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'The Bench: a puppet show about everything and nothing' to debut for The Process Series

Tori Ralston and Tarish "Jaghetto" Pipkins hold up a flyer for "The Bench" on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2023. When asked what they're most looking forward to about the show, both said, "We're looking forward to having a rehearsal, a show, and a conversation."

A conversation with the former director of Carolina Performing Arts led Joseph Megel to create The Process Series, a feature of new works in the performing arts. 

Megel is a teaching professor in performance studies at UNC. He created the series upon arriving at the University as a developmental program designed to give interdisciplinary artists a chance to put early editions of their work on stage for an audience. 

The series has supported 60 artist residencies at UNC and is now in its 15th season.

“It also lets the students — who want to be artist practitioners — faculty or staff or the community to see how artists of different experience and backgrounds and disciplines create their new work. So that's making what is visible about the developmental work, that is usually invisible, more visible,” Megel said. 

In early March, the series will debut “The Bench,” a show from veteran puppeteers Tori Ralston and Tarish Pipkins. The show is about two people, an older Black man and an older white woman, whose random encounter changes both of them. 

“It's just a conversation between two people have about what's mundane and also what's deep and uncomfortable,” Ralston said. 

Ralston teaches puppetry and interdisciplinary arts at N.C. State University and is the founder of the Theater of Performing Objects. 

Pipkins, who creates under the name "Jeghetto," is a lifelong artist who even did puppetry for a Missy Elliot music video. 

A shared interest in the art of puppetry and the stories that can be told with it brought Pipkins and Ralston together for their first collaboration, a story about race, gender and class. 

“The Bench” incorporates back-operated puppets and on-stage projections and shadow sequences, bringing flashbacks into the live performance.

“Through puppetry, we can talk about things that are often hard to discuss. Our projection onto objects, allows us to go really deep,” Ralston said in a press release.

The performance is also meaningful to Pipkins as a Black puppeteer working with Black puppets, he said in a press release.

Together, Ralston and Pipkins are looking forward to meeting their puppets on the stage and engaging in a reflective conversation about identity and life. 

Sariel Singletary is a student who works with the series. 

“The Process Series is really great because it allows for different stories from different walks of life and different experiences to all be put up on the same stage and receive the opportunity to hear feedback from the audience, to further grow and develop those works, so those stories can continue to be told,” she said. 

The series gives artists a unique chance to get feedback from the audience early on in the creative process as the artist is presenting a rough draft of their performance, Megel said. It gives the audience an eye to the early stages of an artist’s creative process. 

Cindy Lin is a series production assistant. She enjoys working with the program because the performances often address how to deal the complexity of life. 

“These performances give me insight into others' unique backgrounds and observe how those experiences shaped them to become stronger,” Lin said. 

Performances will be held March 3 and 4 at 7:30 p.m. in Swain Hall's Black Box Theater.

Show attendance is free, but reservations are encouraged. There is a suggested donation of $10.


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