After selling out the majority of their latest performances, the Rochester Civic Theatre Company dives full force into the production of Tony Award-winning musical Annie, set to open Friday, November 30. However, if you haven't reserved tickets yet, you might be out of luck. The entire run of Annie performances has quickly sold out! Those lucky enough to acquire tickets can expect to see unique pieces from multiple local artists, including “Sandy” the dog puppet.
Amarama Vercnocke, the artist of Sandy, graciously answered our questions about puppet creation, specifically for the Annie production. We even received some insider information on when and where you can purchase handmade, miniature versions of Sandy!
Where are you from?
I was born and raised in the northern Minnesota town of Cloquet up by Duluth. I lived in Winona from 1999-2003 while going to college at WSU and have called Rochester home since January of 2003.
What’s your background in art and puppet-creation specifically?
I try to combine science and art regularly. My education degrees include a BS in biology with an emphasis on pre veterinary medicine, an AAS in veterinary technology, and an AA/art minor in studio art.
However, I have been a lifelong learner of the arts, apprenticing in sculpture-making under my father growing up. He specialized with throwing [clay] on the wheel, soap stone carving, wood carving and cement mosaic laying of stonework. My father taught me how to fabricate and create artwork in a 3D format. The large Sandy dog puppet is the first I have ever made of this size, but my background with animal anatomy, sculptural art fabrication, and needle felting fiber arts, has helped me in creating it.
What are some other puppets you’ve made?
Growing up, I made a wood duck puppet attached to fishing lines. I love sculpting/carving puppet faces out of foam core board like I did for the Sandy face. Then, I needle felt wool on top of them for realistic details.
Who are some artists that inspire your work?
Sarah Strachan inspired a big portion of this particular puppet for the movements.
I have enjoyed needle-felting miniature figures such as dogs, though, for about 14 years now through my art business, Amarama Art.
Hint: I will have miniature needle-felted dogs for sale during the intermissions of opening (11/30) and closing (12/16) nights for those who want to purchase their own miniature soft sculptures.
Have you done work for the Rochester Civic Theatre before?
This is my first time since a fellow Longfellow [Elementary] parent recommended my fiber art skills and my love of artistic fabrication.
How long did it take you to create Sandy?
So far, there have been about 60+ hours put into the puppet, and future maintenance of it occasionally will be done as needed.
What material is Sandy made of?
Wood; foam core board (for the face); fake fur; ethically-sourced wool from local, happy sheep in southeast Minnesota (to needle-felt on the face); weights; Velcro, and stuffing.
What were some special challenges involved with creating Sandy?
Just thinking of how to put it together was about 30+ hours. Also, it has helped immensely to have it tested several times with the puppeteer. The first time I made it, I had to remake the whole thing to make it more durable as well as replace the wool all over with fake fur to make it stronger.
Also, being flexible with what the needs are for the production staff in order to make the puppet better for their goals when on stage. I initially thought this would be a 25-hour project, but this has been a valuable lesson in that it takes about three times that amount to create and tune up as needed. Still, this has been a lot of fun! I am grateful for the opportunity to learn and improve in experience as an artist.
Do you plan on attending Annie to see Sandy in action?
I’m excited to see this production with my whole family! The whole cast and crew have worked really hard and are very talented. It should be a great show!