REVIEW: Kimi Maeda's Ephemera Trilogy at the Trustus Side Door Theatre

Homecoming By: Kyle Petersen

Ephemera (noun):

  1. things that exist or are used or enjoyed for only a short time.
  2. items of collectible memorabilia, typically written or printed ones, that were originally expected to have only short-term usefulness or popularity.

"The year the law of gravity was abolished the moon wandered away. In the excitement we didn't notice that the Nakashimas disappeared. You had to hold on tight or things floated off. I suppose they never really put down solid roots."  –Kimi Maeda

It’s difficult to leave a performance of Kimi Maeda’s Ephemera Trilogy, which runs through May 7th in the Trustus Side Door Theatre, without your head buzzing with questions. What is the relationship between storytelling and art, art and memory, memory and identity, identity and truth?

Maeda is not offering up answers, of course, but is certainly providing provocative new ways of tackling these questions. Her work is deeply invested in interrogating the act of storytelling itself, of how we come to know ourselves through creative expression, with all of its messy contours and murky revelations. Using stories of her parents (and, perhaps more to the point, the stories they have told her) as logical guideposts to understanding herself, Maeda’s work is grounded in sorting through the thorny reality that the telling of a story is an ephemeral act and, yet, also the fundamental way we come to make sense of our memories and ourselves as people. Each section of Ephemera, which was developed over a period of six years, employs a different stunning and innovative method of telling a story, each of which foregrounds its storytelling artifice while at the same time reaching for something that feels true, that feels real, in the process.

In the first part of Ephemera, “Homecoming,” Maeda uses a flashlight to bring paper cutouts to life as she ponders questions about her parent’s homes as well as the kind of fables and myths we all tell about home, what it’s supposed to say about who we are. The idea is that how we think about home is a kind of storytelling in and of itself. Maeda is both fascinated and distrustful of these questions, and you can sense that lack of sureness in both the pre-recorded narrative and the ever-so-slight shake of the flashlight as she moves across and through the miniature tableaux and brings it to life. This story doesn’t, can’t, exist without Maeda there, providing that thin light and fragile movement necessary to make sense of this piece of visual art. This phenomenon is something that occurs in each of the sections, a kind of implicit recognition that how both viewer and artist are being swayed and prodded by a distinct viewpoint, one that only exists in precisely this way in this one particular moment in time. Each performance, then, is a reminder of both the power of storytelling and its ephemeral, magical nature.

The second section, “The Crane Wife,” has Maeda performing elegantly wrought shadow puppetry as she weaves together the story of her mom coming to America from Japan with an old Japanese folktale. Framed by (real?) historical letters that Maeda pens and reads aloud in real-time, the interpretation of the crane wife tale she tells becomes intertwined with how the artist understands her Japanese-American identity. Maeda renders it lovingly. She also ponders the story’s intrinsic message about sacrifice and feminism, testing what identifications she has with the story and the limits to which it can function as a genuine link to her Japanese heritage. That a folktale like “The Crane Wife” is endlessly told and retold, revised and reshaped, makes such tests of authenticity quite fraught. Yet this particular version will always have meaning for Maeda and her mother, will structure their identities and how they understand themselves. It’s an ancient practice of making new.

The final section, “Bend,” uses archival footage of Maeda’s father, suffering from dementia, and the famous Japanese sculptor, Isamu Noguchi, both of whom were assigned to the same Japanese internment camp in 1942 -1943. This footage and audio, which often features Maeda talking with her father about the past, is juxtaposed and blended with live sand drawings of figures and places, memories and fragments that are constantly erased, literally disappearing as Maeda draws over or sweeps them away with a broom the last image to make way for the next one. The idea of Maeda’s father, who is clearly a man of extraordinary intellect, warmth, and ambition having to grapple with his own shifting sands of memory makes this method of storytelling particularly significant and brings home the reality of the ephemeral nature of both memory and art.

These are by necessity brief and incomplete descriptions of what goes told through the incredibly innovative and evocative visual language that Maeda uses, but what’s even more difficult to translate is the sheer creativity at the heart of it all. The way she uses light and crumbled papers to conjure up a fire, the way layers of design and shadow move us through airports and palaces and soar us through the sky or into the interior of phone lines in “Homecoming.” The casual virtuosity of the shadow puppet illustrations of “The Crane Wife” that feel more keenly alive than any picture book. And perhaps most profoundly, the unusual framing and living transitions that exist over the course of one of her many sand drawings, each of which is remarkable in each distinct moment. It’s wholly distinct and different from simply watching a painter paint or an illustrator draw. I can’t help but think about a performance like this in spiritual and ritual terms, of finding some solace, some beauty, and some redemption in these symbolic and repetitive acts. Ritual is something that keeps tradition alive even as it changes, that gives us new spins on ancient questions, and that remind us all that all creative acts are storytelling ones, each with their fair share of an older narrative inextricably grafted to a new thread.  

To that end, art-as-ritual, or storytelling-as-ritual, or perhaps even storytelling-as-truth, feels at the heart of Maeda’s trilogy. Our stories are who we are. Even if there is something lost in translation, there is also something invented, something new, something you.   

And I can’t say that everything I pulled out of her Ephemera Trilogy is what Maeda necessarily intended. But I can without qualification say that such a rich, nuanced, and simply extraordinary piece of artwork is a treasure that contains multitudes and is very much worth spending your time with.

INTERVIEW: Kimi Maeda on her Ephemera Trilogy Opening at Trustus Friday

  Kimi Maeda

This Friday night in a departure from their typical programming, Trustus Theatre opens Kimi Maeda's Ephemera Trilogy, a piece of performance art based in puppetry, but delivering so much more than an adult puppet show. Staged in three parts and using performance art methodologies that include flashlights, sand, shadow art, and more, the performance will take place at the Trustus Side Door Theatre and will run from April 22nd through May 7th on Thursdays at 7:30, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, and on Sundays at 3. Jasper asked artist Kimi Maeda a few brief questions to better prepare us for receiving her work. Here's what we learned:


Jasper: Jasper has been following your work on the Ephemera project for a while, but for our readers who are just learning about this project can you please summarize what the project is about?

Kimi: In The Ephemera Trilogy, I use shadows and sand to capture the strangeness of living in between two different cultures.  Japanese folktales combine with stories of my mother coming to America, and archival footage from Japanese American relocation camps are intercut with sand drawings of my father as a young boy.  The constant desire for Home and a unified Identity that always seems to be just out of reach.


Jasper: This is a trilogy, right? How is it divided and what should viewers expect from each section?

Kimi: I see The Homecoming as a short shadow puppet overture to the other two pieces, and so I have placed it at the beginning of the evening.  Themes that get introduced will be revisited and elaborated upon later.

The Crane Wife provides several re-readings of a Japanese tale in which a crane transforms into a woman, combining it with my own experience growing up as a Japanese American in a white New England town and my mother’s experience immigrating to the United States.  It utilizes an overhead projector, mounted and hand-held lights, paper cut-outs, fabric collages, three-dimensional objects, and even my own body to cast shadows.

Using sand, shadow, and projection Bend tells the true story of two men incarcerated in a Japanese American relocation camp during World War II: my father, an Asian Art historian who suffered from dementia at the end of his life, and the subject of his research, Isamu Noguchi, a half-Japanese-half-American sculptor.


Jasper:  You created this completed project over six years, is that correct? Was the project fully formed when you began it or did the trilogy aspect present itself to you in the process?

Kimi:  When I began working on these pieces I had no idea of the scope that the entire project would take.  Like a lot of artists, I think there are certain themes that I gravitate toward: Home, trans-cultural identity, and memory.  While The Crane Wife focuses on my mother’s story, Bend focuses on my father.  After I created Bend it seemed natural that the pieces should fit together.  I create work as a way of understanding my place in the world.  As I get older I learn new things and try to incorporate that into my work.

kimi crane wife


Jasper:  And you've had the opportunity to tour this performance, is that correct? Can you tell us a bit about taking the project on the road -- where you've been and what that experience was like?

Kimi:  There are many different themes in Bend and so I think people connect to it in different ways.  When I took it to the International Sonoran Desert Alliance in Ajo, Arizona, as well as the Crossing the Borders: Puppets in the Green Mountains Festival in Putney, Vermont, the topic of immigration was very much on people’s minds.  In Arizona it was powerful not only to be in the desert landscape that my father experienced when he was interned, but also to hear the stories related to the border.

Taking Bend to Arkansas and the former site of one of the internment camps was also an amazing experience.  All that’s left of the camp is a smokestack at the edge of a cotton field.  The only Japanese American in the audience was a man who had been born in the camp.  His family was one of only seven that stayed in Arkansas when the camps were closed, and his was the only family that remained permanently.  It was moving to hear audience members talk about asking their parents why the US government had incarcerated its own citizens.  Before I began my last tour the Mayor of Roanoke, VA wrote in reference to Syrian refugees that “President Franklin D. Roosevelt felt compelled to sequester Japanese foreign nationals after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and it appears that the threat of harm to America from ISIS now is just as real and serious as that from our enemies then.”  As more survivors of the camps pass away, I think it becomes more vital than ever that we remember the injustice and we make sure that it never happens again.

I wrote this Facebook post before I started the last tour:

For the past few years my father has been slowly fading away. The illness that began as a wrong turn on a familiar drive home eventually reduced him to the shallow breathing that kept us on edge by his bedside. When he died, he left an emptiness in his wake.

People ask me if it is difficult to be doing a performance about his life so soon after his death. In some ways I think it is actually comforting. I created this show during his illness as a way to cope with everything that I was feeling. Rehearsing in preparation for the tour has been similarly therapeutic. I come into the studio every day and draw my dad over and over again while I listen to recordings of his voice. I am memorizing the shape of his face and the wrinkles on his brow. He feels very present, and that is filling the emptiness.

Bend is about forgetting, but it is also about memory. The New England Chapter of the JACL and I originally intended this Day of Remembrance Tour to commemorate Roosevelt signing Executive Order 9066 which led to the incarceration of Japanese American families on the West Coast after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Now I think it is actually a fitting memorial for my father, as well.

A friend of mine whose father died recently wrote that “After the initial flurry of burial, obituary, and funeral arrangements passed, I began to think more about my dad from when he was healthy. The years of sickness have faded more, and the memories of my dad through all the years of my childhood and beyond have become stronger. It was like when my dad passed, the years of illness did too, and I was left with the times of what really mattered.” In Bend I express my fear that my father’s memory will be forgotten. However, this tour is not only allowing me to keep his memory present, it is also giving me the opportunity to share his story with so many people.


kimi bend2

Jasper:  Finally, is this it? Is this project completed and are you moving on to something else now? Or will there be another part to Ephemera? If you're moving on, do you know what your next project will be or can you give us some hints to what you're thinking of?

Kimi:  I don’t know that there will be another part to ephemera, but I think the piece as a whole will continue to grow as I get older.  Even returning to The Crane Wife after six years I feel as though I’m in a very different place emotionally and intellectually, and so I’ve added a whole new section at the end to try to address this.


Purchase tickets here.

Announcing the 2015 Jasper Artists of the Year

It was a beautiful night of revisiting the best of the Italian Renaissance at the Big Apple last night when we announced and celebrated the 2015 Jasper Artists of the Year. Without further ado, the winners are: Martha Brim pictured with Jasper Contributing Dance Editor Bonnie Boiter-Jolley


Julia Elliott with Jasper Literary Arts Editor Ed Madden


Craig Butterfield pictured with Jasper Music Editor Michael Spawn


Dewey Scott-Wiley pictured with Jasper Assistant Editor Kyle Petersen


Kimi Maeda pictured with Jasper Editor Cindi Boiter



Congratulations to all the JAY Winners and Finalists!

Thanks to Kristine Hartvigsen for photography, Mouse House for framing, Singing Fox for event planning, and Coal Powered Filmworks for Sponsorship. Special thanks to the shared talents of Duo Cortado, Cathering Hunsinger, the Trustus Apprentices, Chris Carney, and Jasper's Wet Ink spoken word poetry collective.

Andy Smith for Progress by Larry Hembree

Larry Hembree with Andy Smith and Kimi Maeda I have been asked to write a blog for “Jasper Magazine” about the upcoming election for the City Council at-large position from my perspective as an arts supporter.  I greatly appreciate the opportunity to share my thoughts on the election and my staunch support of candidate Andy Smith.

Over the past thirty years, I have served in both artist and arts administrator positions at several non-profit organizations in Kershaw and Richland County, and I spent several years working at the SC Arts Commission.  I have dedicated the majority of my 55 years to promoting the arts while trying to understand their power and impact.

I have served on the boards for arts organizations such as One Columbia for Arts and History, SC Theatre Association, SC Dance Association, and was an original member of SC’s Arts in the Basic Curriculum Steering Committee.

At the same time, I have also served on many other boards in Columbia not directly related to the arts including the City Center Partnership, the Congaree Vista Guild, the SC Gay and Lesbian Business Guild, and my own neighborhood association (the Sherwood Forest Neighborhood Association).

I also participate in other local organizations including church.  I am slightly addicted to Clemson Tigers football and USC women’s basketball.  I grew up in Greenwood, SC and attended Clemson University and the University of Georgia.  I spent a couple of years living outside South Carolina, and have been lucky to have traveled to interesting international places.  As a gay man, I recently got married in SC after a wonderful 15 year relationship with a hardworking, intelligent man with whom I share similar values.

I am  not an intellectual, and I am trying hard not to skew my thoughts in reaction to what the at-large candidates say they are going to do (or not do), how old they are, how conservative or liberal they are, whom they choose to alienate, or who endorses them.  I have followed this election closely, attended some candidates’ forums, read everything I could about all of the candidates, talked to most of them, consider myself a friend to some of them.  And I have pondered all of this ….. a lot.

I unapologetically admit that I love living in Columbia, SC.  There is nowhere else I would want to live for many reasons including the fact that I have been given great opportunities here since I moved here in 1997.  And as I get older, it becomes important to me that others who want to live a wonderful life here get the same opportunities as me.

Without a doubt, a vote for Andy Smith is a vote for the arts, but as we know, there is much more than just the arts at stake as the challenges our city encounters grow every day.

I do believe all of the candidates are nice, genuine people, and I have great respect for all of them, but when all is said and done, Andy Smith is the candidate who understands the larger picture.  If elected, I believe he would become an integral part of fostering the creative talent and energy of our city for the long haul.  His youth is obviously on his side in this case.

With Andy’s education and background, he could have lived anywhere but chose to move back to Columbia when many of his childhood friends left for other places. When I interviewed him for a job at the Nickelodeon Theatre in 2007, the first thing he told me was that he wanted to settle in Columbia and make a difference.  And he has.  He is tireless.  He is passionate.  And he has had time to see the workings of our city for a decade.

I have watched Andy travel all over the U.S. to participate in events and conferences, and then bring what he learns back to our city to figure out how we can assimilate this information and strengthen our core.  He has served on boards of national organizations, and has a huge network of visionaries all over the U.S. who are accessible to him.  And he has a similar eclectic network in our city too.

It’s important to understand that Andy is not living in a cocoon that is centered only on the arts.  One should not assume that he is going to be weak in his understanding of the plethora of other elements that go into making a strong city.  No, he has not had experience in balancing a city budget, in understanding issues related to water, sewer, police, fire protection, codes, infrastructure, etc.  But because he is committed to our city, listens, demonstrates flexibility, and has a vision for where he wants Columbia to be 20 – 30+  years from now, I am completely confident in his abilities.  I trust him to make decisions for all the people of Columbia with rational judgement, an unwavering set of solid values, and the savvy to say no when he disagrees.

To me, this race is about progress.  We like to believe Columbia is becoming a progressive city, and we need a strong progressive candidate to continue moving us in that direction.  That candidate is Andy Smith.

Please take a minute to visit Andy’s website at, and read more about him.

And please vote on November 3.

Five Questions for Chad Henderson - Director of The Brothers Size Opening Friday Night at Trustus

 brothers size

From "The Brothers Size"

The Brother/Sister Plays


            I know I am still on probation!

            I know Og.


            I know I was once in prison.

            I am out and I am on probation.

            Damnit man.

            I ain’t trying to drive to Fort Knox?

            I ain’t about to scale the capital…

            I want a ride.

            I want to drive out to the bayou…

            Maybe take a lady down there…

            And relax

There's a new play opening at Trustus Theatre on Friday that caught Jasper's attention for a handful of reasons. We know that it's part of the Brother/Sister trilogy written by Tarell Alvin McCraney and set in the Louisiana Bayou  exploring Yoruba mythology -- an African belief system, which some claim to be the oldest practiced religion. We saw In the Red and Brown Water last year and were pretty much overwhelmed by this playwright's ability to merge the worlds of the oldest of old Africa, probably what eventually became Nigeria, with something like a new world Louisiana. McCraney's career has been blowing up over the past 7 or 8 years and he is set to be one of the top playwrights around given that he's only 35 years old and everything he touches seems to turn to gold. We'd heard that The Brothers Size was another example of this phenomenon.

We also learned that this unique and promising play is being presented in Trustus Theatre's intimate Side Door Theatre, one of our favorite places to enjoy live theatre in the state. There is an intimacy that comes from being one member of a small audience in a relatively small theatre space with actors who are at full throttle sharing their art, whether the art is theatre, music, dance, whatever. Audiences always (hopefully) become another player in a live performance as they feed back and respond to the energy being offered on stage. (This is why people old and young continue to go to Phish concerts, I finally understand. Yes, there are drugs and herbal pleasures, but the energy itself acts as a drug, as well.) And being in such close communion with both the actors and the other audience members can be a rush and sometimes even a cathartic experience. To say the energy is palpable when you're locked (not really) in the room with a few dozen friends and three intense actors, as you will be in The Brothers Size, is an understatement. Opportunities like this are precious and yet another example of the quiet and unassuming way in which Columbia is an arts nerve center.

Finally, were also were excited to see what new magic Trustus Artistic Director and interim Managing Director Chad Henderson had up his sleeve. We really like Henderson for obvious reasons. (Full disclosure: Henderson is the son-in-law of this writer.) But long before the first flirtation, Henderson, as an artist, had the eye and growing respect of this writer, the Jasper Magazine staff, and pretty much anyone with a discerning eye in the area. In the past few years he has brought us such stellar theatre opportunities as Spring Awakening, Assassins, Next to Normal, Ragtime, and other shows of the kind of quality that make your Columbia, SC ticket price and not having to leave town a bargain. Henderson studied under Robert Richmond at USC, another Columbia treasure. (Richmond spent fourteen years as the Associate Artistic Director of the Aquila Theatre Company in New York and during his tenure there he directed over 50 productions that toured across the US, Off Broadway and Europe.) Richmond's influence on Henderon can be seen in a number of ways, but probably no greater way than in Henderson's confidence in his own ability to take his productions in innovative directions. Henderson looks only for exceptional scripts to which he knows he can add his own signature touches and, in doing so, improve upon an already excellent play. Given that, like McCraney, Henderson is also young, it's safe to say we haven't seen the best of him yet.

That's why we wanted to pin Henderson down on a few questions we had about this extraordinary theatre experience opening on Friday night at Trustus and running through Thursday, October 29th. Here's what we got.

Jasper:  This play is a little different from other performances at Trustus in that it is part of a series, right? Can you tell us how The Brothers Size fits in as the second in a three part series of plays?

Henderson:  The Brothers Size is the second part of a trilogy called The Brother/Sister Plays by Tarell Alvin McCraney. Trustus produced the first part (In the Red and Brown Water) last season, and because it was such a wonderful success we knew we wanted to commit to the whole trilogy. These shows introduce the audience to a pantheon of characters derived from the Orishas of the Yoruban cosmology that are living in the “distant present” and the fictional projects of San Pere, Louisana. The plays are a brilliant mix of poetry, prose, music and movement that explore the universal truths of modern life filtered through a very specific world that the playwright has gifted to the audience and artists who tell his stories. Truly, Mr. McCraney is a voice all his own in modern theatre – and that’s what Trustus is constantly celebrating: the new powerful voices of American Theatre. These scripts are singular due to Mr. McCraney’s writing style that has won many awards over the years. These plays are here and now. Columbia deserves to have this type of fresh and modern theatre at its doorstep, and Trustus is happy to oblige.

The Brothers Size examines the power of family, the fight for survival, the consequence of circumstance, the contradiction of incarceration and freedom, and the deep roots of brotherhood. This production explores human truths through an imaginative production that will leave audiences spellbound – perfect theatrical fare for the Fall.

There are a host of elements that make this production a continuation of this trilogy. The language play is still very present because of Mr. McCraney's style of writing with these plays. The playwright also continues to celebrate the ritual of theatre with his ceremonial proceedings that give The Brother/Sister Plays so much vigor.We get to tune back in with Ogun Size and Elegba, who were characters in the last production. We're introduced to Ogun's brother Oshoosi. Scenic designer Kimi Maeda is bringing the set of the last production into the intimate Trustus Side Door Theatre - audiences will feel like they're exploring the last set they saw as they sit among the houses of San Pere in this production.

But don't worry - if you didn't see In the Red and Brown Water, you can still enjoy The Brothers Size - the story stands on its own legs just fine.

Jasper:  You also have a smaller cast than typical and you’re performing in the smaller Side Door Theatre. It sounds like a very intimate experience. Is it, and how so?

Henderson:  While the scale of the show is much smaller than the last play, I actually feel like this production feels like a bigger show than the Side Door than our patrons are used to. We're utilizing more sound and lighting equipment than we ever have in the Side Door. There's a broader use of the space with plenty of exciting motion.We're also performing this show in the round. This is nothing new as far as theatre conventions go, but in this circle we're able to become part of the community of San Pere. Much like the traditions of West African dance and drum circles, this circle is a safe place for experience and exploration.

Jasper:  Tell us what special gifts or talents each of the three gentlemen in the play bring to this project.

Henderson:  Jabar Hankins is undeniably genuine - relatable. Bakari Lebby will charm the pants off of folks even though his character is full of mischief. Chris Jackson is effortless in his struggle. Together, they are a powerhouse ensemble that courageously battle each other every night to gain unity.

Jasper:  Do you have a favorite scene or line that we can look for?

Henderson:  I'm particularly fond of the 4th scene of Act II where the phrase "You f**ked up!" Is yelled repeatedly. However, each scene is well sculpted by our playwright -Tarell Alvin McCraney. There are surprises around every corner.

Jasper:  Without giving anything away, tell us what you think will be the most surprising aspect of The Brothers Size for the audience.

Henderson:  I expect the experience of seeing a show in the round in the Side Door will be surprising. This show also gives you plenty of opportunities to engage your imagination. We hope that audiences get a chance to play and use their own creativity as they discover the story of Oshoosi and Ogun. Its truly a rich theatrical experience, and audiences get to live inside of it.

"Planet Hopping" at the Harbison Theatre - a review by Melissa Swick Ellington


Planet Hopping Is Out of This World


The actor questions, “Is everybody ready to go back to earth?”

“No!” declares a young boy in the audience.

He was certainly not the only one who wanted to prolong tonight’s premiere performance of Planet Hopping: An Intergalactic Puppet Musical. This luminous collaboration between the puppet artists of Belle et Bête and popular “kindie” rock band Lunch Money reveals the theatrical magic possible when innovators imagine together. The performance quality easily rivals family-oriented productions I have attended at national theatre education conferences as well as various venues in New York City. Planet Hopping is a marvel that has been created right here in Columbia, and you don’t want to miss it.

Developed as part of the Harbison Theatre @ MTC Performance Incubator, Planet Hopping shares a voyage from earth to outer space with an emphasis on the power of friendship. Kimi Maeda brings engaging charisma to the play’s puppet hero (Stella Spark, “an astrophysicist when she was just a lass”), while Lyon Hill skillfully characterizes Stella’s sidekick marionette, the lovable and quirky robotic assistant Jack. Through Stella’s Planet Hopping technology, the audience accompanies the characters on a dramatic journey through the solar system, led by the appealing tour guide Mollinda (Molly Ledford). The incorporation of fantasy with scientific facts will delight both children and their adults.


The Lunch Money band members (Ledford, J.P. Stephens, and Jay Barry) are as captivating as ever, sharing clever lyrics and rocking tunes that resonate with music lovers of all ages. One of the production’s greatest strengths is the seamless inclusion of the multi-talented band members as purposeful characters in the story. The “Amazing on the Moon” musical number melds band, projection screen, puppeteer, and marionette in a charming sequence made extra special by a puppet moonwalking…on the moon. The crowd-pleasing “Big Ball of Gas” Jupiter rap performed by P.J. the “new guy” (Stephens) with beatboxing by Jack the robot (Hill) becomes a highlight of the show.

Planet Hopping benefits from an admirable unity of production design, with creative use of lighting effects, video projections, and shadow puppetry. Want to learn about zoetropes, moveable cutouts, marionettes, transparencies, scrims, and more? Check out a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the production here: You can also read composer/lyricist Molly Ledford’s insights into the development of the show’s music, which includes “a bubblegum pop song about orbiting” and “a rockin’ number about enjoying 1/6 of our normal gravity on the moon.”


What a gift this collaboration is to our community. My six-year-old daughter spotted a promotional poster weeks ago and has been pleading to “go see the show Planet Hopping” ever since; I am grateful for her awareness and persistence, because this production is a one-of-a-kind experience. Upon receiving a sticker badge when exiting the theatre, my kid sighed happily, “It is amazing to be an official Planet Hopper.”

You can go hop planets with Captain Stella Spark and crew on Saturday, November 16 at 2 pm at the Harbison Theatre at Midlands Technical College (803-407-5011 or


Jasper's Fave Non-Film Part of Indie Grits? Spork in Hand Puppet Slam -- Hands Down!

  Lyon Hill - Self Portrait


It's no secret that Jasper is a big fan of Indie Grits -- we love independent film! And while we'd just as soon have a film festival that was about film and film only, we admire the way the good folks at IG try to incorporate the whole community in their special week. AND, we are crazy about one specific part of the festival, the Spork in Hand Puppet Slam.

Why? Lots'o reasons, but the strongest being the opportunity to see three of Columbia's most creative minds demonstrate their incredibly eclectic, innovative, and just plain out-there abilities. Lyon Hill, Kimi Maeda, and Paul Kaufmann.

(Jasper wrote about Lyon Hill here and Kimi Maeda here.)

(And is it true that the strangely brilliant Alex Smith is also involved this year? Yes? No? Somebody?)

We lifted the below information info from the Indie Grits website about these folks:

Lyon Hill lives with his wife, Jenny Mae, and their son, Oliver, in Columbia, SC. He has been a puppetmaker and puppeteer with the Columbia Marionette Theatre since 1997. His paintings and puppets have been shown in numerous galleries over the years and his puppet shows have been performed at regional and national puppet festivals. Three of his short films are part of Heather Henson's Handmade Puppet Dreams film series, which are shown internationally

Kimi Maeda

Kimi Maeda is a theatre artist whose intimate visual performances cross disciplines and push boundaries.  Trained as a scenic and costume designer whose work has been recognized nationally, she is drawn to the versatility of puppetry and delights in the fact that it allows her to explore all of her diverse interests; from science to storytelling.  Kimi worked for several years as a puppeteer and set designer for the Columbia Marionette Theatre, writing and directing Snow White and The Little Mermaid. Her shadow-puppet performances The Crane Wife and The Homecoming are original adaptations of traditional Japanese folktales interwoven with her own bi-cultural experience growing up as a Japanese-American.


Paul Kaufmann

Paul Kaufmann is an actor, writer and artist.  His acting credits include three productions at New York’s famed LaMaMa E.T.C.: The Cherry Orchard Sequel (2008, NY Times critic’s pick), The System (2009) and the title role in this year’s Hieronymus, all written by Obie Award winner Nic Ularu. With Mr. Ularu, Paul has also toured Romania in The System (2006). In 2010, he performed at the Cairns Festival in Queensland, Australia in Dean Poynor’s H. apocalyptus, a zombie survival tale. He has performed the same role in the Piccolo Spoleto Festival (2011) and at The Studios of Key West. Also at TSKW: One Night Stand: 3, 4 and 5. Recent roles at Trustus Theatre include Dan in Next to Normal, Charles Guiteau in Assassins, Bill Fordham in August: Osage County and all roles in I Am My Own Wife.  For pacific performance project/east, Paul played Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2012) and Man in Pile in Mizu No Eki (The Water Station) (2010). A founding member of the SC Shakespeare Company, Paul has acted onstage, in television and in film (including Campfire Tales and Lyon Forrest Hill’s Junk Palace) for 40 years. His collages, assemblages and paintings have been exhibited at Anastasia and Friends gallery.  He’s thrilled to be a part of the Spork In Hand Puppet Slam. In May, Paul returns to Romania to perform at the Sibiu International Theatre Festival in a new production directed by Mr. Ularu.

To what they have to say above we'll just add this -- There is nothing like the experience of good adult puppetry theatre. It effects the viewer in ways that are personally, emotionally, and psychologically surprising. It can be intimate, evocative, and funny -- all in the same breath. It is touching and exhilarating. It can move you in ways you have never been moved before. It makes you laugh and it makes you think. Don't miss this beautiful experience.


Kimi Maeda

jasper watches


presented by Belle et Bête

Saturday, April 13th at 7pm & 9:30pm - $10 - Nickelodeon Theatre


-- Cindi Boiter, editor - Jasper Magazine

"The Motherf*%#er With the Hat" - August Krickel reviews the new Trustus show

"We're the theatre that curses and does nude shows," Trustus co-founder Jim Thigpen joked in the very first issue of Jasper. And how. The Mother*#%$er With the Hat features plenty of full frontal male and female nudity, liberal use of the title expletive along with its many cognates and derivatives, plus violence, and drug and alcohol abuse. Or, as an old roommate used to say, that's four-star entertainment right there for sure. Director Chad Henderson notes in the program that author Stephen Adly Guirgis chose the title as a disclaimer to signify the intensity of the subject matter, a sort of "let the buyer beware" warning so that the audience has no illusions as to the grittiness of the themes or dialogue.  That said, there is plenty of comedy, a few moments of tenderness and compassion, and a lot of insight into human nature, however dysfunctional and self-destructive that may be.  The play's five characters are low-lifes, addicts, ex-cons, alcoholics and/or scumbags, but thanks to the commitment of the performers, and some creativity from Henderson and scenic designer Kimi Maeda, we sort of kind of care about them, at times anyway.

Jackie (Alexis Casanovas) is newly paroled and newly sober; his AA sponsor Ralph (Shane Silman) now sells nutritional supplements instead of drugs, and has stayed sober for 16 years in spite of a tumultuous marriage to Victoria (Michelle Jacobs) whom he met, you guessed it, at a meeting. Jackie's cousin Julio (Joe Morales) has likewise channeled his energies into therapeutic massage and perfecting his recipe for the perfect empanada, but is ready to stash a handgun or channel his inner Van Damme in a rumble. Veronica (Raia Jane Hirsch) still uses, and may be cheating on Jackie with the titular character, who could just as easily be called "some dude who may be doing my girlfriend." Or Jackie may just be paranoid, and in need of a refresher course on the Twelve Steps.  All five actors believably flesh out these damaged characters as they navigate the choppy waters of recovery, relationships and betrayal. At one point, Silman and Casanovas are so intently arguing with each other that one gets the impression that they have forgotten the audience entirely, and instead just really want to win the argument, using the playwright's words. Equally impressive is the way that the actors bare their souls on stage while baring everything else, yet manage to stay in character, and never miss a beat. The dialogue is very honest, which again explains the play's title, since people use the term so frequently these days, especially in the sub-culture we see depicted here.


Guirgis has a way of relaying fairly profound thoughts and ideas via the natural cadences of simple and ineloquent people. At some level, all the characters realize how badly they have messed up their own lives, and how tenuous their grasp on stability is. Yet "the space between who you are, and who you think you are, is pretty wide," as Cousin Julio tells Jackie - cautionary words for us all. Morales, deadpan as Julio, provides most of the wisdom in the first act, which is in many ways a comedy, although one peopled with sad, tragic figures. The second act is more of a serious drama, although full of hilarious lines, most spoken by Julio.  Guirgis once worked on an episode of The Sopranos (as did two of the original Broadway cast, including the original Victoria, Annabella Sciorra, aka Tony's crazy goomah Gloria Trillo.) Before I spotted that in the program, I leaned over to my friend and whispered "Tell me this isn't Christopher and Adriana," the similarly struggling and clueless addicts from that series.   "What are we, Europeans?  I'm from the neighborhood," Jackie protests when faced with a difficult choice. There are a number of modern playwrights who use the natural rhythms of common urban speech to depict "real" life in the big city, including David Mamet, Martin McDonagh, and Neil LaBute, all performed by Trustus over the years.  In fact, this work could almost be reasons to be pretty, Pt. 2, if that LaBute play had focused on losers and substance abusers. Directed a few years ago by Henderson, reasons featured similar themes of commitment and infidelity, similar challenges of growing up and getting serious about life, similar blunt language, similar argument and fight scenes, and similar scene transitions.

Speaking of those transitions, I griped and moaned like a...well, like the title of this play, over another recent production where the actors did choreographed actions as the scenes changed. Here, it works perfectly, and indeed enhances the material. Henderson keeps his cast in character, or stylized versions of their characters, as they act out brief, pantomimed representations or summaries of what they are feeling. Sure, it keeps the action and pace flowing while the cast and stagehands change the scenery, but the mini-vignettes work quite well on their own. Nowhere is it better, or more appropriate, than when Hirsch sees the walls literally and figuratively closing in on her, and rushes to push back in vain.  Kimi Maeda's scenic design is created with an artist's eye, and incorporates three revolving, triangular set pieces, each forming part of the interior of three apartments.  Anything the actors need to touch - a chair, a door, a table, even a boom box - is physically present on stage, while everything else - a window, a lamp, the headboard of a bed - is painted onto the colorful walls with simple, broad strokes. Henderson mentioned the cartoon-like echoes of artists like Roy Lichtenstein in his interview with Jasper, but I was actually reminded of the work of Toulouse-Lautrec, and of local artist Page Morris, who coincidentally was featured in an exhibition just a couple of blocks down Lady Street from the theatre during opening weekend.    .

As I have written previously, back in the day Trustus used to do shows like this all the time: controversial, raw, edgy, unknown outside of New York, and featuring crazy titles. In fact, I found myself mentally casting this c. 1990, with Firdous Bamji and Erin Thigpen in the leads, and maybe Linda Pollitt and George Altman (or Jayce Tromsness) as Victoria and Ralph.  Here, there isn't a lot of controversy per se, apart from, well, OK, the title, the language, and the nudity. The themes are relatively straightforward, with no message beyond acknowledgement of humanity's flaws, and how we all have to strive to overcome those to get through one day at a time, even if we occasionally act like idiots and jeopardize it all. Consider yourself warned, or encouraged to see the show, depending on how much you enjoy challenging material, and how willing you are to laugh at the disturbing absurdities of human existence.

The Mother*#%$er With the Hat runs through Sat. Feb. 23rd; contact the box office at 803-254-9732 for ticket information.

~ August Krickel

Marauding Zombies, Playful Amphibians, and That Mofo With the Hat - What to See on Stage This Weekend

George Romero's low-budget, cult hit from 1968, Night of the Living Dead, was the granddaddy of all modern zombie stories. Zombies had been around before, but were usually depicted as corpses animated by some controlling voodoo master. Romero took the basic idea of hordes of the undead from Richard Matheson's novel I Am Legend, made them less vampires and more corpse-like, yet still eager to chomp your flesh and turn you into one of them, and his world-view of a zombie apocalypse took off, influencing everything from the Resident Evil and Silent Hill video games, to director John Landis's classic video for the Michael Jackson song "Thriller," to the current hit comic book and cable tv series The Walking Dead. We're still fond of this exchange from the Joss Whedon-produced series Angel, written by Steven S. DeKnight (now the show-runner for Spartacus) : CONNOR (Angel's mortal son, who hates him): He looks dead.

ANGEL (the "good" vampire with a soul) : He is dead. Technically, it's undead. It's a zombie.

CONNOR: What's a zombie?

ANGEL: It's an undead thing.

CONNOR: Like you?

ANGEL: No, zombies are slow-moving, dimwitted things that crave human flesh.

CONNOR: Like you.

ANGEL: No! It's different. Trust me.

Zombies are all the rage in Columbia too, with an annual Zombie Walk (Crawl? Lurch?) each Hallowe'en. High Voltage Theatre is currently producing a stage adaptation of the original Romero film, running this weekend and the next, Friday and Saturday nights, through Sat. Feb. 15th, at the Tapp's Art Center on Main Street. For information or reservations, call: 803-754-5244. And you can read a review at the Free Times.

Over at Richland Mall in Forest Acres, Columbia Children's Theatre is opening their new production of A Year With Frog and Toad, the Tony-nominated (seriously!) musical by Robert and Willie Reale, based on Arnold Lobel's series of children's books. The cast includes local favorites such as Jerry Stevenson, Lee O. Smith, Bobby Bloom, Sara Jackson, Paul Lindley II (doubling as musical director) Toni Moore, and Elizabeth Stepp (who also choreographs.)

From press material:

Arnold Lobel's well-loved characters hop from the page to the stage in A YEAR WITH FROG AND TOAD, the Theatre of Young Audiences version of Tony-nominated musical. This whimsical show follows two great friends -- the cheerful, popular Frog and the rather grumpy Toad -- through four, fun-filled seasons. Waking from hibernation in the Spring, Frog and Toad plant gardens, swim, rake leaves, go sledding, and learn life lessons along the way. The two best friends celebrate and rejoice in their differences that make them unique and special. Part vaudeville, part make believe, all charm, A YEAR WITH FROG AND TOAD tells the story of a friendship that endures, weathering all seasons.

The show runs through Sun. Feb. 17th; contact the box office at (803) 691-4548 for information.

Meanwhile, down in the Vista, Trustus Theatre opens Stephen Adly Guirgis's The Motherf@*#&er With the Hat, directed by Chad Henderson, with a score by Preach Jacobs, scenic design by Kimi Maeda, and featuring Alexis Casanovas, Shane Silman, Raia Jane Hirsch, Michelle Jacobs, and Joe Morales.

From press material:

ADULTS ONLY PLEASE: language, nudity, sexual situations, & violence

"This sexy and modern show was nominated for Tony Awards, Drama League Awards, Outer Critics Circle Awards, and Drama Desk Awards – TRUST US, it’s more than the title that’s provocative about this show."

Struggles with addiction, friendship, love and the challenges of adulthood are at the center of the story. Jackie, a petty drug dealer, is just out of prison and trying to stay clean. He's also still in love with his coke-addicted childhood sweetheart, Veronica. Ralph D. is Jackie's too-smooth, slightly slippery sponsor. He's married to the bitter and disaffected Victoria, who, by the way, has the hots for Jackie. And then there's Julio, Jackie's cousin … a stand-up, "stand by me" kind of guy. However, when Jackie comes home with flowers to find a strange man’s hat by his and Veronica’s bed, these characters careen forward as Jackie goes in search of the hat’s owner. What follows is an examination of trust, lust, loyalty, and true love.

You can read an interview with director Chad Henderson here.  Contact the box office at (803) 254-9732 for ticket information.

An interview with Chad Henderson on The Motherf**ker with the Hat


Jasper had the chance to sit down with Chad Henderson, director of the next play on the Trustus Main Stage, The Motherfucker with a Hat. We had a few questions for Chad and -- turns out he had a few answers that we're happy to share with you now.


1. So who wears what hats in the production of the play MFWAH?


Well, I’m happily wearing the directing hat for this project. I’ve got a great cast too! I’m excited that we’ve got some new talents making their Trustus debut with this production. Alexis Casanovas, who got his MFA in Acting from Rutgers, is playing our protagonist Jackie. Playing his girlfriend Veronica is Raia Jane Hirsch, who studied theatre at TISCH in NYC. Shane Silman, who many know from his recent work on his adaptation of “Plan 9 From Outer Space”, is playing Jackie’s AA sponsor Raplh D. We’ve also got two Trustus Company members in the show: Michelle Jacobs playing Victoria (Ralph’s wife) and Joe Morales playing Julio (Jackie’s Cousin).


We’ve also got Preach Jacobs compiling the score for this show from his music catalogue and Kimi Maeda has designed an unbelievable set. She’s designed a set comprised of three rotating periactoi (three-sided revolves) which allow us to create a lot of movement with the set and get the story moving at a great pace.




2. What about this play made you want to direct it?


Initially, the language was what keyed me into this show – by that I mean the actual words on the page…not the naughty words (of which there are plenty – wink). I’ve been a fan of Stephen Adly Guirgis’ work for a few years now. I’ve seen his scripts produced by NiA, Trustus, and Theatre South Carolina – and every time I’m impressed with how musical the language and word choices can be. He writes in a way that reflects actual conversation. Not to mention, his characters are often quirky and dangerous. Motherf**ker certainly exhibits these qualities, and many critics felt that this show was a prime example of his use of language and his creation of realistic characters that live on the edge – whether they intend to or not.


Ultimately, I like plays that explore human relationships. This script explores many points-of-view concerning love, lust, loyalty, and betrayal. Without talking too much about my personal history, I responded to a sense of dark familiarity with the relationships being explored in the story. Some of the things being said, I’ve said. Some of the situations the characters find themselves in are ones I’ve been in before. This show is about a lot of the things we can’t talk about in polite company. We have to wait until we’re around our closest friends – where the truth will sometimes surface (but not always). And that’s really what the show is about: friendships. I think they’re confusing at times – don’t you?




3. What have been your greatest challenges and how have you met them?


I anticipated a lot of challenges with this show because the language is so specific, and I also wanted to ask for a lot of bravery from the actors. However, that all seemed to fall into place very early on in the process.


So in all reality, the greatest challenge I had with this show was learning to trust myself in a new way. It’s been over a year since I’ve worked on a non-musical – which I had wanted to do for quite some time. While the approaches to directing a musical and a non-musical have similarities, they do diverge from each other at many points. I knew that this show had a title that would be singular in Columbia. Therefore – I wanted the production to be singular as well.


I’m the type who’s always thinking about “what’s next?”, “what do people want?”, “what’s exciting right here and right now?” So, with a mind running on various cylinders at one time I kept feeling like I couldn’t wrap my head around what the final product would be like for The Motherf**ker With the Hat. There was light at the end of the tunnel however because I was able to work with scenic designer Kimi Maeda and score composer Preach Jacobs.  Now we’ve got a hip-hop score that’s definitive to the Trustus production, as well as a scenic concept that I haven’t seen explored in other productions throughout the country.




4. The play has a "bad word" in it -- a lot of playwrights would have substituted another word to avoid controversy, this one did not. Why do you think that is?


In an interview about the show Stephen Adly Guirgis said that he titled the show “The Motherfucker With the Hat” so it would serve as a disclaimer. In other words, you know what you’re getting into. It’s not family friendly – and that’s because it’s about adult life….or “real” life. It can be expected from the title that we’re going to be examining some of the more difficult human experiences.


I don’t want to be misleading though…this show does have a lot of comedy in it. Guirgis is a brilliant writer, and I think those who are unfamiliar with him will have a great time experiencing a script by one our more prominent playwrights of the last decade.


5. Can you talk a little about the set design?


The scenic design by Kimi Maeda is just as “in transit” as the main character, Jackie. From the moment of the inciting incident of this show, we follow Jackie through a series of circumstances and choices that make him careen forward through his already difficult life. He’s in and out of apartments continuously and Kimi’s set allows us to go there with ease. Three rotating periactoi (three-sided revolves) cover the stage, allowing the audience and the characters to move through space and time in an engaging way. In my opinion, plays should often equate to a theatrical EVENT; turning a show into an experience that the actors and the audiences can travel through together. In other words, once the curtain speech has ended I like to make people feel like the safety bar comes down on a rollercoaster and you’re not admitted off the ride until it’s over. Kimi’s set is one of the more effective sets I’ve worked with in allowing the show to take on this “rollercoaster” quality. And boy, with these characters IT IS a rollercoaster.


Kimi and I had a lot of conversations about the role the imagination plays in moments of infidelity. Jealousy can begin to take control and has the potential to make someone view their life through a more aggrandized point of view. Hypothetically, if I were to find out from someone else that my wife, girlfriend, boyfriend, or whatever had slept with someone else…I might start to let my jealousy and imagination take over. I might imagine them having wild passionate sex, I might imagine them laughing at me behind my back, I may also imagine KILLING THE MOTHERFUCKAH THAT TOUCHED…see what happens? Haha, the darker side of creation can just take off in moments like that.


What Kimi did to respond to that idea was to lace Lichtenstein inspired elements into the set. Making the whole show take on that paneled “comic” style look. Both Lighting Designer Danny Harrington and Costume Designer Brandi Smith have made bold choices to marry the other visual elements into this unique pop-art inspired world.



6. Of the actors in MFWAH, who, or whose role, do you think the audience will be talking about after the play is over?


I think audiences are really going to enjoy watching this cast work together. They couldn’t be a more diverse group with varying ranges in experience, style, approach, and education. However they ALL bring these characters to life beautifully, and more importantly AS AN ENSEMBLE!


Trustus audiences will be seeing Alexis Casanovas and Raia Jane Hirsch on the Main Stage for the first time, and I think they’re going to be viewed as very welcome additions to the Trustus family. Alexis brings a lot of swagger and heart to the character of Jackie, and Raia exhibits absolute uninhibited work as Jackie’s fiery girlfriend Veronica.


I think audiences are going to be talking a lot about these characters that they’re playing. We pull for both of them, and this show takes them on a journey where their strength is constantly challenged. Jackie is a recovering addict and Veronica is a current addict – so their dynamics are always running on two different cylinders. I tell ya – I know a few couples like that.



7. What's this I hear about a "hat night" and whose brilliant idea was this anyway?


HAT NIGHT?! You mean one of the coolest opening night events this season at Trustus?


Yes, we had someone post on the Trustus facebook page that they hoped there’d be a “hat night” for the show. I believe it might have been the editor of Jasper magazine (insert winky emoticon here). So, myself and Larry Hembree thought we could turn it into a fun contest online.


So here’s how it works: audiences come on opening night, and they wear a hat. My awesome marketing interns Rachel and Victoria will be going around and taking pictures of those wishing to compete for a Trustus Flex Pass. On Saturday the 9th, we’ll upload a photo album on facebook and tag the shots. Whoever’s photo has the most “likes” by midnight on Saturday the 16th will win a Trustus Flex Pass (8 tickets to Main Stage shows). 2nd place wins 4 tickets, and 3rd place wins 2 tickets. So – there’s more than one chance to win some tickets to Trustus shows! Plus…it’s fun to wear a hat and have everyone call you a “motherf**ker” all night.

MATURE AUDIENCE ONLY: language, sexual content, nudity, violence -

BIO Chad Henderson* (Director) is the current 2012 Jasper Magazine Artist of the Year in Theatre. This year will mark a full decade in Columbia for Chad, four of them at the University of South Carolina and six of them as a Company member here at Trustus. Past Trustus Directing Credits include: Next To Normal, Avenue Q (Winner “Best Local Production”), Passing Strange (Runner-up “Best Local Production”), Spring Awakening, Assassins, The Last 5 Years, reasons to be pretty, Swing ’39 (World premiere), The Lieutenant of Inishmore, Southern Baptist Sissies, Hedwig and The Angry Inch, and Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead (Winner “Best Local Production). Chad has been in residency twice at The Studios of Key West, and has also directed at The Columbia Children’s Theatre, Workshop Theatre of South Carolina, Theatre South Carolina, Spartanburg Next Stage, and The Spartanburg Youth Theatre.

Spork In Hand Puppet Slam -- Adult Only Coolness (This weekend!)

At Jasper, we're always talking about how much talent is in this town and how diverse and specific that talent sometimes is. Certainly one of the most unique and talented people in Columbia is Kimi Maeda  -- puppeteer, set designer, artist, visionary.

We had the opportunity last week to sit down with Kimi and talk about both the upcoming Spork In Hand Puppet Slam, as well as some other projects she'd like to take on and some of her goals/plans/visions for puppetry in Columbia. After just a few minutes of chatting, it became obvious that Jasper needed to do a full profile on Kimi, which we've scheduled for Spring 2013. In the meantime, we'd like to help Kimi -- and Lyon Hill, her partner in crime and the 5000 year old art of puppetry -- promote another one of the coolest events we've experienced in town -- the Spork In Hand Puppet Slam, coming up this weekend at Trustus Theatre.

Last spring, we had the opportunity to attend our first ever puppet slam, presented by Kimi & Lyon's company, Belle et Bette, as part of Indie Grits. We had seen some cool puppetry before -- at Spoleto and, if I'm not mistaken, at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival one August -- but I can't remember ever being moved in the strange, warm, and somewhat unsettling way that some of the puppetry last spring moved me. I can still remember that sensation -- and it freaks me out a little that I absolutely crave to be freaked out like that again. It's something about the emotiveness (it's a word!) of the inanimate objects becoming animated right in front of you. Intellectually, you know the puppets aren't real -- but emotionally, you're responding to them as if they are. It's surprising how human objects and shadows and unrecognizable creatures can seem.

Very creepily cool.

Lots of folks, when they hear the words puppet or puppetry, assume that the performative qualities of the show would be more suited to children. Wrong! in the same way that there are films for kids and films for adults, there is puppetry for kids and puppetry for adults. Kimi tells me that there is nothing child-like about the Spork In Hand Puppet Slam -- unless, I have to add, it's the heady sensation of possibility you get from watching it, and the feeling of having been taken on a very trippy trip for the time during which the puppets perform. I mean, the time during which the puppeteers perform. Puppets can't perform!

Or can they? 

Decide for yourself -- here's the lowdown:

COLUMBIA - Organized by Belle et Bête, also known as Lyon Hill and Kimi Maeda, Spork in Hand Puppet Slam is a celebration of Southern puppetry that is off-the-beaten-path. They amaze, entertain, and inspire the people of Columbia with gloriously gritty evenings of experimental short puppetry and object theatre performances.


It's a whole new show with performances by: Happiness Bomb, Lyon Forrest Hill, Paul Kaufmann, Kimi Maeda, Tarish Pipkins, Greggplant and Bean, Jenny Mae Hill, Jason Von Hinezmeyer and Rob Padley. Tickets are $10 in advance and $12 at the door.

Click here to purchase your tickets right this second. It's like magic.


"The Importance of Being Earnest" at USC's Longstreet Theatre - a Review by Jillian Owens

Originally billed as “A Trivial Comedy for Serious People,” The Importance of Being Earnest gets a fun and funky 1960’s reboot in the new Theatre South Carolina production of Oscar Wilde’s last and best-known play. The plot of this rollicking farce is perhaps best expressed in the line, “The truth is rarely pure, and never simple.”  John and Algernon are close pals with double lives.  John (aka Jack) avoids his somber life of responsibilities in the country by inventing a brother by the name of Ernest, whom he constantly has to visit, to rescue him from some scrape or another.  Algernon (aka Algy), on the other hand, frequently escapes to the country to avoid unwelcome social obligations, claiming to visit his imaginary (and always sickly) buddy, "Bunbury."

This arrangement serves them both well, until John (who is living as "Ernest" in the city) falls in love with Algy’s cousin Gwendolen.  Gwendolen’s mother, Lady Bracknell, is appalled to discover Ernest/John is an orphan, found in a handbag at Victoria Station.  To escape her disapproval, Gwendolen and Ernest/John plan to elope in the country.  Little do they know, Algy overhears their plans, and decides to have a bit of his own fun.  After finding out John has a beautiful young ward by the name of Cecily at his country estate, he shows up posing as John’s rascally younger brother...."Ernest."


Traditional Wildean wit, hilarity and clever banter ensue.  Even those who have never seen this play performed live will remember many of Wilde’s signature one-liners.  Both Gwendolyn and Cecily are determined that they can only love a man by the name of Ernest, and certainly not John or Algy!  The play is a searing commentary on the frivolity and insincerity of Victorian culture.  Wilde believed “that we should take all the trivial things of life seriously, and all the serious things of life with sincere and studied triviality.”

This production was cleverly re-set from 1895 to some time in the 1960’s with go-go dancers, a terrific retro score, a set that would be any Anglophile’s dream, and wildly flamboyant costumes.  And it works.  Director Robert Richmond is obviously aware that with a show so dialogue-heavy, a modern audience could easily get bored.  There is absolutely no opportunity for boredom in this intensely high-energy production.  The actors are constantly in movement (a benefit of this production being done in the round), and the dance numbers between scenes are expertly choreographed by Emily Gonzalez (more on her later).

I always look forward to seeing a production at USC, as their shows easily have the most consistently high production values in Columbia.  This show was no exception.  The fun and adaptive set by Kimi Maeda transforms perfectly from a swinging 60’s bachelor pad to a happy hippie garden.  The costumes are simply brilliant.  Elizabeth Coffin displays an amazing amount of talent here, especially for an undergrad.  They are wild, colorful, clever, and beautifully executed with an intense attention to detail.

Pictured: From left, Danielle Peterson (as Gwendolen), Liam MacDougall (as Algernon) and William Vaughan (as Jack)

I was surprised to discover that the cast for this show was all undergraduates.  Usually Theatre South Carolina relies much more heavily on its graduate students.  Emily Gonzalez makes a delightfully naive Cecily Cardew, and her choreography gives this show the jolt of energy it needs to maintain the interest of a modern audience.  Rocco Thompson delivers a particularly hilarious standout performance as Lady Bracknell.  Liam Macdougall’s Algernon is funny and fey, though difficult to understand at times.  Danielle Peterson seemed a bit stiff and uncomfortable in her role as Gwendolen, almost as if she were playing the role 15 years older than it was intended.  But her spot-on sense of comedic timing more than compensates for this.  William Vaughan plays off his fellow actors well as an exuberant though put-upon John/Ernest.  All of the actors do a fine job, especially for being such a young group with varying levels of experience.

The Importance of Being Earnest makes for a delightfully witty way to spend an evening.  So go ahead…take a walk on the Wilde side.

~ Jillian Owens

The show runs through Sat. Oct. 13th at USC's Longstreet Theatre.  Show times are 8 pm Wednesdays-Fridays, 7 pm Saturdays and 3 pm on the first Sunday.  There is an additional half-price late night performance on Saturday, October 13 at 11 pm.   Tickets for the production are $12 for students, $16 for USC faculty/staff, military personnel and seniors 60+, and $18 for the general public.  Tickets can be purchased by calling 803-777-2551 or by visiting the Longstreet Theatre box office, which is open Monday-Friday, 12:30 pm-5:30 pm.


No Lie! CMT's Pinocchio Is Anything But A Wooden Performance - A Guest Blog by Arik Bjorn

There is no entertainment venue in Columbia more likely to have fallen straight out of the pages of a Ray Bradbury story than the Columbia Marionette Theatre, which this past weekend revived its wonderful 1992 original production of Pinocchio.  Even for adults, there is something magically inviting about the castle theatre ensconced at the corner of Huger and Laurel Streets, its giant mural of Punch, puppet-turned-puppeteer, dangling a stringed unicorn and dragon, and inviting children of all ages to rediscover authentic, if not shadowy, storytelling.  The best part of any CMT production is a stiff refusal to cater to the “Mickey Mouse-ification” of fairy tales, and the insistence that a peppering of Brothers Grimm in every scene is a recipe for narrative pleasure. At the age of four, my daughter Katherine is already a CMT veteran, having attended numerous productions.  She accompanied me to this weekend’s premier of Pinocchio, and I have made every effort to review the show from her diminutive perspective.  Sometimes the best part of parenting is rediscovering familiar stories through the eyes of one’s children - and also through their arms and legs, as on numerous occasions throughout the production her hands were wrapped tightly around my arms or her own face, her feet bouncing up and down with uncontrollable delight and fear.

Every CMT show begins well before Artistic Director Lyon Hill (profiled in the cover story in the current issue - # 5 -  of Jasper - The Word on Columbia Arts) emerges from backstage to lead the crowd in a birthday “Huzzah!” for whatever little boy or girl is lucky enough to host a dinosaur-, fairy tale-, or Wizard the Oz-themed birthday party.  Just getting your youngster from the lobby to his or her general admission seat is worth the price of admission.  Children enter the theatre’s faux archway main entrance, and are immediately surrounded by marionettes hanging from the ceiling and puppeteer dioramas from previous CMT productions, as well as a large mounted dragon head that once was the centerpiece of a real Medieval-themed wedding at CMT.  (By the way, parents, CMT offers a number of affordable “starter” marionettes for the novice puppeteers in your home.)

Inevitably, one or two children begin whimpering or looking cautiously askance before the show even starts, as does my child occasionally still.  It’s no lie that there is something naturally eerie about marionettes.  For the past several generations, our puppet-viewing collective consciousness consists mostly of cuddly Muppets, and the lack of softness of form of the traditional marionette immediately bespeaks more funhouse than Sesame Street.  But this is precisely the world of lost storytelling that marionette theatres engender.  CMT makes all of its marionettes on site in its workshop from hand-carved molds.  As Hill explains, he is not interested in smoothing the pin-prickly scary parts of a story, or conforming to pop culture’s sense of how a genie, T-Rex or mermaid should be physically represented:  “Every marionette has is its own silhouette.”

While patrons will not find Jiminy Cricket in this production of Pinocchio, what they will find is something that would make the story’s original Italian teller, Carlo Collodi, proud—plus a few inventive 21st-century twists, including a break-dancing wooden boy and a jazz-duet cat and fox.  And, of course, like any good children’s story, there are a few jokes just for adults, including the “BELIEVE” UFO poster on the dilapidated backstage wall of Boyaradi’s Fabulous Marionette Theatre, and a sign outside the theater that reads “Come Inside for Fun, Excitement and Man-Eating Plants.”

The show is a panoply of theatrical creativity.  In one early scene, the Fairy’s wand, with a mind of its own, causes all the puppets in Geppetto’s studio to dance unexpectedly.  The set drops of 19th-century Italy and the Isle of Joy (replete with its own cherry-topped sundae mountain), as well as Geppetto’s studio, are museum-worthy pieces.  And in one of the final scenes, Pinocchio and his papa emerge from the belly of the whale and rise magically to the ocean surface.  (I am willing to bet that every child who sees this show afterward will dream mystically of water gobos.)


This 45-minute version of Pinocchio is jam-packed with wonderful storytelling and numerous artistic and design triumphs, including, of course, the one trick both children and adults eagerly await to see:  the title character’s famous fibbing proboscis.  Several times after the performance, my daughter asked me how Pinocchio’s nose grew.  Fortunately, when I replied “magic,” my own nose remained its normal length.  But for the life of me, I have no idea how Hill & Company make that nose extend and retract with only strings!  (By the way, someone should give CMT a medal for understanding that 45 minutes is the ideal duration for a weekend children’s event.)

Along with Hill, puppeteers Kimi Maeda, Cooper Hill and Payton Frawley bring this timeless classic to life; not quite to the point where a little wooden boy is turned into the real thing, but definitely enough for you to tell everyone you know with kids to get down to the Columbia Marionette Theatre next Saturday.  And when all the dusty wonder has settled, most important of all, children walk away having learned a real moral lesson.  Just ask my daughter, who told me, “The lesson is always tell the truth and stay close to your papa - or else you’ll be turned into a donkey or eaten by a whale.”  Close enough, dear one, close enough.

~ by Arik Bjorn

Pinocchio runs through Sat. Sept. 8th, with performances every Saturday at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.  Tickets are $5 per person.  Children under 2 are free!  The Columbia Marionette Theatre is located at 401 Laurel Street (corner of Huger and Laurel).  Call 803-252-7366 for more information, or to reserve party space for your little ones.  To learn more about Columbia Marionette Theatre, visit .