When the heat cranks up, the sightings start. A white, kind-eyed crane with tribal markings–but two stories tall and with a wingspan well over 50 feet. Magenta vaudevillians with noses between 1 and 2 feet in diameter. Immense, elliptical rain gods; smiling, dancing, dressed in batiked, multicolored robes.

It can only mean one of two things. Either the witness has been out in the sun too long, or they’ve just seen a performance by Paperhand Puppet Intervention.

What began as a quirky annual pageant at the fringe of regional art and social activism has gradually morphed into the Forest Theatre Festival, a summer family mainstay over recent years. Now, thousands of all ages flock to the outdoor amphitheater that playwright Paul Green had built on the edge of the UNC-Chapel Hill campus, to picnic, view–and interact with–colorful, multi-story puppets that take up to six people to operate. The all-ages shows fuse original music, vaudeville and jokes for kids, in a storytelling theater that puts new–and socially conscious–spins on folk tales.

Donovan Zimmerman, co-founder of the 2005 Indies Arts Awards-winning group, tells us the Intervention will be intervening even further across the Triangle this summer. After its four-week run at the Forest Theatre, Aug. 11-Sept. 2, the crew takes their show to the North Carolina Museum of Art for two shows at their outdoor theater, Sept. 8-9.

But before that, the Paperhands convene their first Radicackalacky Puppetry Convergence, a mini-festival featuring puppet groups from the Palestinian Territories, Canada and elsewhere. Look for performance dates at the ArtsCenter in Carrboro and other venues, Aug. 27-Sept. 2. They’re also hosting the Philadelphia group Indicator Species, who bring their shadow puppet play about American prisons, The Hardest Question Ever, to the Forest Theater on June 27.

When the group isn’t creating art, they’re in fund-raising mode. Losing their Saxapahaw studio space to developers means an old-fashioned barn-raising. That, however, takes money. So far they’ve raised $28,000 from supporting audiences; they need $40,000. Something to think about when you attend their shows this summer where the admission fee is always optional–but donations gladly accepted.

Visit Paperhand online at www.paperhand.org.