Maybe it was the white bird of peace, whose wingspan all but covered Chapel Hill's Forest Theater. Perhaps it was the stern lion, the fearsome dragon, the more pacific embodiments of stone, wind and water—or the handymen who cleaned up after them, pushing their brooms along as they puzzled over what we'd all just seen. After 11 years of the company's pageantry, almost everyone who's ever seen Paperhand Puppet Intervention has at least one special puppet that caught their eye. And that's as true for the folks onstage as it is for the children and adults in the audience, as it turns out.
"We just wanted to bring back some of our favorite characters from over the years," admits co-founder Donovan Zimmerman, "characters we and our audiences seemed to enjoy, and make a family-friendly stream of scenes, songs and vignettes that flow like a cabaret." But the familiar in this show will be mixed in with the very new: The company has been experimenting with lighting technologies to craft a fresh form of movement theater. They call it Lumanity; Zimmerman says it's a gift from Paperhand drummer Kevin Brock, who died in 2008. "He and I did a couple of small performances at the end of a Forest Theater show using light sticks," she explains. "That was the cheaper version. Now we're working with wire lights, battery packs and controls to make an illusion where we become these stick figures of light in a pitch-dark room who dance and interact with each other."
The Big Tent Cabaret Road Show runs through March 6. Evening performances are at 7 p.m., with Sunday shows at 2 p.m. and Saturday matinees at 11 a.m. this weekend and 4 p.m. March 5. —Byron Woods