Paperhand Puppet Intervention, a flamboyant Tar Heel troupe of imaginative puppeteers with an acute sense fair play, will premiere The Dream and The Lie Aug. 28-Sept. 12 outdoors in the Forest Theater at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Group co-founders, co-directors, and co-creators Jan Burger of Bynum and Donovan Zimmerman of Saxapahaw will employ their eye-catching creations, big and small, to make timely political points.
"We do puppet theater of a different sort," claims Jan Burger. "We use a lot of large-scale puppets, and our shows are often silent as far as dialogue goes. We usually let the music carry things audibly. We create sort of our own contemporary mythology, taking our inspiration from the world itself and what's going on around us and sort of weaving it into a story."
He adds, "We want to be a community-based theater, one that's accessible to everybody. We want our shows to be relevant to people's lives and to relate to what's going on in the world and, ideally, [to] be inspiring to people, so people will want to jump up and take action....
"We believe," Burger says, "in theater that's not just on a stage to be viewed. We also take our puppets out into the street for different activist causes. We use puppets for direct action as well to help oppose what we feel are unjust institutions. For instance, we're going to go down to Miami to protest the Free Trade Area of the Americas. It's an extension of the NAFTA [North American Free Trade Agreement]. The Free Trade Area of the Americas is an agreement like the GATT [General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade] and the NAFTA. I think it's an agreement that the governments of North and South America have been asked to join."
Burger claims, "The NAFTA has been very detrimental to the people of North and Central America. Anyway, we're going to build puppets for weeks, and there's going to be a carnival-style opposition to the meeting."
Before each performance of The Dream and The Lie, there will be preshow entertainment. "Every night at 6:30," Burger says, "we have opening acts for our show. Our show will start closer to seven o'clock. The opening acts range from Capoeira Brazil to some old-timey bands and Cajun music, a women's modern-dance troupe, and a whole range of other things."
Burger says, "The Forest Theater is a neat place. You can bring a picnic to it and sit outside in the evening and eat your picnic before the show. It's become a kind of community gathering place. One of our friends yesterday described our shows as an annual healing ceremony for the community...."
He notes that "We started creating [The Dream and The Lie] in January. Again, we were largely inspired by what is happening in the world around us. We wanted to make a show that will address some of the crazy turns the world has taken in the last couple of years.
"Image-wise," he says, "one of the things that struck me in February was the way that visual art came into the public consciousness when Picasso's 'Guernica' painting [which depicts the 1937 bombing of a Spanish village by the Nazis] was covered up at the UN in preparation for [a speech by U.S.] Secretary of State Colin Powell [arguing] his case for war against Iraq [before] the UN Security Council."
Burger says, "I had already been reading about what had happened in 'Guernica.' I just thought it was so amazing and ironic that a painting that depicted a war in the past was too volatile for the cameras to see. Anyhow, we have four vignettes in [The Dream and The Lie]. One of them is a recreation — a bringing to life — of Picasso's 'Guernica.'
"Each of the different vignettes highlights a different form of puppetry. One of them uses stilt-walking and masks, another features a giant Bonraku-style puppet — i.e., a puppet that has all of its limbs and head controlled by puppeteers that are working behind it. That puppet is so large that it needs five puppeteers to work it. The 'Guernica' piece is giant moving pieces of painted cardboard. And for the last piece, we used shadow puppets."
Jan Burger notes that "All of the pieces, in some way or another, express a different aspect of the nature of humanity, who we are as people, who we potentially could be. But they're not very academic; it's more dream like. There are, for instance, giant moths and moons."
The four pieces that comprise The Dream and The Lie are "Moth & Moon," "Man at Home," "Guernica," and "The Gift."
"We possess power far greater than any of the other creatures on Earth," say the program notes for "Moth & Moon." "Through our technology, we can perform acts only dreamed of not long ago. Along with this power we are said to be the only animals to have a true awareness of our place in the universe and on the earth. Despite this, humanity seems to have an amazing capacity for self-imposed ignorance in the face of the gravest of dangers. We often seem more like a colony of termites on a wooden ship at sea — or like moths attracted to the flame."
The program describes "Man at Home" as follows: "We are living in a time of media saturation, a society of spectacles. Some questions arise in our minds: What is the effect of constant exposure to news that is shocking and awful? How do we react to violence that may be glamorized or sensationalized in the mass media? Does this create an atmosphere of fear and alienation? Who is responsible for the propagation of this fear — the government, the media, or ourselves? Does more information always make us better people? In a democratic society, why do we feel so powerless? Can our hearts bear the 'hardening' that may occur when protecting oneself from the harshness of the world? Are complacency and apathy a result or a cause of great atrocities and injustices across the globe?"
"Guernica," which brings to life Picasso's most famous painting, the program says, "In 1937, the country of Spain was split by a civil war. The Nazi government of Adolf Hitler, eager to try out new weapons and tactics of war, sent their assistance to the fascist side. For the first time in history, on April 27, in the town of Guernica, a large scale bombing of a civilian population was committed. The town was attacked on a marked day when the largest amount of people would be there. Those fleeing into the countryside were machine-gunned from the air. These tactics, they called 'total war.' One third of the population was either killed or wounded. The fires that engulfed the city burned for three days. The United States, England, and many nations, for various reasons, denied the atrocity of Guernica. It was even suggested that it was fabricated by the townspeople by setting fire to their own town. In response to the bombing, Pablo Picasso painted the giant piece 'Guernica' which has since come to symbolize the horror of war. In February 2003, in preparation for Colin Powell's presentation to the U.N. Security Council, arguing the case for a war against Iraq, a tapestry reproduction of Picasso's 'Guernica' was covered up with a blue curtain."
Of "The Gift," the program states: "As puppeteers, as people, we are influenced greatly by our surroundings. We hear and read stories of mountains of trash where families live and children are born. We hear of the many war torn places of the earth left broken and burned. We hear of opulent societies behind huge walls to keep out undesirables. How does this all come to be? We can only hope that through kindness and compassion we may all, someday, be free in the world."
Jan Burger told Robert's Reviews: "Donovan and I build everything, and we write everything, and yet we couldn't do the show without the help of lots of people. We create the show collaboratively, with the help of the cast and other folks.
"Some people come in a sew costumes or help with papier maché," Burger says. "Some of our puppeteers will help choreograph some of the parts of the show and make it their own. We have some very talented clowns and dancers in our troupe and some very, very talented musicians."
Burger says, "We work together with [the musicians] to create different pieces of music for the show. It's a unique challenge for them, because it's not just a regular piece of music. It will be constantly broken up by sound effects and the need for somebody to make a strange noise with their mouth or ring a bell. They have a very difficult job, but they do amazingly well."
The show's puppeteers include Alan Best, Alicia Best, Jan Burger, Kia Carscallen, Sandy Gribben, Sarah Howe, Karen Kelley, Claudia Lopez, Lia Myott, Ben Pagano, Lauren Rosenthal, and Donovan Zimmerman. The musicians who accompany them are Jill Baldwin (drums, percussion, "meow"), Kevin Brock (drums, percussion, guitar), Claudia Lopez (vocals, charango), and Mahlon Hoard (tenor and soprano sax, flute).
Jan Burger says, "I don't know if we'll do [The Dream and The Lie] other places. I don't believe we could. Part of the show relies on the fact that the Forest Theater is outside. There are trees growing out of the stage and the sounds of katydids in the background. Also, we time the show, so that it ends just at dusk, which is required for the shadow puppets to work."
Paperhand Puppet Intervention presents The Dream and The Lie Thursday-Sunday, Aug. 28-31 and Sept. 4-7, at 6:30 p.m. and Thursday-Friday, Sept. 11-12, at 6:30 p.m. in UNC-Chapel Hill's Forest Theater at the intersection of Country Club Rd. and Boundary St. $8 suggested donation. 919/923-1857. http://www.ibiblio.org/ftf/.