Founded by Donovan Zimmerman and Jan Burger, the 16-year-long program creates larger-than-life puppets and uses them in performances to combine music, visual arts and storytelling in Chapel Hill’s Forest Theatre.
The theme this year is “A Drop in the Bucket: The Big Dreams of Tiny Things.” The Aug. 7 opening show had more than 1,000 people in attendance — a record for Paperhand.
“The music happening in the pit (of the theater), sculpting, writing, dance and movement create a real synergy between art forms,” Zimmerman said.
“We’re looking at the tiny everyday objects surrounding and creating the fabric that is the story of our lives,” Zimmerman said. “An old, chipped mug pushed to the back of the cupboard, or a pencil stub you wrote amazing poetry with — we’re giving voice to the overlooked and unheard.”
Before each show there is a pre-performance, which varies from a mime to a troupe of cloggers depending on the showing.
After the prelude, the show begins with audience interaction — performers encourage the crowd to express themselves emotionally, whether it’s through “oohs” and “aahs” or cheering.
The show is divided into skits that cover the theme of tiny things. Jennifer Curtis, a violinist who has played at Carnegie Hall, highlights each of the stories with her music, illustrating the magic of childhood or the cheerful resilience of a tiny town on a hillside.
“We’re lucky to have one of the most fantastic artistic presentations in the country,” said Ken Moore, former assistant director for the N.C. Botanical Garden, which manages the Forest Theatre.
Duke University Financial Analyst Jen Sanford, one of the audience members, attended the Sunday matinee with her daughter, Josie, and her daughter’s friend.
“We really enjoy it and have gone the past few years. The craft of the puppets is just incredible,” Sanford said.
Paperhand’s fan community is invited to join Zimmerman, Burger and their interns at their Saxapahaw studio to help create the puppets and props that are used in the annual shows. People who can paint, sew and make paper mache collaborate with Paperhand to create the puppets.
Zimmerman encourages UNC students to come to the performances.
“It’s a myth that puppetry is just for kids.”