Radicackalacky Puppet Convergence

Wednesday, Sep. 25–Saturday, Sep. 28

Various venues, Carrboro/Saxapahaw

In a darkened room, a woman croons a dark song, a capella: “A man hangs from the Tyburn Tree / His deathbed made of rope / And strong nails kill his hopes of ever climbing down.” As she kneels, the shadow puppets she manipulates enact a stark story from the history of capital punishment; it unspools slowly across the surface of an overhead projector and is cast upon a nearby wall.  

Baltimore puppeteer and performance artist Rae Red’s Shadow Ballads is one of the mainstage productions in the region’s second Radicackalacky Puppet Convergence, a four-day festival of puppetry and social activism featuring artists and companies from across the South. 

Paperhand Puppet Intervention, a longtime advocate for puppetry as a vehicle for social change, produced the first such gathering thirteen years ago. The new incarnation features two evenings of performances and a high-spirited late-night cabaret at The ArtsCenter in Carrboro and daytime seminars and workshops in clowning, juggling, and puppet construction at Paperhand’s Saxapahaw studios, all before the final weekend of We Are Here, Paperhand’s current show.

Paperhand cofounder Donovan Zimmerman sees social activism through performance as part of a puppetry renaissance: “There are so many examples, from The Lion King and The Dark Crystal to the Super Bowl and Olympics, of how puppetry has made its way into the mainstream,” he says.

For festival co-coordinator Emily McHugh, a Paperhand studio artist from Olympia, Washington, innovative performances using centuries-old techniques “invite us to join our communities and engage in collective storytelling about what’s going on socially, politically, and culturally. Puppetry has the potential to open us up to each other in ways not normally accessible.” 

Award-winning artists from Louisiana, South Carolina, and Virginia will explore issues including immigration, racism, and gun control. They’ll also probe the need for laughter, hope, and self-care in divisive times, in comedy and texts ranging from feminist retellings of stories from the Torah and New Testament to the works of Edgar Allan Poe.

Whether subtle or overt, Rae Red considers all art political. “You can’t create art in the world now without thinking about how the world is affecting our experience,” she says. Her work tries to counter the “super-specific” focus in modern news by “zooming out a little bit to get the broader picture.” 

Red notes that in obsessing on the minutiae of the daily news feed, “we’re missing the actual experiences, what actually matters, like our access to water, or that one in twenty-five people on death row are innocent. These things tend to get swept or lost in the name-calling.” Her intimate performance and those of her colleagues let us reconnect and reconsider the social elements they examine.


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