Photo by Dexter Ellis
The Death and Life of Billy The Kid_Open Eye Figure Theatre
While The Death and Life of Billy The Kid uses a wooden puppet over two feet tall, creators Seth Bockley and Frank Maugeri also utilize a smaller, 8-inch version during the show.
Playwrights have long since dismantled Aristotle’s rules of having one plot, one place, and one day to unfold a play, but Open Eye Figure Theatre’s Toy Theatre After Dark seems to have written their own book that simply says, “Do anything you can dream.”
Toy Theatre After Dark is two weeks of puppetry with 11 curated shows from March 30 through April 8. While the more familiar forms of puppetry like marionettes and hand puppets may be featured, bigger-than-life-sized moving body appendages made of sculpted foam, 30-foot long scrolls of pictures, and shards of ceramics all come alive and take the stage at some point.
It’s a magic that the performers begin, but the audience must believe in to make happen, says Open Eye artistic producing director and Toy Theatre curator Susan Haas. “In this technological world we live in where we sit on a phone and a computer, where we can spend enough time and make anything happen, seeing something that’s solid and immaterial, watching it happen live with human beings making it happen, that’s something really needed in our culture,” Haas says.
These shows aren’t the Sesame Street and Muppets shows that populate TV. They can be dark, obscure, wacky, and more than a little artsy.
Toy Theatre artist Seth Bockley says that the freedom of writing for puppetry has inspired him. Indeed, he and Frank Maugeri—both “maximalists” in Bockley’s words—are bringing an operetta inspired by the creativity of Michael Ondaatje’s The Collected Works of Billy the Kid to the Twin Cities from Chicago. This time, though, Billy is a wooden puppet more than two feet tall with an actual goat head (get the pun?). There’s a chase, a sunset scene, some legends, and some reality. It’s a little surreal, but with the death of Billy’s mom, it also has a current of the relatable running through it, as do Felice Amato’s The Mothers of the Bestiary and Sherds, which deal with the flaws of motherhood and childhood memories, respectively. Other pieces like Kevin Augustine’s Body Concert, which he describes as “a wordless meditation through body exploration,” blur the borders of puppetry even more by blending the form with dance.
“We control and we pick out things, these images and fragments, and there’s a natural accumulation and residue,” says Amato, a local to Minneapolis. “I think people will see such a variety of work, and contemporary puppetry is just, to me, one of the most interesting things happening. There’s so much variety in how people interpret the puppet.”
The only definition of puppetry for Toy Theatre artists is “animate the inanimate,” says Haas. After that, anything goes.
Toy Theatre After Dark. March 30-April 8, $18-12, Open Eye Theatre, 506 E 24th St., Mpls., 612-874-6338, openeyetheatre.org.