30 May 2008

Toy Theatre: Under an Arch, Flat, Miniature, Mass-Produced

Last night James and I met up in DUMBO for what feels like a theme night of anachronisms - Great Small Works' Toy Theater Festival at St. Anne's Warehouse, preceded by a visit to the Telectroscope.

Hardly anyone knows that a secret tunnel runs deep beneath the Atlantic Ocean. In May 2008, more than a century after it was begun, the tunnel has finally been completed. An extraordinary optical device called a Telectroscope has been installed at both ends which miraculously allows people to see right through the Earth from London to New York and vice versa.

One of the best things about the Telectroscope is the way it looks like it busted up out of the pier:

(Gothamist has a better shot of it here.)

Of course, another of the best things about the Telectroscope is lining up to peer into it to wave and write whiteboard messages to the Londoners on the other side. Or to photograph them.



It was an insanely gorgeous day. We may have missed Manhattanhenge, but there's always next year. We sat on a bench while I ate a peanut butter and banana sandwich, and then a bit too early to catch sunset over lower Manhattan, we left the Telectroscope for St. Anne's.

We caught program five of the festival, five short works that seemed to be programmed around chickens and horses, or at least flying things (sometimes the horses). There were two short films, one the especially gorgeous paper-cut-out animations of Erica Harris, The Big Ship, which you can watch in shoddy YouTube quality here:




Magical and funny, down to the credits. And speaking of shoddy, and magical and funny, Shoddy Puppet Company's Soldiers and Chickens nailed that puppet-theatre magic of the humor of clever surprise, the unexpected yet totally perfect moments, the visual (and aural) humor that becomes so important when your characters are paper cut-outs. (Gorgeous woodcut prints, in this case, but still paper cut-outs. And shadows.) Our last piece of the night (the audience gets divided among two small theatres at points) was The Dong with the Luminous Nose, an operetta adaptation of Edward Lear by Cosmic Bicycle Theatre. It was the most (only?) olde-timey production of the night, with puppeteers in corsets and top hats and brilliant little Victorian-looking cut-outs for puppets. (Accordions also seem to be a requisite accompaniment for toy theatre. I think we saw three, and one tuba.)

I'd never been to St. Anne's not in winter before, so aside from finally learning what DUMBO looks like in sunlight, I also got to learn that St. Anne's is not air conditioned. Goodness no. But even with the fans circulating hot, hot air, it was a lovely night of weird little things. The last performance of program 5 is tonight, and the festival wraps up tomorrow, but maybe you're looking for a good use of $20 and an excuse to pop by the Telectroscope.

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