Every year we look forward to the BareBones Puppet Collective Halloween performance down by Hidden Falls in the far reaches of Highland Park in St Paul. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the event; and we made it to opening night. The performance includes extreme puppet mastery and other big visuals – such as aerial dances and fire juggling.
The performance starts with a pre-show introduction. A pumpkinhead talks us through the idea of Halloween as the time when the walls between the living and dead and thinnest and therefore the connection between the two is strongest. We also meet four of the undead who are unwilling to admit they are dead and continue on as Future Inc. to plan for the future. It’s a nice introduction before the audience of hundreds are led in the dark through the woods to the big stage where most of the performance happens.
BareBones is community theater and part of the community comes through the audience snuggling together on hay bales to keep warm in the cool evening. OK, the better parents have kids who are dressed for the change in season, but there are plenty of us in sweatshirts vowing to unpack last winter’s togs tomorrow. Until that time, cold weather makes for good neighbors and a creepy wooded area with eerie music (thanks to 20-piece live orchestra) makes for antsy anticipation.
The premise, as best as I could get it, was a serious of travelers, baggage in hand preparing to let go of the world they had known to enter the otherworld. They were led (sometimes coaxed, sometimes pushed) through the journey by a cast of characters.
The performance is always visual with touches of spectacular. At one point a giant tea pot takes the stage to serve tea to the travelers. A family of spiders of all ages infect the stage. Amazing black birds fly around, giant dinosaurs approach audience and warthogs and skeletons all parade through the stage. Aerial acrobats dangle from the trees. And near the end the fire dancers take over the stage. A bonus of the fire dancers is the heat in the fire – because, again, it’s chilly and many of us are underprepared.
I enjoyed the travelers with suitcases – especially as they walked among the audience and gave peeks of the contents of the suitcases to small groups in the audience. It brought the performance to an intimate level, which juxtaposed nicely to the hugeness of dinosaur and other puppets. The artistry of the puppets and costumes is beautiful. It was a delightful show; it’s well worth the extra layer of clothing to see a performance before it ends.
The show might be even better with a little more explanation during the performance. My nine-year-old wondered what happened to pumpkinhead and the Future Inc. company. She thought they might arrive to help narrate the action, which is akin to what happened in the show last year. She enjoyed the show but she wasn’t able to follow all of the action as a story. So we talked about enjoying it on a different level – as dance or art. I think with a little more explanation a lot of kids would be better able to transition from expecting a traditional beginning-middle-end story to enjoying a theme.
The performance continues through next weekend (7 pm performances Oct. 31; Nov. 1-2. You might consider bringing a blanket (hay is scratchy). There is post-performance festivity until 10 pm.