Puppetry and Public Spectacle
Creating Community During Covid
Keywords:Puppets, Phoenix, Birds, Dragon, Pageant, Parade, Site-Specific, Collective Creation
Flight of the Phoenix, a puppet pageant at Northwestern University, became more than a way to perform despite safety restrictions – the build also became a valuable way to create community during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. The shared project of bringing the puppets to life through simple techniques that invited hands-on participation, helped the artistic community to come together again as we emerged from extended isolation. The spark of the project––that began with a simple proposal to fly bird puppets down the lakeshore––brought together a team of designers, makers, directors, puppeteers, and filmmakers, all of whom were excited to excited to contribute their unique ideas and skillsets. As the puppets grew in number, scale, and complexity, the event called for a growing cast of volunteers capable of bringing a bigger version of the final event into being. I interpret the corresponding process of expansion through what artistic director and puppeteer Jim Lasko calls “radical listening” in his essay “The Third Thing” (2014). The finished work of public spectacle reached out to an even wider community as it captured the attention of university students, staff, and faculty and the citizens of Evanston who became surprise witnesses to the birds’ triumphant flight. The performance’s wordless grace made space for everyone involved to find themselves reflecting on the finished performance as they began to release grief, migrate again after a time of stasis, and collectively celebrate re-emergence.
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