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Mettawee River Theatre Company
The Mettawee River Theatre Company, founded in 1975, creates original theater productions which incorporate masks, giant figures, puppets and other visual elements with live music, movement and text, drawing on myths, legends and folklore of the world's many cultures for its material. The company is committed to bringing theater to people who may have little or no access to live professional theater. Each year Mettawee presents outdoor performances in rural communities of upstate New York and New England as well as performing in the New York City area.
Under the Artistic Direction of mask maker, designer and director Ralph Lee, the Mettawee River Company experiments with means of presenting masks, puppetry, mythology and theater in ways that can lead an audience to experience the powerful relationship between human beings, their ancestry and the natural environment. In his design and direction, Mr. Lee seeks to create vivid theatrical moments with economy and elegance. This search for an evocative simplicity of image and Mettawee's commitment to making theater accessible to the widest possible audience through its outdoor performances give this theater company its particular character.
The Mettawee River Company has received funding from the National Endowment for the Arts from 1980 to the present and the New York State Council on the Arts from 1978 to the present, with additional grants from the Bickford Foundation, Meet the Composer, the Henson Foundation, the Merck Family Fund and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs.
The Little Engine that Could.......Two of the Mettawee company
Nanabozho (sacred story); Ghoul and witch on Hallowe'en in the Park
Ralph Lee first created puppets as a child growing up in Middlebury, Vermont. He graduated from Amherst College in 1957, and studied dance and theater in Europe for two years on a Fulbright Scholarship. Upon returning to the United States, Lee acted on Broadway, off-Broadway, in regional theaters and with the Open Theatre. During that period he started creating masks, unusual props, puppets and larger-than-life figures for theater and dance companies, including the New York Shakespeare Festival, Lincoln Center Repertory Theatre, the Living Theatre, the Erick Hawkins Dance Company, Shari Lewis and Saturday Night Live (he created the Land Shark).
In 1974, while teaching at Bennington College, Ralph Lee staged his first outdoor production, which took place all over the college campus, and featured giant puppets and masked creatures. That same year he organized the first Greenwich Village Halloween Parade, which he directed through 1985. For his work on the parade Mr. Lee received a 1975 Village Voice OBIE Award, a 1985 Citation from the Municipal Arts Society, and in 1993 he was inducted into the CityLore People's Hall of Fame.
In 1976 Ralph Lee became Artistic Director of the Mettawee River Theatre Company, which has been a center of his creative activity ever since. Mettawee's productions are based on creation myths, trickster tales, Sufi stories, legends and folklore from the world's many cultures. In addition to annual tours to rural communities, Mettawee has presented Ralph Lee's work at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, the New York Botanical Garden, Provincetown Playhouse, the Henson Foundation's International Festival of Puppet Theater, LaMama E.T.C., INTAR, Lincoln Center Out-of-Doors, Central Park Summerstage and many other locations.
Two of Ralph Lee's Mettawee productions have been honored with American Theatre Wing Design Awards: The Popol Vuh in 1995 and Wichikapache Goes Walking in 1992. Under Mr. Lee's direction, Mettawee has also received a 1991 Village Voice OBIE Award and two Citations for Excellence from UNIMA, the international puppetry organization. Additional awards to Mr. Lee include a 1996 Dance Theatre Workshop Bessie Award for "sustained achievement as a mask maker and theatre designer without equal" and a 1996 New York State Governor's Arts Award in recognition of his many contributions to the artistic and cultural life of New York State. In 1999 Ralph received an award for "excellence in theater" from the New England Theater Conference.