As a photographer, I have enjoyed dressing up people in portraits to depict a fantastical world, but when I read about high-end couture fashion as depicted in magazines or in commercials, I'll often note that a malnourished girl has fallen down in some extremely expensive high heels. Increasingly, that becomes too big a price to pay for my enjoyment of traditional haute couture.
For the past seven years, the Triangle has been the fortunate home of a remarkable group of artists. Based in Saxapahaw, Paperhand Puppet Intervention provides a refuge for those, like me, who have long appreciated style but have become more concerned with the intertwined relationship between couture and commerce, and its frequently harmful effects. Under the direction of mainstays Donovan Zimmerman and Jan Burger, the often overtly political Paperhand Puppet Intervention is gearing up for a busy season this spring, sweating in the studio in their striped socks.
Whether to tell a story, teach a lesson or simply to get a laugh, puppeteers commit themselves to their stylish craft beyond simply wearing masks. Puppeteers create characters that they bring to life while performing. Meanwhile, many of these artists seem fond of a few key articles of clothing while they work the strings and stilts: rolled up pants, derby hats, scarves, striped socks with Converse tennis shoes and the occasional moustache. When you add a circus and a traveling salesman, you get puppeteers pulling shows from their briefcases.
The derby hats don't necessarily reference Paperhand's mission statement, in which they say they are "inspired by our love for the earth and its creatures (including humans) as well as our belief in justice, equality, and peace." Still, the hats do cause us to realize that the puppet artists are well versed in old traditions of performing and storytelling. If what you wear says something about who you are, then the Paperhand Puppet gang is bold, outspoken and intelligent with a sense of humor.
When Paperhand gets dressed to perform, they, too, need to get their "look" just right, and their goal is not so unlike that of the designer/model team. The main difference is that they hope you, the viewer, will learn from their stories and characters and then mimic their style—of living. Not unlike a socially charged T-shirt with a message (insert any pro-peace sentiment here), they have something to say with the costumes, masks and puppets they wear.
This spring, Paperhand Puppet Intervention is busy getting dressed for a number of upcoming shows, including The Crawdad's Conundrum at the ArtsCenter in Carrboro on April 14. On Saturday, April 21, Paperhand will appear at Durham Earth Day's Procession of the Species. Representatives of all species are invited to join the Earth Day parade. More information about Paperhand Puppet Intervention can be found at www.paperhand.org. For more on Durham's Earth Day festivities, visit www.durhamearthday.org.