The Aurora Valentinetti Puppet Museum
& Evergreen Children's Theatre
Evergreen Children's Theatre began in 1993 when Marshall Campbell and a group of theater people involved with the Kitsap Opera were discussing the local need of providing high quality children's theater and programming for residents of Bremerton and Kitsap County. At the time there were few opportunities for local families to enjoy good theater without having to endure the time and expense of traveling to Seattle. Campbell, a 1965 graduate of the University of Washington, School of Drama and a student of Aurora Valentinetti, in children's theater and puppetry led this effort.
Under Campbell's leadership, a group came together and formed a performing company calling itself Evergreen Children's Theatre. Campbell's vision included the creation of a three-part organization. One aspect was performance, another was education and classes, and a third was the creation of a puppet museum. The first production was entitled “Oniraku”, a charming tale of Japanese origins performed with hand puppets. In 1994 the second performance was of “Cinderella”, a full-scale production using hand puppets created by Campbell in the 1960's. This was followed in 1995 with a production using live actors of “The Masque of Beauty and the Beast”. This production culminated in a financial turning point in the organization resulting in a decision by the Board of Directors to not produce performances locally but to act as a sponsor and engage professional puppeteers and performance troupes to come to Bremerton.
Over the years performances have been a mixture of live theater and puppetry presented in several local Bremerton venues. In the fall of 1997 an association was struck with the Admiral Theatre Foundation where ECT was able to use the newly renovated Art Deco Admiral Theatre stage for its sponsored productions and to conduct classes in rooms on the site. Also included in the arrangement was the offer of a basement room to be used for a future puppet museum.
At this period, Campbell was able to interest his former teacher and mentor, Aurora Valentinetti to donate a portion of her large puppet collection to Evergreen Children's Theatre as the foundation of a Puppet Museum collection. Along with puppets made by and acquired by Marshall Campbell, this formed the core of the museum's collection, which in 2008, numbered over 1000 puppets, stage props and hangings and accessories. Through the generosity of the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, ECT received by funding for construction of cases for the Museum, which opened in the fall of 1999.
In the year of 2000 Evergreen Children's Theatre and the Admiral Theatre Foundation received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, which was used to underwrite a portion of the 2000-2001 season. Each year ECT and the Puppet Museum continue to seek funding from local, state and national foundations, organizations and individuals.
The 2001-2002 season was a time of great change for the organization. The Admiral Theatre Foundation announced that the theatre with its expanding programs needed to take over the classroom and museum space occupied by ECT. This move allowed the Museum to locate to a street level location on Fourth Street in downtown Bremerton. With donated materials, carpet and labor the Museum and office of ECT were able to move into greatly expanded, and improved display space in time for the holiday season. With the help of volunteers the Museum and gift shop began to provide a public presence throughout the year. Since that first move to Fourth Street the Museum has made a second move two doors down from its first location. These new locations have improved public visibility and created a new tourist attraction to the changing Bremerton landscape.
Since moving to Fourth Street we have worked to establish an exciting gift shop with tempting items for all ages. The Museum introduces a series of rotating exhibits highlighting significant parts of the collection and tells the story of puppet history around the world. As word spreads about the Museum's presence in Bremerton, attendance and interest have grown. It is hoped with this attention, that public support will emerge and enable the Aurora Valentinetti Puppet Museum and Evergreen Children's Theatre to continue to grow and establish a permanent home and professional staff. Help support this exciting endeavor and bring your family and friends to Bremerton for a fun filled day on the shores of Puget Sound.
--Stanley W. Hess, Museum Curator
Who is Aurora Valentinetti?
Born in west Seattle in 1921, Aurora Valentinetti grew up the eldest of three girls and an older brother who died at an early age. Her parents born in Italy, emigrated to America settling in Seattle where they became active in the local Italian and parish community life.
Upon graduation from high school Aurora entered the University of Washington where she earned her B.A. (1943) and M.A. (1949) degrees in the School of Drama. It was while a student that she was introduced to the art of puppetry when a fellow student asked her to help her put on a puppet performance when that puppeteer’s colleague back out of helping. From then on she was hooked!
Valentinetti began her University teaching career in 1943 as a Theatre Assistant/Lecturer and for the next 50 years taught children’s theatre and puppetry. She retired in 1992 with the rank of Associate Professor. Her teaching experience included Arts in Education, Child Drama, Directing for Children, Humanities, Puppetry, Speech/Acting. Extending beyond the University campus her teaching took her to other venues introducing a number of generations of students to the art and history of puppetry. With the University of Washington Puppeteers, Valentinetti served as designer, production manager and performer from 1943 until 1948. Each year this troupe presented a marionette show at the campus Showboat Theatre including such classics as “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” and “Rumplestiltskin.”
Founder of the Valentinetti Puppeteers, Aurora served as director, producer, designer and performer from 1948 until the 1990’s. The Valentinetti Puppeteers gave its premiere performance of “The Three Wishes” at the Bon Marche Department Store in Seattle in 1948. The following year during the holiday season the troupe moved their operations to Frederick & Nelson Department Store. Here intermittently for the next ten years the puppet company performed such classics and specials as “Santa’s Dilemma”, Alice in Housewares Wonderland”, “What is Christmas”, “Holiday Sparkle”, and “Celebrate Imagination.” Thousands of holiday shoppers will remember these special performances at street side windows.
Another aspect of Valentinetti’s performance skills is her love of music, especially vocal. From a young age she excelled in singing. In 1949 Thalia, Allied Artists was incorporated. Aurora served as an officer, performer, and drama director from 1950 to 1960. She directed and performed in over 30 productions including the title roles of Madame Butterfly and Gretel. “Hansel and Gretel” was given each Christmas for nine years and on December 25, 1953 it became the first “live” opera telecast on the Pacific Coast on KING-TV.
Olympia audiences from the 1960’s will remember Valentinetti Puppeteers and UW Puppeteers when they were invited by the Olympia Junior Programs to perform. The first performance in 1964 was of “Frog Prince.” Other Olympia performances with Valentinetti included “Hansel & Gretel” featuring students from Roosevelt School (Olympia). And in 1968 the Dorothy Fisher Ballet (Seattle) presented “Make-Believe” with narration by Valentinetti.
For nearly 20 years Valentinetti served as production supervisor and drama director of the Bainbridge Light Opera Association. Performances included “South Pacific”, “Sound of Music”, “Mame” and many others. Other venues included the National Park Service, Texas State Fair, Texas Women’s University, and others.
For many years Valentinetti sang in the Cathedral Choir at St. Mark’s Cathedral (Seattle). During that period she collaborated with Peter Hallock, Organist and Choir Director on several major performances. This included the production of “Everyman” an English Morality Play with life size rod puppets designed and made by Valentinetti. Part of this set was exhibited at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, DC. Other St. Mark’s mounted productions included Benjamin Britten’s “Noye’s Fludde”, and “The Days of Herod” a liturgical drama by Peter Hallock.
Little recognized, Valentinetti is one of the early pioneers in the use of puppets on television. In 1964, 1965 she produced “Puppet Playhouse Workshop”. This popular program appeared several times as a series over a period of eight weeks.
Teacher, lecturer, author, performer, puppeteer, etc. Valentinetti has received a number of awards and recognition both local and national including a Certificate of Appreciation, Kennedy Center, Washington, DC, 1980.
Debbie Housen- President
Jocey Bright-Vice President
Cindy Swanson-Corresponding Secretary
Stanley Hess- Curator
Joy (Dede) Beckley
Natalie E. Bryson
& Liz Austin