Lanterns for a summer night at the Clark

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WILLIAMSTOWNImagine walking to Stone Hill at the Clark Art Institute on a dark evening, your path illuminated by giant lanterns made by community members.

At the second annual Lantern Walk, you can do just that. David Lane, an independent theater artist, director and writer, will host workshops leading up to the walk, which starts at approximately 9 p.m. on Thursday at the Clark's Lunder Center. On that evening the community is invited to walk among 12-foot lantern puppets with live music.

It's a special chance to work with Lane, who holds workshops in physical theater — mask, puppetry, clowning — in New England and Canada. He has led workshops at the Clark for nearly 10 years, including building puppets for the opening of the Stone Hill Center in 2008. Those puppets, a pair of Japanese Cranes and Koi fish, were rigged with lights making them glow as the sun descended.

"There was something pretty special about those illuminated creatures swimming through the party, especially against the waning light and the backdrop of the Berkshire hills," Lane said.

Although those puppets didn't directly lead to the lantern walk, the beauty of the spectacle stuck with Lane. Several years later, he was building lantern puppets for a nighttime festival in Newfoundland when he had an epiphany.

"It struck me that doing something similar in the Berkshires would be a wonderful way to celebrate our natural surroundings, and create a moment for us to step away from our busy schedules into another space," said Lane, " ... a space where the sounds of the night, the croaking frogs, crickets and wind would be our companions. A place where we might walk as equals under the cover of darkness." Thus, the idea for the Berkshire Lantern Walk was born.

Members of the New England Puppet Intensive, a 10-day workshop led by Lane and held at The Buxton School in Williamstown, will create and present illuminated puppets as the show's centerpiece.

"NEPI is an opportunity for adults to investigate puppetry as a sophisticated art form," Land said. "We spend time deconstructing the notion of what a puppet is, and what it might be, and investigate the various ways it might be used for storytelling, and it's unique expressive qualities. It's also an exercise in collaborative creation, of which the Lantern Walk is the public component. Sixteen participants will come together and have equal stakes in what is created."

The Clark's newest exhibit, "As in Nature: Helen Frankenthaler Paintings," which opens Saturday, serves as the inspiration for the New England Puppet Intensive participants. An abstract expressionist, Frankenthaler's work can be interpreted as a human experience of landscape. The collaboration process between Lane and the artists will include time in the galleries and discussion of the works. Beyond affecting their own creations, the creative process will ideally also allow the artists to see Frankenthaler's work in a new light.

"I relish the opportunity to respond in a contemporary way to the Clark's marvelous exhibits. This interplay between the present and the past is an interesting current to explore. I think you see art a little differently when you approach it in this way," said Lane.

The community at large will also have the chance to build puppets and participate in the walk. From 1-4 p.m. on Wednesday, Lane will lead a free Lantern Building Workshop open to the public at the Clark. Natural reed, fabric and small battery operated LEDs will all be provided for the making of the lanterns. Lane will hold another workshop right before the walk from 8-9 p.m. on Thursday, during which participants can create simple lanterns out of their own recycled mason jars.

The nighttime walk will take place from 9-11 on the recently renovated Pasture Trail at Stone Hill and finish at Thomas Schutte's "Crystal." Local musicians Amrita Lash, Linda Burlak, and Lawrence Smith will provide an improvised score for the event. The musical and nature elements add to what Lane considers the walk's main appeal. "In this world where we are more and more digitally connected, I've found myself yearning for more and more unplugged experiences — old fashioned campfire moments, if you will," said Lane. "The walk also allows [us] to take a step back and appreciate the natural world in an unfiltered way. The Clark campus is an amazing place anytime of day, but it's a real treat to explore it at night."

After the success of last summer's inaugural Berkshire Lantern Walk, the hope is that this year's will edition bring even more community members together. Head of Education at the Clark, Ronna Ostheimer said, "Last year we put it together at the last minute and had between 50 and 100 people. Based on the response to the Facebook event and word of mouth, we are expecting many more this year. This is one of those magical Berkshire events and it should be spectacular."


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