Pamela Ferguson’s career began to changeslowly, maybe a little
strangelyafter she met Alouette Dubois seven years ago.
The hookup happened in an Arlington thrift shop. “I went in and I saw this puppet,” recalls Ferguson, a sprightly, middle-aged jazz violinist from Alexandria. “She just spoke to me.”
Ferguson purchased the puppet. Then she began to accessorize her. Over the years, the puppet grew from what appeared to be the head of a cartoon alligator into a 3-foot “flying salamander dragon” with iridescent wings, frilly wedding dress, womanly lips, and long, golden pigtails tied with red ribbon.
“Originally, I wanted to entertain my nieces. We played puppets together,” says Ferguson. But Alouette, or “Baby Allie,” as she nicknamed the puppet, quickly became much more than a hobby.
“I think I have this internal misogyny,” says Ferguson. “I mean, I’m a good-looking woman, I guesspeople say thatbut I always thought I was ugly.” Eventually, through intensive talking sessions with Alouette (some involving the puppet talking back), Ferguson was able to overcome much of her self-doubt. “Since she is memy inner child, inner reptileshe took those bad parts and over the years [absorbed them],” Ferguson says. “I think I performed psychotherapy on myself.”
Alouette and Ferguson’s initially clinical relationship blossomed into a healthy, two-sided affair. They began to collaborate on a grand dream: to get Ferguson out of her job as a freelance violinist. “I’ve schlepped on the violin for 20 years,” says Ferguson. “There’s only so many times you can play ‘Memory.’” So a few years back, Ferguson started scripting comic plays, using Alouette as a vehicle.
To build Alouette’s stage character, Ferguson attached a loop to the puppet’s tail that let her wiggle it in an endearing manner. She recrafted Allie’s innards so she could stick her hand through the dragon and make her play the violin. She also gave her a helium-balloon-sucking voice and an embarrassing gas problem, though Ferguson’s ventriloquism is still a sore spot. “My mouth moves,” she says. “I’m not like a Shari Lewis virtuoso.”
Ferguson has other strengths, though. “I’ve taken tai chi for a long time…and I have a lot of energy in my hands,” she says. “Being a violinist, I think I express my feelings and energy through my hands. So there’s this part of me that wants to express itself, and it just sort of comes out in Alouette.”
That expression takes an intriguing variety of forms. During Ferguson’s 2000 jazz gig at the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage, for example, the puppet interrupted the music to deliver a George Burns-esque routine. More recently, the twosome treated audiences at an Arlington church to an anti-war puppet show called Goats ‘R’ Us. “Alouette and I were trying to go into Trashcanistan,” explains Ferguson. “We were running pastries and weapons, so we were taking orders and dropping bombs….The Unitarians liked it.”
The puppeteer wrapped up her latest endeavor, an operetta titled Hansel, Gretel, and the Little Green Dragon, last Sunday at the Ritz-Carlton in Pentagon City. Ferguson was Carlotta Schmaltzenegger, a witch who turns kids into cookies. Hansel and Gretel wander into her house after following Alouette through a haunted forest, and they’re promptly immobilized as gingerbread and sugar cookies, respectively. The show ends with a deus ex machina involving the Tooth Fairy.
Ferguson hasn’t abandoned the freelance-music gigs altogether. (She still works as a strolling violinist at the Mayflower.) But she’s already busy writing another operetta, this one involving Mozart. And time travel. And the puppet.
“No one had a lot of faith in me until the last two months,” says Ferguson, noting the time it took to complete the Hansel script. But “I’ve been working on my tai chi for seven years,” she says. “I knew that eventually it would all come together.” John Metcalfe