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Puppeteers to end month-long run of ‘Serpent’s Egg’ at Forest Theatre

Paperhand puppet intervention co-founders Jan Burger (left) and Donovan Zimmerman (right) handle the serpent of this summer's "The Serpent's Egg" performance. The final shows at the Forest Theater are Friday through Monday starting at 7pm.

It takes 11 people to play the star — a dragon — in Paperhand Puppet Intervention’s show, “The Serpent’s Egg.”

Paperhand, a Saxapahaw-based group of puppeteers, has brought larger-than-life puppets like this to the outdoor Forest Theatre each summer for 12 years.

This weekend, Paperhand will finish the summer’s month-long run of “The Serpent’s Egg” at the Forest Theatre with five shows, including one on Labor Day.

“The Serpent’s Egg” is a spectacle about the cycles of life and the feminine divine, said Donovan Zimmerman, co-founder of Paperhand.

“To some degree the story of Eve is retold in part,” Zimmerman said. “What the serpent’s egg represents is the mystery in the universe.”

Each year, Paperhand’s performances continue to fill seats with both fans and newcomers — some of whom attend multiple showings of the same performance.

Early August’s hot weather and Hurricane Irene reduced attendance for some performances, but Zimmerman said the show still averages hundreds of audience members per night.

“It’s a little bit down from last year, but we’re hoping to make it up this weekend,” he said.

Stephen Keith, manager of the Forest Theatre, said that even with Saturday’s home football game against James Madison University, he still expects the puppet show to have a large turnout.

Keith said that Paperhand’s shows tend to attract the Forest Theatre’s biggest crowds. The busiest nights bring in about 800 people while the slower nights bring in about 300.

“They’ll pack the house,” Keith said. “Even though there’s going to be no parking on campus during a football game, the community still finds a way to get to the Paperhand show and fill up the theater.”

Because Paperhand runs on suggested donations rather than ticket prices, profits vary even when the performance season is at its most popular. Zimmerman did not have profit numbers for the summer so far.

Following their run in Chapel Hill, Paperhand will perform Sept. 9, 10 and 11 at the N.C. Museum of Art in Raleigh.

The Forest Theatre’s stone walls and woodsy atmosphere provide a different experience than the art museum, said Jan Burger, co-founder of Paperhand.

“It’s like putting a picture to a different frame,” Burger said.

“The art museum is modern, angular — lots of triangle shapes. The Forest Theatre has more of an ancient feel.”

Zimmerman said the Forest Theatre is “a magical space.”

“The earthiness of it matches a lot of the themes that we tend to look at,” he said.

“We do a lot of stuff based on our love of the natural world and the earth, and the Forest Theatre lends itself to that.”

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