Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Puppets for Change

By Kelle Schillaci

MARCH 8, 1999:  For any who have ever attempted to fashion bunnies or butterflies by contorting their fingers in front of a flashlight, the art of shadow puppetry has proven itself a unique challenge. For the members of Wise Fool Puppet Intervention, a nonprofit theatre project focused on community and accessible theatre, they've got the art down to a science. From behind a giant shadow scrim, this group of performance artists aims to subvert the conventional theater structure and present an outrageous show combining giant puppetry, wild costumes, masks, stilt-dancing, music, movement, fire and song.

The company's latest installment, The Story of Stories--first performed for ecstatic audiences during the 1998 In the Street San Francisco Street Theater Festival--was written following the group's trip to Chiapas, Mexico. As staunch supporters of the Zapatista movement, the traveling puppeteers used their circus tour to bring "laughter and a brief respite to war torn communities." Back on American soil, the group then transferred their experiences in Chiapas into this haunting, beautifully whimsical production. Drawing from the history and folk legends of five different cultures, The Story of Stories weaves a tale in which "evil gentries guard the scales of injustice, rivers can fall in love and leave their banks, and a 12-foot woman can light up her belly, heart and mind to show us her visions and prayers."

The performances are held outdoors, not only to meet fire-inspection codes, but to allow for as much audience participation as possible. Besides, where else can you parade stilt-walkers, 12-foot women and a backdrop of raging flames? Fact is, Wise Fool started in the streets, using their giant puppets to draw media attention to political rallies and demonstrations. Their success in the political arena generated enough excitement and support that the group decided to broaden their message and their audience by staging productions aimed at strengthening individual communities and social change organizations such as the Rainforest Action Network, United Farm Workers and Asian Immigrant Workers Association. The group also organizes community and school workshops targeting "at risk" youths, in a kind of a "stilts, not violence" approach.

The San Francisco Bay Guardian had to form a new "Best Public Puppeteers" category to honor the Wise Fools, and now two of the core members, Amy Christian and Alessandra Ogren, have traveled, stilts in tow, from the Bay Area to settle in Santa Fe. In a land as rich in folklore and legend as the Southwest, Wise Fool's magical storytelling stylings are sure to be a great addition to our art community. Join the troupe this weekend for what promises to be a contemporary public ritual unlike anything you've ever seen: a bizarre blending of art and folk, politics and passion, innovation and tradition, and a whole bunch of fire, music and noise.

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