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Written by Chapel Hill North Carolina   
Thursday, July 11, 2019 12:20 PM

A weekly update of news in our North Carolina communities!

Puppeteers with a Mission

The fantastical, musical promenade of animals and mythical creatures – all of them oversized, giant puppets – will tell their stories at The Forest Theatre in Chapel Hill for the 20th magical time. The 2019 show is called We Are Here, and opens August 2nd. 

Each year these unlikely puppets tell a story in “the language of dreams.” 

Donovan Zimmerman, Paperhand Puppet’s co-creator, says We Are Here explores the paradox of progress. 

“We Are Here to learn, to practice, and to heal, to dream, and build a better world together; to create this work and rise as a community, to inspire us all to feel more deeply connected to the earth and its creatures, to stand up for justice, stand for our planet, and work for peace.” 

Mark your calendar. These shows are unique and unforgettable, and display the unfettered creativity of artists with vision. They will perform each Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from Friday, August 2nd through Sunday, September 29th.

For two decades now, these shows have performed to sold-out audiences, attracting thousands of visitors to the outdoor venue each summer. Forest Theater is built like a Roman Amphitheater, which brings an ancient feel to the proceedings. It’s more of a happening than a show.


Where's the Intervention?

Zimmerman says the word "intervention" is in Paperhand’s formal name because “we want our work to be a wake-up call and a sort of interruption of the status quo, everything from dismantling racism and white supremacy to environmental justice, which has been a huge centerpiece for our themes over the years.” 


The Beginning

In 1998 Paperhand Puppet Intervention’s directors Donovan Zimmerman and Jan Burger met and began a collaboration of epic proportions.  

“We were originally inspired to make giant puppets by Bread and Puppet Theater in Vermont,” says Donovan.

The Bread and Puppet Theater is a politically radical puppet theater, active since the 1960s, currently based in Glover, Vermont. Its founder and director is Peter Schumann.

Bread and Puppet Theater has been a familiar presence at political demonstrations since the anti-war protests of the 1960s.

“Jan Burger (co-founder and co-director) and I were both exposed to this work while we were doing our own art in different ways in our lives. When I saw what B & P did with masks and giant puppets and shadows et cetera, I knew that I would be doing this for the rest of my life.”

“What I learned from Bread and Puppet was that there are ways to talk about serious ideas in a way that's entertaining,” said Zimmerman.

Zimmerman says they built Paperhand productions over the past 20 years and the support they have received from the Triangle community has been huge.

“We have been supported in many ways as this endeavor has unfolded, from folks jumping in to do the shows, to financial backers, to volunteers coming out on the weekends and helping with papier-mâché or sewing costumes”

North Carolina has helped Zimmerman and the entire crew stay grateful for their success.  

“Our early vision is being realized, and we hope to build on that vision by working with more diverse communities as well folks with varying abilities while, at the same time, having Paperhand expand its capacity to keep more people employed.”

Donovan says they are living the dream.  

“I do get a deep sense of satisfaction when I see or hear from people who have grown up with Paperhand’s influence in their lives, who have a creative career or process that they attribute to us as the inspiration. I’m overwhelmed by the feedback that we receive about our work and how it affects people in surprising and profound ways.” 

"There are lots of ways to support Paperhand,” Zimmerman says. “Becoming a sustainer through Patreon (an online membership program) is an excellent way to keep funds from running out while we dream and do non-money making activities. And once a year we do a Kickstarter campaign to produce our annual summer show.”

Folks can join the crew at their studio in the summer for papier-mâché parties and sewing soirées on Saturdays.

Chapel Hill has been honored to host Paperhand Puppet Intervention since its inception. It’s a testament to what creative people can do in a creative, supporting environment. We’re looking forward to 20 more years of giant, dreamlike puppets.