Addison — You’ve seen many kinds of puppetry, and you may have seen toy theater, but chances are you’ve haven’t witnessed anything quite like the oddities of Miniature Curiosa, whose Tonight a Clown will Travel Time has two more performances at Out of the Loop Fringe Festival.
Zach Dorn and Murphi Cook are the Pittsburgh-based duo behind this troupe, and this show is the second work in their “555 Days” project, in which they’ll spend nearly two years creating five works in different cities. This one began in San Antonio and has a revival production in Addison. (Their 555 tour began in St. Petersburg and will continue to Key West, Columbia, S.C. and Santa Fe—traversing the southern half of the States and back.)
Tonight a Clown Will Travel Time is decidedly off the wall: a clown/amateur scientist named Alfred Billows (played by Dorn), not happy with the way his life has gone, becomes interested in the story of a woman seen in a century-old photo. He sets off to find out more. His journey involves a law-breaking pachyderm and, in order to time-travel, he concocts a formula that involves the audience whipping out their smart phones to help him land at the right place and time. (I won’t spoil it, but have your phone browser ready to search.)
All that’s interesting enough, but what’s most fascinating about this show are the creators’ innovative twists on the art form of puppetry. There are some rod and hand-held puppets, and shadow puppetry illuminated on walls and other places, adaptable to whatever space they're in; but the main device is a series of tiny, crudely drawn cardboard characters that end up on a large screen via a live video feed as the puppeteers move around with small video cameras. Zorn calls them “live-streaming puppets,” which you can read more about on his website.
It whimsically reinvents theatrical conventions, from lighting (flexible reading lights help with lighting the puppets for the big screen) to costuming (at one point, a drawing of an oversized bowtie is projected onto the neck of a human performer) and even makeup (you’ll just have to see it to understand).
Puppets are often described as an extension of the human performer, and with these cardboard people and structures, that extension is filtered through technology. Cook and Dorn spend much of their time in the storytelling setting up and taking down these wackadoodle dioramas; but the story, bizarre as it is, never gets lost in all the stuff going on.
“I am going to tame time,” the lead character announces. In his investigation, he finds something that might surprise anyone with coulrophobia. Turns out, “clowns can be very noble creatures.”
It’s rare to stumble across something in theater that truly feels original, and Miniature Curiosa—talk about a description perfectly captured in a name—is just that. At 40 minutes, it’s perfect for the festival format, and the puppetry techniques are enough to keep audiences curious.
» Tonight a Clown Will Travel Time repeats at 5 p.m. Saturday, March 15 and 5 p.m. Sunday, March 15 in the Stone Cottage at the Addison Theatre Centre. For more about Miniature Curiosa, their 555 Days campaign, and how to help them fund it, see the video below:
» WaterTower Theatre's 2014 Out of the Loop Fringe Festival is 10 days of live theater, dance, music and visual art. To see the full schedule, go here.