Paperhand Puppet Intervention's Turns Eyes On "The Beautiful Beast"
The Zangamash, a creature from the "Book of Beasts," is among the cast of characters in the new Paperhand Puppet Intervention show.
Photos courtesy of Paperhand Puppet Intervention
A unique theatrical production with messages for people of all ages debuts Aug. 5 at the Forest Theatre in Chapel Hill when award-winning puppet troupe Paperhand Puppet Intervention puts a spotlight on monsters and beasts that inhabit our dreams and folktales.
“The Beautiful Beast,” is set to run through Sept. 5 at Forest Theatre, before moving to the North Carolina Museum of Art’s outdoor theater in Raleigh Sept. 9-11 and The Carolina Theatre of Greensboro Sept 17-18. All venues have preshow performances by local bands and musicians. Learn more about ticket prices and schedules at paperhand.org.
Started in 1999 by Triangle residents Jan Burger and Donovan Zimmerman, Paperhand Puppet Intervention creates its own giant puppets and composes music to tell tales that reveal its founders’ belief in justice, equality and peace, and love of the earth and its creatures. This year’s show focuses on monsters and beasts, but turns our concept of them on its head so we can see our own humanity — good and bad — reflected in them.
The Wumpaflump a creature from the "Book of Beasts"
“Instead of [the show] being an oversimplified story of a dragon or the creature that lives in the woods [that] is bad — or a wolf — it is a living, beautiful thing that wants to take care of its children and just wanted to live its life,” says Zimmerman, who is also the troupe’s artistic director. “Humans are potentially the most beastly, the most monstrous, of all. And we have to be able to see that side of it when we look at ourselves. We can’t just say we’re the best without being able to recognize that we’re also potentially the worst.”
Using ancient stories, myths and legends, the performance poses the questions: “What is beautiful and what is a beast?” “Where do monsters come from?” and “What are the true monsters of our modern world?”
While the show’s monsters are as nuanced and complex as humans, Zimmerman says positive change is always possible. “We always hold out that potential, that transcendence is a piece of the human story, that we are hoping that will help recognize that we can help in this dark place that humanity, to some degree, is swirling around in, if you watch the news, and evolve and come to a more just and equal place in our thinking about each other across races, across genders. All those things are very much a part of what we are here to speak about.”
Over the past 17 years, Paperhand Puppet Intervention has become a tradition for many families, he says, noting that children have come to the theater when they were age 2-3 and grown up watching performances. “It has become part of the creative culture of the area — at least that is what I’ve been told — and I’m really thankful and happy about that. It is just a spectacle. There is something for everyone. And we really bill this for all ages.”
Although the production is designed for all ages, Zimmerman says young children who arrive with a fear of monsters could find the puppet beasts frightening, but he hopes the audience “will trust us.”
“I always say my litmus test is — is it scarier than a Disney film?” he says, adding, “We don’t have any characters that are malevolent or evil … or want to do harm to others.”
Enkidu the beast man peers out from behind a tree
The stories are performed by a cast of more than 20 puppeteers and six musicians, including renowned violinist/composer Jennifer Curtis.
Each year we assemble a team of musicians, artists, dancers and tinkerers to create the “craziness we envision,” says Jan Burger, Paperhand co-founder and director. “This time we are super lucky to be working with the amazing Tarish Pipkins, aka Jeghetto the puppet maker. He gives life and articulation to scraps of wood and cardboard destined for the dumpster. I am mesmerized when I watch his puppets snarl and jump like real animals. We are also experimenting this year with using repurposed plastic bags and VHS tape to simulate fur and feathers in our creatures. It’s fun and feels good to come up with new uses for that stuff.”
Production begins each year in May with the building of the puppets from drawings, followed by rehearsal and the creation of original music. Performers may take some puppets for “structured play to give life to them in the most interesting way," Zimmerman says.
With two of the productions at outdoor theaters in the Triangle, the show offers a natural appeal that reinforces its themes. “It’s a pretty interesting and a cool thing just to go do,” he says. “Just sitting out there under the trees with the community and really just experiencing all of the different pieces that come together to make these big productions happen with the music, sound, and the lighting and the movers and the people who made the puppets are all there. It’s a fascinating phenomenon.”
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