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Puppeteer Receives Grant to Tell Houston Stories

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Camella Clements, one of the talented puppeteers at Bobbindoctrin Puppet Theatre, has received a $10,000 grants from the Houston Art Alliance to stage a triptych of unique plays showcasing Houston history.

"I've done a lot of shows about what I call the pedagogy of place," says Clements. "It's the study of where you live and how it shapes who you are.

Tentatively the project is called Salubrious and Well-Watered, a reference to a line in an advertisement that was the foundation of Houston itself and the basis for one of Clements's trio of shows. The ad ran in The Telegraph and Texas Register In 1836, urging people to come to the town of Houston on Buffalo Bayou. It's a famously duplicitous piece of marketing that mentions fresh spring water when most of the drinking water came from the bayou, boasted of sea breezes that could hardly be felt in the sweltering swamp, and utterly neglected to mention the hordes of mosquitoes that killed 30 percent of Houstonians from yellow fever for the first two decades.

"It was the greatest real estate swindler ever," says Clements. "But you know, in a good way."

The other parts of her project involve music and icehouses. Clements was actually writing her grant the week Little Joe Washington died, and it got her thinking about just how diverse the sounds of our city are. The Cajuns bring us their music from the east, while Mexican style flows up from the south, all mixing together in the rich Czech and German musical heritage that comes from many early settlers in the region.

Clements is hoping to partner with Lance Walker, the author of Houston Rap Tapes, to explore that aspect of Houston's musical culture. Walker spent nine years chronicling the Houston rap scene for his book.

Perhaps her most ambitious project deals with icehouses. Clements is fascinated with how they emerged in Texas, where refrigeration was rare and costly and people would gather to buy ice at central locations. They evolved into grocery stores and eventually into places for rural populations to gather and drink.

One of Clements's favorite puppet techniques is to make puppets in 3D molds out of unconventional materials. Previously she'd made puppets from milk mixed with polyurethane, and their melting and disintegration during the show actually became part of the storytelling process.

For her icehouse segments, she plans to make ice puppets. Clements hopes to outfit the stage floor with pressure microphones so that the drip of the puppets as they melt will help form the soundtrack.

Clements plans to begin work on the project at the end of March. The grant allows her to bring in artists from outside the city to contribute, meaning that she may find it easier to stage all three parts all at once rather than spread out over the year. 14 Pews is a possible venue.

"Houston Arts Alliance is so great at supporting people," says Clements. "Even if you've never written a grant before, they host workshops. It does some wonderful things for artists like me."

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