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Puppeteering: 'Imagination in its purest form'

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LAURIE STEVENSON/THISWEEKNEWS
Puppeteer Michael R. Siculan, a Northland resident, has some fun with Grant Lindsey, 6, and his brother, Evan, 12, during the Pawpaw Festival at the Lower Olentangy Urban Arboretum on Saturday, Sept. 21, in Clintonville.
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In an online profile, Michael R. Siculan lists his gender as "Punch."

If he were Michelle Siculan, it would be "Judy."

Siculan, a resident of the Northland area, is a puppeteer, and proud to carry on a tradition that stretches back into ancient times. He was among the entertainers at the Sept. 21 Art, Native Plants and Pawpaw Festival, held in Clintonville's Lower Olentangy Urban Arboretum.

For Siculan, his fascination with puppetry dates back probably half a century, to when he was an 8-year-old growing up in Upper Arlington and his mother took him to the Lazarus department store downtown.

"Lazarus was the golden land of Columbus, the place where kids gravitated," Siculan recalled. "They had live puppet shows, probably wherever the toys were. I was intoxicated right away. I was bitten by it and never got over it. I saw houses chasing people and trees running around.

"It was just imagination in its purest form."

And imagination was a great help to a young boy who was then, and who still is now at 58, coping with attention deficit disorder, also called attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

"They didn't know what the heck it was back in those days," Siculan said last week. "They just thought you weren't concentrating, weren't interested, were lazy."

In spite of his absorption in puppetry and painting, Siculan said one of his high school teachers told him he would never amount to anything in the art world because he couldn't concentrate.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is one of the most common childhood disorders and can continue through adolescence and adulthood, according to the website of the National Institute of Mental Health.

Far from hindering him as a puppeteer, Siculan said his ADHD sometimes comes in handy.

"A lot of people with ADHD sort of have to do their own thing," he said. "With puppetry, you can work on arms and make hands and make legs, and it's OK. That puppet will be finished ... come hell or high water, so that's kind of another aspect."

Siculan, who is vice president of the Columbus Puppetry Guild, a nonprofit organization that brings together people interested in the art form, specializes in marionettes, which are distinguished from regular puppets by the fact that they are controlled by strings manipulated from above. This allows them a freedom of movement other forms of puppetry can't match -- but they require greater skill as well.

"I like marionettes, and marionettes are a different animal," Siculan said. "The marionettes you just do not see very often. They're all different styles and music and ideas. There's a lot of variety in this art form.

"I do not do scripted things," he said. "Pretty much, I like off the cuff, flying by the seat of my pants. I kind of gauge what the audience is. I like to be able to get the puppets close to the people. I answer questions a lot. People are very curious."

After living in St. Louis for 15 years, Siculan came back to Columbus in 2008 and concentrated on his puppetry, creating more marionettes and putting on shows with the help of longtime friends.

"I like it more all the time because I learn more about it, and hopefully, I get better at it as I get older," he said. "I just get energized by people who enjoy looking at my puppets. It's an instant gratification. With my puppets, the art moves around. It changes all the time."

Siculan has another reason for loving puppets: "The actors don't complain about money."

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