International and local artists love ‘toying’ with Brooklyn

The Brooklyn Paper
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The Toy Theater Festival returns to DUMBO with international and local acts reviving the lost art of puppetry and miniature theater.

From May 23 to 31, several performances and exhibitions will be devoted to the art of telling stories through miniature theater and puppets. The festival will also feature a museum exhibit, which will juxtapose classic examples of paper theaters with more contemporary interpretations, workshops a film screening and cabaret.

The eighth festival since 1993 from the New York-based collective Great Small Works, the festival will feature new works from the company, as well as theater miniaturists who work abroad, including French puppeteer Alain Lecucq, and Ravi Gopalan Nair and Parvathy Baul, who connect West Bengal traditional puppet theater and Toy Theater of Victorian Europe.

Acts for the week-long festival come from all over the world, including Mexico, Germany, France and India, but some are right in your own backyard. On May 23 and 24, Hanne Tierney, whose Five Myles gallery and performance space is located near the Brooklyn Museum, will present the Das Triadische Ballett, a Bauhaus toy theater production which portrays the rise and fall of Oscar Schlemmer's Triadic Ballet (1912-1923). Also on those days, Hunter Kaczorowski, a Brooklyn-based artist, presents “Duncan, Part One – or – The Boy With a Bird in His Heart,” a dreamscape of the early life of Post-Impressionist painter Duncan Grant.

On May 25 and 26, Brooklyn-based artists Lake Simons, Erin Orr, Chris Green and Daniel Lang-Levitsky will present their own mini-works. May 27 and 28 will feature Brooklyn residents Theresa Linnahan and Michelle Beshaw performing “Civility and the Sea,” a story about cross-dressing, capitalism and murder.

On May 29 and 30, Jonathan Cross, another Brooklyn resident, designs, directs and composes “The Dong with the Luminous Nose,” selections from the upcoming operetta, Mister Edward Lear’s ABSURD-Ditties. On May 30, the Williamsburg-based El Puente Academy presents an original toy theater work inspired by the 1992 Cuban film "The Last Rhumba of Papa Montero."

And, of course, the DUMBO-based Great Small Works, which organized the festival, will present “Definitely Maybe,” toy theater plus shadow puppets, video projection and synthezier sound to retell the work of Soviet science fiction writers Boris and Arkady Strugatsky.

“It's a very interesting text from the Soviet era,” says John Bell of GWS, who is presenting the play through MIT's Center for Advanced Visual Studies. “We try to figure out what the relevance of soviet scientific political culture is to our own moment.”

Other highlights among the more than 30 different shows include the New York City-based Chinese Theatre Works, combining Peking Opera techniques and Western paper theater in their production of “Two Horses”; Los Angeles-based artist Laura Heit in “The Matchbox Shows,” itty-bitty puppet shows performed inside matchboxes and projected through video; and Alejandro Benitez and Ana Martinez of Mexico City performing “Leyandas,” based on two popular Mexican fables from colonial times.

In addition to shows, the Temporary Toy Theater Museum set up throughout the Warehouse will feature traditional and contemporary toy theaters, representing 100 artists and collectors and ranging from artwork to historical models, and workshops will let participants explore create their own miniature productions.

There will also be a benefit concert on May 28 will feature West Bengali singer and storyteller Parvathy Baul performing the ancient style of Baul song and dance while incorporating small hand-carved wooden puppets based on classical Indian concepts of Toy Theater.

“There's really going to be a rich variety of artists,” promises Bell of the eighth Toy Theater Festival. “I feel like we've helped spark or foster a toy theater revival. A lot of people are taking part in this. I'm very excited to see all that work.”

The festival takes place at St. Ann's Warehouse (38 Water Street) from May 23 to May 31. Tickets are $20 for the first performance or workshop attended and $15 for each additional, or $50 for a festival pass. For a full list of the schedule, go to

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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