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Coyote Tales

Coyote, the trickster of Native American lore, comes to Ashland Sunday.

He'll be joined by Fox, Grizzly Bear, Eagle, Salmon and others in "Coyote Tales," a puppet show presented by Portland's Tears of Joy Puppet Theatre and the Friends of the Ashland Public Library. The performance will be held at the Ashland Middle School, at 2 p.m. There is no charge, but donations in support of the library will be accepted.

Inspired by Native American Tales

"Coyote Tales" is designed for both children and adults.

"People think of little puppet shows, but that's not what that is," explains Janet Bradley, the managing director and co-founder of Tears of Joy Puppet Theatre. "We use large, full body puppets, and masks that fit over the head. We use the entire stage.

"Coyote Tales," she continues, "celebrate the Lewis & Clark Expedition with stories they would have been told by the people whose lands they were 'discovering'."

The production is broken into two tales. "How Coyote Got His Name" is an Okanogan tale, told by the people who lived in the north central part of Washington State. The story is performed with masks and rod or stick puppets. The masks in this story are worn high on the head and do not cover the mouths of the actors. "It basically explains who Coyote is," says Bradley.

The second tale, "Coyote and the Cedar Tree," is from the Clatsop and Chinook Indians that lived along the lower part of the Columbia River. It is performed with bunraku puppets and masks that cover the entire face. In bunraku puppetry the bodies of the puppeteers are visible to the audience, but their heads covered with hoods.

"'Coyote and the Cedar Tree' has more of the trickster element in it," explains Bradley. "A lot of Native American tales tell how things came to be created, and this tale explains where snails came from."

The puppets and other materials used in Cedar Tree are inspired from a coastal British Colombia cultural designs, says Bradley. She's particular proud of a button blanket she designed and made. "The coastal people would have traded furs with the Hudson Bay Company for these wool blankets. This one is red and blue wool. Then they would take these brilliant buttons, which they also traded for, and attach them on an outlined design on the blanket. It really glows and shimmers, and we use it to show a man being transformed into a codfish."

After the show, audience members are invited to come on stage and talk with the performers. "We do a little show and tell and allow them to see and touch the puppets and masks," says Bradley.

The Tears of Joy was founded in 1971 by Bradley and her husband, Reg Bradley. "We experimented with puppets for a couple of years in Hawaii, but then moved to Portland in 1973," she explains. "We've been in the northwest for 30 years."

The theater began as a sole proprietorship, but was re-organized in 1980 as a non-profit corporation. It now is funded primarily by grants, and is a resident company at the Portland Center for the Performing Arts. The company performs over times a year, and has won numerous awards.

Library Activism

"Coyote Tales" is another in a string of productions presented by the Friends of the Ashland Public Library.

"We have an annual meeting in January," says Serena Stanford, president of the Friends of the Ashland Public Library. "And we always try to put something attractive on for our members and the public."

"Last year we took on the Patriot Act," she continues. "We had the FBI officer in charge of the Oregon district present, and hundreds of people came for a boisterous forum on the issue. This year we thought we'd bring this production, both because of the Lewis and Clark expedition bicentennial and as a way to celebrate the opening of the new Medford library. There are delays with the Medford library, but Tears of Joy agreed to come to Ashland anyway."

"We expect three or four hundred people," she said.

The Ashland performance of "Coyote Tales" is funded by the Oregon Cultural Foundation, a state organization funded by both public and private money that supports events and programs that further cultural education.