Award-winning puppeteer educates audience in nature



By Ed Karvoski Jr., Contributing Writer

Debbie Costine displays puppet characters from “Turtle’s Wetland Quest”.

Southborough – Working as a professional puppeteer throughout New England since 1974, Debbie Costine of Southborough has integrated her skills in visual arts and education. She received the 2008 USA Citation of Excellence from the Union Internationale de la Marionnette, an international association of puppets. Created in 2011, his latest show raises public awareness of a subject close to their hearts: the natural environment.

“I am a passionate naturalist and love wetlands,” she said. “I live on the Sudbury River and have a beaver dam behind my house. The wetland is a nice place to paddle very slowly in my little kayak.

Raised in northern New Hampshire, she noticed the Bunny Rabbit puppet on the children’s TV show “Captain Kangaroo”. Costine, 10, transformed a lunch bag covered in papier-mâché into an ever-cherished clown puppet.

After graduating with a BA in Arts Education from Plymouth State University in 1972, she moved to the Boston area and took drawing classes. Costine attended drawing sessions organized by the Copley Society of Art on Newbury Street. There she befriended puppeteer artist Lenny Gerwick, now from Marlborough.

In 1974, they co-founded Gerwick Puppets. Costine quotes a memory from the early 1980s illustrating their ambitious efforts when they performed in four different locations in one day.

“We were determined to make a living from puppetry, so we took whatever jobs we could get,” she said. “We calculated the time needed for travel, performances and dismantling.

She created puppets and props while he painted landscapes. They collaborated on scripts. Gerwick Puppets has regularly secured bookings at schools, libraries and community events.

Costine and Gerwick have joined the Boston Area Puppetry Guild, whose meetings are held at the Puppet Showplace Theater in Brookline. They started performing in the theater in the late 1970s.

“The Puppet Showplace Theater showcases the best puppet companies in the country,” said Costine. “I like that parents come to the theater with their children and that the shows interest them too. It’s an amazing institution and a great place to perform.

While performing with Gerwick Puppets, Costine simultaneously began in the late 1980s to perform solo shows.

“I wanted a little simplicity,” she explained. “The Gerwick Puppets shows got bigger and more elaborate with sets, lights, props and music. I wanted to do shows that I could pack in the backseat of my car, and it wouldn’t involve as much transport and setup time.

Costine received a grant from the Jim Henson Foundation to help her develop and launch the show “Turtle’s New Home” in 2011. The show is now known as “Turtle’s Wetland Quest”.

After researching the subject for two years, she created puppet figures depicting a turtle, beaver and salamander, as well as a set depicting plants and trees found in a wetland. The puppets tell the tale of the turtle that needs a secure habitat due to fragmentation.

“I chose a Blanding’s Turtle because it’s an endangered species in eastern Massachusetts,” Costine noted. “The turtle has a need and the beaver has the solution. The beaver is the only animal that can create a habitat. The character that complements it is the salamander, which is friendly with the turtle because it needs the same basic habitat. “

Among the many venues where she presented “Turtle’s Wetland Quest” is the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston in 2017. Gerwick Puppets retired last fall with her last show for the Fall River Public Library. Costine’s upcoming solo shows include returning appearances at Brookline’s Puppet Showplace Theater.

“My mission is to use all my skills to promote spending more time in nature,” she said. “Exposure to nature is extremely important for every human being.”

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Photos / submitted

Debbie Costine stars in “The Twig Family in the Oak Tree”.



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