This weekend, Shawn Hennessey is watching Forecastle through the eyes of a 9-foot-tall Colonel Sanders puppet. Well technically, he is looking through a translucent gauze strip on Sanders’ vest, but you get the picture.
Hennessey is the director of Squallis Puppeteers, a local nonprofit dedicated to “using the art of puppetry to free imaginations, craft fantastic characters and tell the stories that are important to our community.”
“Squallis actually did the very first and second Forecastle a long, long time ago when it was in Tyler Park,” Hennessey says. “Then we came back on in 2011, maybe — My Morning Jacket was the headliner — and we made a huge shark for everyone to walk through and jellyfish on umbrellas, and got to go up on stage with them for the finale. That was a big year for us.”
The Sanders puppet is new. Hennessey explains that he is essentially a big paper mache mask connected to a backpack frame which is cloaked by a white jacket, under which the wearer hides. Squallis Executive Director Nora Christensen was behind the sculpting and sewing. It has the Colonel’s signature touches — his mustache, spectacles, and western string bow tie (which Hennessy learned to tie around 11 p.m. Thursday night).
This year, Squallis also brought back a local favorite, the Hunter S. Thompson puppet. This creation is considerably more cumbersome than Colonel Sanders as Regan Layman, one of the puppet handlers, explains:
“He takes one person to be his base foundation,” Layman says. “Then he takes one person per arm, one in the back who is a stabilizer in case something goes awry, and then someone who comes along as an escort just in case someone gets a little freaked out by the puppet or forgets that it is attached to a human.”
So far, Colonel Sanders hasn’t scared too many festival goers.
“People have really, really been into him — I think because everyone knows Colonel Sanders is from Louisville,” Hennessey says. “Everyone has wanted a picture with him which is normal with our puppets, though some have a higher ‘creep factor’ than others.”
He continues: “He’s been getting lots of love.”
Colonel Sanders and Hunter S. Thompson will be wandering the Great Lawn on and off for the duration of the festival, though Friday they — and their handlers — spent time watching headlining act The Avett Brothers.