Magazine article American Theatre

Puppet Rites: A Minneapolis-Based Theatre Reaches Back to the Ritual Power of Puppets for Healing and Community Building

Magazine article American Theatre

Puppet Rites: A Minneapolis-Based Theatre Reaches Back to the Ritual Power of Puppets for Healing and Community Building

Article excerpt

This past September, In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre was invited to bring the spirit of our local Mayday Parade and Festival to the opening ceremony of an international theatre festival in Gwacheon, South Korea. Together with a team of professional Korean artists, students and families from the Gwacheon area, and the dance-theatre company Mardohk from Iraq, we created and enacted a "Prayer for Harmonious Coexistence." It was a stunning privilege to work as collaborative celebrants with Koreans and Iraqis across the divide of fear and nations.

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As a puppet and mask theatre, we are in line with an ancient and powerful tradition whose roots lie in articulating the mythic mysteries of human existence and the deepest rituals of community life. The first puppeteers were shamans and street wanderers. In many ways our work is closely aligned with these ancient traditions as we seek expressions of our connection to each other and the natural world, to life and death itself, and to a spirit world.

Our theatre began with the political activism of the early 1970s, and for 30 years we have consciously planted ourselves in an economically troubled neighborhood in South Minneapolis. Seventeen years ago we moved into a local porno theatre and transformed it into the theatre we use as our home base today. We are now woven into the cultural fabric of this neighborhood, and relish its complex diversity. We balance our time between company works and projects involving direct hands-on participation from the community. We produce various genres of performance: mainstage shows for adults or families, tiny one-person shows, cabaret pieces, touring shows, ritual events, residencies and processions. We are often called upon to be midwives in divining some way to mark an important moment in the life of the community.

And every year, we enact the Mayday Parade and Festival, culminating in a Tree of Life Ceremony. Each February we host a public brainstorming meeting, where all who enter share ideas with our team of artists toward forming a specific theme for the year. We hold public workshops throughout April for people of all ages to build their own puppet creations or help with the larger puppets that embody the chosen theme. Hundreds and hundreds participate. At first sight, the workshops seem like chaotic hives of buzzing bees. On closer inspection, one can see the parade and ceremony story gradually emerging from the dizzily busy hands molding clay, stapling fabric and laying paint. These public workshops are the heart of Mayday, for it is here that neighbors of all ages meet each other, generating contagious vitality. On Mayday itself, the parade explodes onto the street with several thousand participants blessing this familiar artery in a new way. …

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