They shimmied, gyrated and high-fived the audience while heading down Exchange Street: giant puppets representing Brazilian women, assembled odd characters, the sun and moon, dragons and horses. And a man on stilts twirling white flags.

The puppets – in costumes with vivid, bright colors – paused at the corner of Fore and Market streets to form a drum circle, featuring lots of cowbells.

The West End’s Shoestring Theater was largely responsible for the content of the brief but unique Old Port Festival parade, kicking off the 44th annual mid-June event, which attracts thousands to Portland’s Old Port and waterfront. The festival, which ran from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday with temperatures in the high 80s under partly sunny skies, featured music, food, amusements and street vendors.

Nance Parker, director at Shoestring Theater, said the theater has been marching puppets to start the Old Port Festival since 1982, adding and subtracting puppets each year.

“It’s street puppetry, based on carnivals from all over the world,” said Parker, explaining that her main influences come from Brazil, New Orleans and Germany, mixed with inspiration from Portland itself.

Kendall Goulet of Biddeford, 9, said the parade was not like anything she has seen before, with the gigantic puppets.


“It was really cool. I loved the music, too,” Kendall said.

Brass bands performed jazz songs, including “When the Saints Go Marching In.”

Parker said the puppet of a woman riding an enormous horse was meant as a tribute to her friend Susan Bergier, who owned the Amaryllis clothing store and was a mainstay of the Old Port Festival until she died in 2007.

“We built a horse for her and she gets to ride down Exchange Street every year now,” Parker said.

Behind the horse puppet, children rolled carpets out over a small section of the street that had paving stones on it – to reduce wear-and-tear on the small wheels being used to move the puppet.

Tricycles were used to transport the flowing puppet dragons down the street. The puppets resembled dragons from a Chinese New Year parade.


Students from Reiche Elementary School helped build the dragons over the past three years. Among them were Heloise Bampton, 9, and Elisabeth Wallace, 10, who also marched in the parade.

Heloise said they used clay and papier-mache to construct the puppets and then painted them white before adding bright colors.

Freya Bampton, who is 13 and Heloise’s sister, said she enjoyed dressing up and marching in the parade.

“You get to act everything up and be anonymous,” Freya said.

Her dad, Matthew Bampton, said the puppet costumes he and Freya wore “looked like cross old ladies.”

“Or like they wanted to play a game of bridge,” Freya added.


“This one looks kind of like Margaret Thatcher,” said Matthew Bampton, referring to the former British prime minister.

Bampton, who is originally from England, said his family has participated in the Old Port Festival parade for 25 years.

“It is such great fun. It’s a fantastic neighborhood and community experience,” he said.

Joe Lawlor can be contacted at 791-6376 or at:

[email protected] or at

Twitter: joelawlorph

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