Dylan Shelton, artistic director, Madcap Puppets
Dylan Shelton is a hands-on leader. Literally.
He has his hands on hammers, paint brushes, construction material and fabrics as he helps build sets and costumes for Madcap Puppets, the 35-year-old theatrical troupe he took over in March.
Fortunately, he says, his hands are clean enough to pick up his phone during an afternoon of shop work and talk about the organization he has been a part of since 2002.
“I actually was interim director for a time in 2005,” said Shelton, a Wilmington College graduate with a master’s degree in theater from Ohio University. “I then transitioned into creative director, writing our touring shows, designing sets, training puppeteers all that time. That’s still a big part of my responsibility, but I am delegating more.”
Letting go of some of this hands-on puppetry to do more administrative work is proving to be tough.
“It’s a bit of growing pains when you leave behind things you enjoy doing, like training puppeteers, hiring actors from across the country, introducing them to the craft of puppetry,” he said.
This will be his first stint as director in a production the troupe has become well-known for, the chamber opera “Amahl and the Night Visitors.” Performances featuring Madcap puppets, singers and the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra are set for Dec. 21-23 at Xavier University.
Shelton performed as one of the larger-than-life puppets in previous productions of “Amahl,” and he has a special affection for the show.
“I see ‘Amahl’ as a sort of emerging tradition,” he said. “We will probably do it every other year, collaborating with Xavier.”
Shelton sees a couple of main goals for the company. “First, to maintain the art of puppetry in the public eye,” Shelton said. Then, longer term, Madcap wants to transition into a permanent space in the revitalizing Westwood business district, possibly to be called the Madcap Puppet and Education Center.
“We want to be building an audience for puppetry in Cincinnati in our own space,” he said. “We want to bring puppet theaters and artists from all over the world and introduce our audiences to them. We want to host puppet festivals, maybe ‘open mic’ nights for artists to create puppet pieces.
“And we’d like to get schools involved. I know there are high schools around here excited about doing their own puppet shows.”
Shelton hopes his company will expand the circle of artists it collaborates with, helping to strengthen Cincinnati’s arts community.
“It’s all about building a puppet culture in Cincinnati,” Shelton said.