck. He will take on about five roles in the show, which starts Friday and features a cast of a dozen puppeteers controlling about 50 puppets.

Laliberte said that, while Garrison's curiosity might have been the bane of his household during his early years, it is a great benefit to directors. Figuring out how a production functions -- much like a machine -- is key to helping it become more efficient, Laliberte said.

"I could definitely see him inventing something someday," she said. "I think he'll take my puppets and make them better. He's a great asset. I don't want him to grow up and go away."

Contact Casey Phillips at cphillips@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.