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Matt Cotten has been working as a painter, performer, and teacher in Tucson since 1994. He taught in the College of Fine Art at the University of Arizona for fifteen years, and is well known in the arts community as an organizer of Tucson's annual All Souls Procession. His work as director of Tucson Puppet Works has ushered in an emergence of puppetry theater to the Tucson area. Matt's paintings are currently on display in the Poetry Center through May 26.
This Saturday, May 15 at 10 a.m., Matt, along with banjo king Cowbow Carl, will perform "A South West Ginger Bread Man" at the Poetry Center, starring a wonderful cast of desert critters and one very lively cookie. The performance is free and open to the public!
Elizabeth: When did you start puppeteering and what inspired you to pursue this as a career?
Matt: When I was in grad school, my focus was painting. I was growing tired of the gallery format of presentation. I was craving a more immediate interaction with an audience. I started to busk on the streets of Tucson during the weekends. I had been dabbling in various art forms for years. . . sculpture, music, storytelling, movement, installation, and painting. Puppetry is the perfect art form for a dilettante. I was starting to collaborate with other circus type performers. At the time, that was more exciting than painting alone in my studio.
Elizabeth: What is the difference between storytelling and puppeteering?
Matt: Puppetry is certainly a form of storytelling. Lately I have become more interested in the visual side of telling a story. The subtle movements of puppeteering can be more effective than narratives or dialogue. A show without speaking can be fairly challenging to an audience (no matter the age) who is used to being spoon fed a story. It takes a bit of patience. I attempt a visual and musical tempo to capture the attention of the audience.
Elizabeth: How do you come up with material? Do you work collaboratively with other artists?
Matt: I find many of the stories I tell. I'm always on the look out for a story that I think will translate well into puppetry. I write many of my own as well, often taking elements or characters from traditional stories. Ten years ago, I was collaborating with other puppeteers in presenting weekly compilations of tales from around the world. It was more about telling as many stories as possible than perfecting any one show. Its still kind of like that for me.
Elizabeth: What sort of stories are you drawn to?
Matt: I am drawn to many types of stories. Lately, I have been presenting puppet shows that look at the lives of well known icons of art history. . .Andy Warhol, Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, Kieth Haring. I also love talking animals and ghost stories.
Interview by Elizabeth Falcón. Paintings by Matt Cotten.