Monday, August 31, 2009

Starting up: 2009 Barebones Halloween show

Since 1993 Minneapolis has enjoyed the outdoor Barebones Halloween pageant on the banks of the Mississippi River.  Last year the show was called "Fleeced: You Reap What You Sow," and told the story of Jason and the Argonauts, but with a contemporary political twist.  Here's a photo of Zeus (Adam Cook, of the Dolly Wagglers) presenting a cantastoria to tell the story of the Golden Fleece and the Sowing of the Dragon's Teeth.  He's using a lightning bolt as a pointer to explain the story to young Jason (left) and the warmongering usurper Pelias (right).

Note the red, white and blue bunting adorning the platform on which Pelias stands -- he and Jason presented their claims to the kingdom in a mock debate format, fitting for a show performed mere days before the US presidential elections.  Pelias the warmonger was clearly corrupt and had little use for laws, while young Jason carried the fresh appeal of change -- but as the show unfolded Jason too would lead his armies to futile, bloody death.  Many more excellent photos (especially of the fire-breathing bulls!) are at the show link above, and here's a Flickr set from Megan Mayer (10 pics, including hucksters selling Cyclops Insurance).  Here's a video of the armies fighting on a burning plain.

In 2005 I saw my first Barebones show.  Called  "Foretold: It's Your Funeral," it was a story about a town where Divinators study the night sky with a giant telescope and predict disasters, the fear of which drives the town's denizens to extreme lengths to protect themselves.  It's a post-2001 fable of fear-manipulated America, but the Barebones team does an excellent job of weaving the political pattern into their tapestry without letting it overwhelm the design. 

The 2009 Barebones planning website suggests that werewolves are in store for us this year!  I'm not sure what political angle they're taking, but the concept of werewolf does make me ponder Obama the rule-of-law, anti-war, pro-transparency Candidate's transformation into Obama the President.  Rough script development for the 2008 show is archived on that website as well (ie, posts from Aug / Sept / Oct 2008)-- so very fascinating to see shows past and present take shape.  Participation is open to the community.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Dirt Cheap Opera

Laurie and I were lucky to see a performance (actually two!) of Bread & Puppet's Dirt Cheap Opera this year in Vermont. This show originated in 1998 and a portion of that performance is preserved via Dee Dee Halleck's video "When" (2001).  From those brief excerpts the staging looks cluttered with many cast members, the pacing seems slow and the music not fully realized.  The show was revived in 2002 with the original cardboard puppets and paper cantastoria with a lean 4-person cast comprised of Clare Dolan, Maria Schumann, Jason Norris and Jig Gresser (review 1 (plus some small photos); review 2). Here's the 2002 poster:
We saw the 2009 revival with a 7-performer cast (Rose Friedman, Justin Lander, Lindsay McCaw, Sam Wilson, Maura Gahan, Jason Hicks, and Greg Corbino), still with the original cardboard puppets and ragged newsprint cantastoria. The show pushes Brecht's alienation effects to the wall, as not only is Polly Peachum played by (a) different players, but also (b) different gendered players, and (c) she's a puppet held in front of those actors, except (d) when the actor leans out from behind the puppet to sing or speak, and (e) lest the puppet ever become too real a character, Polly's cardboard arm falls off and (f) this puppet dismemberment is joked about in the show. Seemingly a mishap, we saw two performances and the arm fell off in each, revealing it as a deliberate choice. See also the 1-armed Polly in this photo from the 2009 Baltimore performance.

Evidently there were some rights issues during the January tour with this show, which seems extra ridiculous considering the fact that Brecht was a socialist!

I shot video. Interested collectors feel free to drop me email.  I'm happy to trade footage.

See Flickr photos by pavelkaphoto (Scranton, 41 pics), Comandante_Jose (Baltimore, 11 pics) and dietrich (NYC, 3 pics). 2009 poster:


  • 1998 cast info
  • more photos
  • more reviews
  • video (any year, any performance)

First Post: Raison d'Etre

This blog exists in order to collect, organize and preserve information about political puppet theater. As such, it is my personal research aid. But by posting it publicly on the web, I hope it may serve all who share this interest as a sort of political puppetry information portal, or even as an online communications nexus for a uniquely important activist art form which tends to enjoy an ephemeral, low-tech, offline existence.