Back when he taught social studies at Flanders Elementary School, Richard Waterman recalls, "I enjoyed doing puppet shows in my class, and the kids loved it."
Waterman retired in 1981 after 30 years of teaching, but he stayed active. He has been a member of the East Lyme Historical Society and the Smith-Harris House Commission. He and Marvin Schutt started East Lyme Heritage Weekend.
Waterman's latest effort brings him back to the world of puppetry. With a group of fellow town residents, he has founded the East Lyme Puppet Theater, which Waterman characterizes as a pilot program to determine public interest. Toward that end, the group is bringing in professional puppeteers for three performances this summer, all to be held at St. John's Episcopal Church in Niantic.
The debut performance is set for Friday afternoon, featuring Dan Butterworth's marionettes performing "Carnival of the World." It will be followed by two other shows focusing on different kinds of puppets - Michael Graham of the Spring Valley Puppet Theater's hand puppets doing "Jack and the Beanstalk" on Aug. 3 and Jim Napolitano's shadow puppet theater presenting "Father Goose's Tales" on Aug. 13.
The impetus for all this is simple.
Waterman explains, "I think that this would just be a nice thing for the town to have."
The idea came to Waterman about a year ago. He talked with local arts stalwart Jim Stidfole, who suggested he chat with Derron Wood, of Flock Theatre. That led him to John Bell, director of the Ballard Institute & Museum of Puppetry in Storrs, and they all encouraged his project.
Waterman brought together a small group of people who agreed to help. They include Carol Cave, William DeMatteo, Carol Hurst, Peter Mitchell, Margaret Waterman, Frank Wilson and June Woudenberg.
The hope, Waterman says, is for the theater to eventually become a nonprofit organization.
The group solicited funds from local businesses, community groups and businesses, with Cave leading the way. They asked for a basic contribution of $50 and raised enough to move forward. (The letter they sent to businesses, organizations and individuals said $2,000 would support the start of the project.)
As the letter also explains, those who are involved in the East Lyme Puppet Theater "believe this will be a cultural attraction for our community."