Pageant Puppetry Workshop in the Italian Alps

June 27 - July 5, 2015


Join us for week-long workshop in pageant puppetry, culminating in a Midsummer Procession of giant puppets and other visual elements. Collaborate with international participants and local residents to build on a event that evokes the seasonal rites of the Solstice and the Festa of San Giovanni Battista, in a remote village high in the Italian Alps.

Master Puppet Designers Alex Kahn and Sophia Michahelles will guide you through the production of the Pageant. Drawing on the oral histories, agrarian rituals, folk tales, and ecology of this under-explored corner of Occitan Italy, you will collaborate with local villagers to create an evening Procession of Lights and a Midsummer Pageant the following day. You will learn, through hands-on experience, how to construct giant puppets, banners, lanterns and ceremonial architecture.

Daily workshop sessions are complimented by trips to nearby Medieval churchesn and cheese kitchens, Occitan step-dancing lessons, and other unpredictable wonders. The workshop will be hosted by Christa and Fritz Gaebler at Casa dei Fiori, an authentically restored complex of traditional stone houses. Christa, a world-class gourmet chef, will introduce participants to the tastes of early Italian summer, through elaborate communal meals with ingredients fresh from the garden.




Observed as a sacred day in cultures throughout the world, the Summer Solstice has inspired celebrations since ancient times. In Catholic Italy, the pre-Christian observance of Midsummer is merged with the cult of Saint John the Baptist, observed on June 24th.
In rural areas this seasonal turning point was traditional marked by ritual acts. Bowls of water and fresh flowers were put out to keep the witches at bay, affections were sealed under the auspices of the patron Saint of Friendship, and giant haywheels of fire were rolled through the fields to re-enact of the Sun's journey and ensure its cyclical return. In Rome, a feast of snails - whose horns link them to the Devil - ritualized a triumph over evil. The traditions vary from region to region, even from town to town, with diverse sources, rites, and iconography. But everywhere the essential meaning is the same - a marking of cyclical time, a prayer of light, and, as the sun begins its descent, a reminder of the transience of all things.

The workshop draws upon the seasonal traditions of Saint John the Baptist, the life of Morinesio, and individual first-hand experiences to develop a unique Midsummer celebration. Themes for each year's new elements grow out of an ongoing dialogue with local villagers, and range from magical folk myths to aspects of everyday agrarian life.

We will use mostly locally-available materials to make giant puppets, masks, banners, lanterns, and ceremonial architecture. Alex and Sophia specialize in creating lightweight but large-scale structures from recycled and non-toxic materials. The course includes fundamental techniques in bamboo armature construction, paper-mache mold-casting, illuminated structures, rigging and articulation, and simple batik and silkscreen. The course also addresses broader aspects of processional performance, such as choreography, movement and character animation.

Participants work together to create elements for two separate processions: a night-time Procession of Light, and the Midsummer Pageant the following day. The Procession of Light is an intimate and serene procession to the cliffside Church of Santa Maria, illuminated entirely by hand-made lanterns. The Midsummer Pageant on the following afternoon is a more open and raucus event, as the giant puppets are brought to life by their makers and hundreds of local residents, moving in step to the rhythms of traditional Occitan music. We end, as all Italian rituals must, with a sumptuous feast, followed by dancing long into the night.

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Morinesio lies nestled high in the mountains bordering France and Italy. Although only two hours from Turin, the village of Morinesio seems removed from the world. From an altitude of 4500 feet (1450 m) it offers spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and the Val Maira valley, one of the wildest of the Piedmont region, virtually untouched by development.

Morinesio is in one of the few pockets of Occitan in Italy. This distinct culture that spreads from northwestern Italy, through Provencal France to Catalan Spain has its own language, the Langue d'Oc, still spoken by 2 million people. Predating Italian or French, Langue d'Oc is the oldest written Romance language. It was used by the troubadours for their lyric poetry from the 11th to the 13th centuries, after which it was repressed by the northern political powers. Occitan culture and language are now regaining recognition. Langue d'Oc is now being preserved in local schools, in the occitan menus of certain restaurants, and in the local musical traditions, where the legacy of the troubadours lives on.

Morinesio reached its peak population of about 200 around 1900. Life was primarily subsistence farming and herding, supplement by seasonal migrant work in the violet fields of France or selling anchovies on the road from Genoa. When the first roads were constructed in the 1960s, Morinesio's families abandoned the hardscrabble agrarian life for the secure and stable jobs in the factories of Turin and the commerce of Cuneo.

By late 1980s, only 6 year-round residents remained, and Morinesio almost befell the same fate as other ghost towns on the slopes of the Val Maira. Recent years, however, have witnessed a renewed interest in preserving Morinesio's history, as the children of some families have returned to their roots, restoring old stone strucutres, taking up herding and farming, and helping revitalize local Occitan language, music, and material culture. Festivals have played an integral role in the region's resurgance, and the Midsummer Pageant has provded a means to preserve and animate the fragile narratives of Morinesio's 1000-year history.

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Alex Kahn and Sophia Michahelles (workshop instructors) are the directors of Processional Arts Workshop, a non-profit ensemble of puppeteers, musicians, artists, and choreographers whose mission is to create site-specific community-built parades, processions, and performances. They design and build the giant puppets that lead New York's famed Village Halloween Parade, and have also created works for Trinidad Carnival, the PEN World Voices Festival, The Architectural League of NY’s Beaux Arts Ball, and many other site-specific events in communities worldwide ranging from Katonah to Kiev. (learn more about Processional Arts Workshop)


Fritz and Christa Gaebler (hosts, producers, chef) are proprietors of Casa dei Fiori, and hail originally from Stuttgart, Germany. For 30 years they have made the loving restoration of Morinesio their life's work. Christa is a world-class chef, organic gardener, and teacher of culinary arts, and she has owned several successful restaurants in both Germany and the United States. (Learn more about Casa dei Fiori . . . )


All particpants are housed in the lovely Casa dei Fiori, or in one of the neighboring Morinesio stone farmhouses that have been converted into comfortable guest accomodations with modern conveniences. Participants have their choice of various living arrangements, ranging from luxurious private apartments, to economical but comfortable shared rooms. Prices vary depending on private/shared accommodations, and walking distance from the puppet workshop.


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See pictures from past MORINESIO MIDSUMMER PAGEANT: Click below to view gallery....




The 2015 workshop runs from Saturday June 27 to Sunday July 5. Workshop fees start at 2290 Euros and vary depending on accommodations. Reservations confirmed by February 1 receive a 5% discount. Also for groups and families discounts apply on request.The workshop fee includes the following::

  • Workshop tuition and all materials
  • Housing and daily traditional breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Meals prepared from locally grown ingredients.
  • Guided tour of medieval village of Elva, local cheese farm, hair museum, and other areas of interest
  • Pizza baking in communal stone oven
  • Traditional Occitan step-dancing lessons in village piazza

Arrangements are possible for extended stays, in order to fully explore Val Maira region beyond the timeframe of the workshop.

Contact for reservations, pricing or more info:


Christa and Fritz Gaebler

telephone: (39) 017.1999303




Click on map to get directions to Morinesio and Casa dei Fiori   >>>>


Booking Terms and Conditions: 

Reservations will be accepted until April 30, 2015. To confirm your reservation, we require a 1000 Euro deposit per person (non-refundable). Final payment is due upon arrival at workshop. Payment may be made in either American dollars or Euros and is payable by traveler's checks or personal check to Christa Gaebler. European participants can transfer their deposits directly to the Casa Dei Fiore bank account. Credit cards are not accepted. We reserve the right to cancel the workshop if there is insufficient enrollment. If by May 1, the enrollment minimum has not been met we will provide you with a full deposit refund. We cannot, however, pay compensation or incur liability for travel expenses or other expenses you have incurred. For this reason we recommend that you acquire travel insurance to refund your airfare if event is cancelled. In the unlikely event that the workshop is cancelled, we offer the option for you to stay at Casa die Fiori at an arranged weekly rate.  

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