Milo the Magnificent Coming to Columbia Marionette Theatre This Weekend with a Special Friday Evening Performance


When asked to describe puppet act, “Milo the Magnificent,” along with the duo behind the magic, Alex & Olmsted (Alex Vernon and Sarah Olmsted Thomas), artist director for the Columbia Marionette Theater, Lyon Hill, captures the moment with three enchanting words: Charming, uplifting and playful.


“Milo the Magnificent” is a puppet performance starring an aspiring magician, Milo.  While Milo never uses dialogue, he consistently shows emotion throughout the production in the form of expression, engaging the audience without the use of language.  Alex & Olmsted, the duo behind the production, bring a unique spin to their use of innovative puppetry, according to Hill:


“Their work features a unique style of puppetry that draws from animation and cartooning.  The character Milo never speaks, but expresses a wide variety of emotion through interchangeable facial expressions.  At CMT (Columbia Marionette Theater), we like to showcase inventive puppetry, so I was keen to bring them to Columbia.”


That’s right! This one-of-a-kind production, “Milo the Magnificent,” will be featured in Columbia at CMT, one of only two guest artist brought to CMT per year.  As a show for all ages, this is one to bring amusement, entertainment and excitement to all.


The production will run on Friday, November 16th at 7 p.m. and Saturday, November 17th at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.  Ticket cost is $5 per guest, ages 2 and up.


The Friday evening performance is a unique one, as CMT typically does not put on evening productions; however, Milo the Magnificent will run one time on Friday evening, giving guest the opportunity to experience the show in all its glory.  A true, magical experience.


“The Friday evening show performance in an opportunity to see the show in a slightly different setting,” Hill says of the 7:00 p.m. production, “The theater darkens a bit more, there are no birthday parties, it gives the artist a chance to really shine.”


As for Hill’s personal favorite aspect of the performance: “It is a well realized production. The music, humor and style all merge perfectly.”


Come see for yourself!


To experience Milo and his magic, grab those close to you and come out to Columbia Marionette Theater this weekend to get a taste of Alex & Olmsted’s, “Milo the Magnificent,” and all of the unique and fun entertainment that this production has to offer!


For more information on the duo behind the act, visit:

—Hallie Hayes

Arts & Draughts Friday Night w/ local brew - by Abby Davis

aad The 19th installment of Arts & Draughts is happening this Friday, February 6th, and you do not want to miss it. The Columbia Museum of Art will be filled with art, music, food, beer, entertainment, and the inevitable happiness that these things bring about.

River Rat Brewery will be offering tastings of their Broad River Red Ale. Phil Blair says, “This is the first time we’ve used a true local brewery and the response has been tremendous. I’m really looking forward to seeing people discovering it for the first time and seeing the brewery experience the program for the first time.” The Wurst Wagen, Bone-In Artisan Barbecue on Wheels, and The Belgian Waffle Truck, will provide the food.

There will be musical performances from Charlotte’s Sinners & Saints, Amigo, and Zack Joseph from Nashville. Blair says, “Our only real focus on the musical performances is quality; every act is handpicked by me with the goal of having the best show we can put together. I look for artists that aren’t oversaturated, that I think the diverse crowd will enjoy seeing and hearing, artists you don’t have to have any prior knowledge of, artists that are clearly talented and enjoyable.” The music will even extend outdoors with tunes provided by the Greater Columbia Society for the Preservation of Soul.

In addition to treats for your taste buds and ears, the event will feature docent-led tours, a puppet show by Lyon Hill, live chess in the galleries, screenings of Indie Grits Film Festival shorts, a scavenger hunt through the galleries, a Love-ly photo booth, creator space to make artful valentines, and even more.

Blair says, “We try to have as many interactive projects and as many galleries and gallery tours available as possible and partner with people doing cool things any chance we get. We really want people to be able to engage with the museum and the program in whatever way they enjoy most.” His favorite aspect of the event is “seeing the whole being more than the sum of the parts – Columbia embracing a real, diverse group of cultural components as one celebration.”

The event usually draws close to 1,000 people, but continues to expand. The last Arts & Draughts in November set an attendance record with close to 1,3000. Blair says, “Though it’s the 19th installment, it almost seems new. We’re looking forward to growing and adding different elements in the future. Now that it’s proven that Columbia really enjoys this event, it’s our duty to make it fresh and keep it interesting.”


Tickets are $8, $5 for members of the museum, and available at


-by Abby Davis

"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


"Knuffle Bunny - A Cautionary Musical" - Alex Smith reviews the new play at Columbia Children's Theatre

Mo Willems is something of a rock star if you’re a kid between the ages of 4 and 11 (or even if you’re just the parent of a kid that age.)  His career in children’s entertainment began illustriously on Sesame Street, where as an animator and writer he won six Emmy awards between 1993 and 2002.  During that time he also created two animated television series, The Off-Beats and Sheep In The Big City.  Since 2003, he has been a wildly successful author of children’s books, introducing the world to such immortal characters as Cat the CatPiggie and Elephant, Edwina, The Dinosaur Who Didn’t Know She Was Extinct, Leonardo The Terrible Monster, Naked Mole Rat and Big Frog.   His lovely illustrations and easy storytelling simultaneously create tales whose worlds are complex and self-contained, yet are wrought in such a simple way that the lessons they teach are so subtle that you don’t feel like you’re being beaten over the head with them.   Above all his writing and his drawings are VERY funny, making them a joy for both children and adults. All of the same qualities which make Willems’ books so appealing are on full display in the Columbia Children’s Theatre’s musical staging of Knuffle Bunny, subtitled A Cautionary Musical.  With book and lyrics by Willems and music by Michael Silversher, this adaptation of the Caldecott Medal-winning adventures of the beloved stuffed animal of the title, Trixie (the toddler who loves the bunny), and Trixie’s Mom and Dad, is staged as confidently as ever by director Chad Henderson, whose genre-defying talent as a theatrical director shines in this family-friendly production.   Henderson, as usual, has brought together a cast and crew whose talent coalesces to create a brisk, wonderfully entertaining evening in the theatre for children and their grown-ups alike.

This "cautionary tale" is straightforward enough: Dad, in an attempt to give Mom some time to herself, decides to take their daughter Trixie to the laundromat a few blocks from their home in the big city.  Trixie drags along her favorite stuffed animal, Knuffle Bunny. In the process of laundering the family’s clothes, Knuffle Bunny is accidentally put in the washing machine, and not until they return home between cycles does Dad realize what Trixie (who hasn’t learned to speak yet) has been trying to tell him throughout their journey home: Knuffle Bunny has been left behind. Mom, Dad and Trixie all rush back to the laundromat, where Dad embarks on a hero’s journey to recover Trixie’s missing doll. To say that hilarity ensues would cheat all of the above described action of how wildly entertaining and very funny it is.


Mom and Dad are expertly played by Kathy Sykes and Paul Lindley II, respectively. They are portraying archetypes, which can easily be overplayed and stereotypical in lesser hands, but as Mom, Ms. Sykes conveys all the frustration, patience, nurturing and love which mothers exercise with their children (and, often, with the fathers of their children) in such a sincere and earthy way that we laugh at and with her because of the familiarity her portrayal evokes. Lindley as Dad is all bluster and bravado which mask his genuine sensitivity and insecurities about his ability as a parent and a spouse; in other words, he is every dad.  Lindley, in addition to serving as the show's musical director, is a comic actor of immense talent (he was side-splitting as "Snail" in CCT's recent staging of Frog and Toad), and in his hands Dad is the perfect over-serious, overwrought and over-compensating foil to Ms. Sykes’ “straight-man” mom. Their performances, individually and as that archetypal institution of “mom and dad,” are worth the price of admission alone.

And then there’s Trixie. Having an adult play a child onstage is another dangerous proposition: the temptation to over- or under-play the impossibly endless and variant characterizations which make up the earliest eras of childhood make the task a difficult one for any actor...or, as one of the show's songs explains, "Trixie Is Tricky".  Hats off, then, to Sara Jackson, who embodies the pre-verbal toddler Trixie with all of the requisite foibles of a child that age without ever falling into the easy traps of being too cutesy or commenting on them.  The strength of Ms. Jackson's performance lies in the fact that despite the fact that, for instance, the role calls upon her to do something as outlandish as speak for 95% of the play in incomprehensible toddler-speak, she takes Trixie as seriously as an actor would take any adult role. This not only makes her character completely clear and interesting, it allows her to nearly bring down the house with laughter when she delivers, with straight-faced sincerity, a ballad about her troubles whose lyrics consist of no recognizable human language. It is a high point of the show.

There are so many other elements which make Knuffle Bunny such an excellent show: the hard work of a fine ensemble of actor/puppeteers (Julian Deleon, Anthony Harvey, Brandi Smith and Christina Whitehouse-Suggs) who play multiple roles and are particularly wonderful in a scene where Dad does battle with some troublesome clothes in an attempt to find Knuffle Bunny; Donna Harvey's costume and puppet design which ably bring those troublesome clothes, Knuffle Bunny, and all the other characters, animate or not, to colorful life; Baxter Engle's superb projections, which build upon Willems' own layout in the Knuffle Bunny books, creating a living backdrop out of actual photographs of New York city and otherwise broadening the staging possibilities in the Children's Theatre's modest space (this may be the first production in Columbia to stage a musical number inside a washing machine); and, of course, a cameo appearance by Willems' other Caldecott Honoree, the troublesome Pigeon - in the form of an excellent marionette, designed and built by Lyon Hill - who in the play's final moments literally "steals the show," and opens up the welcome possibility that this may not be the end of Knuffle Bunny's stage adventures...

The Columbia Children's Theatre's top-notch production of Knuffle Bunny is so well-crafted and performed, that it makes the prospect of further musical journeys with Mom, Dad, Trixie and Knuffle Bunny a tantalizing prospect indeed. It is the best kind of family entertainment around, and it should not be missed.

~ Alex Smith

Knuffle Bunny - A Cautionary Musical runs Friday, April 19th at 7:00 PM, Saturday, April 20th at 10:30 AM, 2:00 PM, and 7:00 PM, and a final matinee Sunday, April 21st, at 3:00 PM.  For ticket in formation, visit their website, or call (803) 691-4548.

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

A String Lesson in Compassion: A Review of "Beauty and the Beast" at Columbia Marionette Theatre by Arik Bjorn

On the heels of the Columbia Marionette Theatre’s technically and visually stunning production of Hansel and Gretel comes another tale of dark forest puppetry straight from the classic fairytale canon:  Beauty and the Beast. There is hardly a child alive—or adult for the matter—who associates this children’s fantasy with anything other than Disney’s bookworm Princess Belle and the behemoth Beast, which seems inspired from a Klingon on steroids.  About the only original concept Mickey Mouse & Co. retained in its animated film are the mid-eighteenth-century French origins of the story.  CMT artistic director Lyon Forrest Hill and writer-director John Scollon once again reclaims the forgotten origins of timeless children’s storytelling, and with a few musical numbers of their own, remind us that La Belle et la Bête is first and foremost a moral tale—not a song and dance routine with perfect pitch, jazz hands silverware.

Well aware of the attention span of the average tot, Scollon perfectly condenses the tale of the selfish, spellbound prince and the selfless merchant and his daughter into a perfect hour of weekend entertainment.  On a proverbial dark and stormy night, a prince, expecting his latest date at the palace door, instead comes face-to-face with an old hag whom he refuses to grant shelter.  The hag reveals her magical self, and converts the nobleman into a pectoral-heavy satyr, and his footman Radcliffe into a cheese-mongering, pudgy rodent, now Ratcliffe.  In this state they will remain until the master of the estate learns a life-changing lesson about compassion.  (At this point, parents are wishing this would actually happen to most hedge fund managers.)

Meanwhile, a woebegone merchant “in a nearby neck of the woods” receives a singing telegram from a seaman informing him that his poverty has come to an end:  his ship, the S.S. Porcupine, has finally docked at port laden with foreign goods.  The merchant’s daughter, Grace, asks her father to pick out the entire Tiffany catalog on his journey to claim his fortune.  The more modest daughter, Beauty, expresses that she will be content with just a single rose.  That rose, of course, becomes the crux upon which Beauty will eventually sacrifice herself, becoming an indentured guest in her entrapped father’s place at the Beast’s enchanted castle.  Finally, the prince learns his lesson about judging others by their outward appearance, and is allowed to trade his hooves for his feet, and gets a storybook wedding ending, to boot.  (Could there possibly be a more relevant 21st-century fairytale—even for hedge fund managers?)

The production is replete with technical highlights that will delight both children and adults, including an abracadabra buffet table and vanity, a sartorial dance number with dazzling gowns, and the magical prince portrait behind which the beast both conceals and reveals himself to those who dare enter his domain, and which is a critical leitmotif children will later encounter in every 1930s horror movie and episode of Scooby-Doo.  While the beast is a truly delightful feat of puppetry monstrousness, CMT should be even more proud of its Beauty creation; she is the spitting image of a young Kim Basinger.   CMT always puts as much creative effort into designing its sets as it does its marionettes; of note are set painter Carolyn Merkel’s Osiris-eye stain glass windows and swirling blue-green forest backdrop, as well as the miniature castle model and character figurines which maintain kiddie attention spans during set changes.

Beauty and the Beast is a must-see show for parents seeking an affordable, high-quality entertainment option on weekends this spring.  The show also provides an open door for parents to teach their children “the real” fairytale classics.  And remember:  Columbia Marionette Theatre provides field trip and birthday party options for larger groups of children.  CMT is an arts community jewel and once again has earned our support.

Beauty and the Beast runs until March 16 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 252.7366 for more information or to reserve party space for your little ones.  To learn more about Columbia Marionette Theatre, visit .

Special note to parents:  There is something important about the soft edge of darkness and fear of marionette theatre.  Stringed puppet shows are no less a rite of childhood passage than roller coasters and midway funhouses.  But as parents, we sometimes forget that the diminutive marionettes are as large as, or larger than, the little audience members sitting segregated from adults in the first few rows.  As a suggestion, if you are bringing your little one to CMT for the first time, it would not be a bad idea to arm him or her with a little penlight or an open hand for comfort during the first few minutes.  Fret not:  your child will quickly become an audience veteran and become engrossed in the narrative.  Yet thinking about this in advance may help to avoid disturbing other children trying to follow the show closely.

~ Arik Bjorn



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.


"Hansel & Gretel" at Columbia Marionette Theatre: A Sweet Artistic Triumph - a Review by Arik Bjorn

Dorothy Parker once reviewed a play that was so incompetent in all aspects, that she decided to leave most of her newspaper column space newspaper blank, stating that the production did not even deserve typeset words.  Nothing could be more opposite with respect to deserved accolades than Columbia Marionette Theatre’s latest production, Hansel & Gretel.  Artistic Director Lyon Hill has created something so phenomenal and unique that I was tempted to write the entire review in 100-point font.  However, recognizing that giant block letters might not be a preference for the average online reader, I will offer a single, megalithic, lexical frieze to frame my review:



As I have written in previous reviews, what I appreciate most about the CMT mission — and executive direction John Scollon should be applauded for this — is that it eschews the glamourized, Walt Disney fairytale and clings to the tried-and-true philosophy of edge-of-your-seat, Grimm storytelling.  And what better tale to present (especially in the month of hobgoblins and pumpkins) than one which seems to have been universally ignored by the animated children’s fantasy industry:  Hansel & Gretel.

My four-year-old daughter Kat plied me with questions about the story on the way to the theatre; she had never even heard the title.  The only factoid I would let slip is that there was likely to be a house made out of candy.  As one can imagine, that was enough to set her imagination’s hook.  But not even I was prepared for the sumptuousness of what CMT had prepared for patrons of all ages.

Upon crossing the dragon’s head threshold, even theatregoers who have attended multiple CMT productions will immediately realize there is something unique about this production.  A large, curved film screen covers center stage, and there is something oddly cartoon-esque about the set.  This was intentional; director Hill drew expertly on the classic black-and-white animation of the Fleischer Brothers (Betty Boop, Popeye, Koko the Clown) as inspiration for his set and marionette characters.  This is especially telling in the rounded qualities of the puppet faces, and in their oblong eyes; in fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen marionettes which seemed so eerily alive.

Hansel and Gretel deep in the forest

The show begins with an immediate departure from the traditional Hansel & Gretel tale.  Both the poor woodcutter and his wife absolutely adore their children.  The reason for this welcome twist may be that Hill wrote the story as a special dedication to his young son, Oliver.  A dreaded wood filled with ghosts and boy-eating witches is one thing, but no child should have to endure the added torture of an abusive stepmother.  Yet despite being the candied apples of their parent’s eyes, there’s only so much roasted boot a la tongue any child can endure.  Following Hansel’s retelling of ‘The Tale of the Three Thieves’ — in which the stage is expanded with computer animation, and puppeteers Cooper Hill, Payton Frawley and Lyon Hill enthrall the audience with precisely-timed shadow puppetry — audience members soon find themselves in familiar territory:  at play in the field of the pastry-bread home with strawberry shortcake shutters.


A reviewer really could wax on and on about this spectacular production.  Like the professional marionette stages in Prague, this is a show that adults without children would thoroughly enjoy.  And I truly hope that other marionette professionals around the region and nation take the opportunity to travel to Columbia to witness what is without a doubt the crowning work to date by Lyon Hill and CMT’s very talented crew.  The production also boasts an incredible original score in the vein of a Woody Allen soundtrack by David Drazin, as well as the aforementioned original animation by Wade Sellers and Jeffrey Shroyer, and the vocal talents of local actors Kevin Bush and Jenny Mae Hill.

Hansel, Gretel and Witch

My personal favorite puppet moment was the skeleton whose bones magically dislocate and reassemble during a Fred Astaire song-and-dance number.  I also loved the owl puppet set high aloft the stage as introductory narrator; I hope the owl becomes a mainstay character for future CMT productions.  (Perhaps call him Owlistair Cooke.)  Another ingenious creative choice was making the witch a haggy vulture, whose appetite for human flesh is a bit easier for children to swallow, given her carrion nature; that, and it’s a tad easier to stomach watching a bird get its just desserts by being cooked in an oven than a humanoid figure.

At one point, Hansel describes the treasure of the three thieves — upon which the brother and sister pin their hopes to save their family from poverty — as so valuable that it cannot be named.  Without a doubt, our city is home to such a valuable treasure for children’s storytelling, yet it has a name:  Columbia Marionette Theatre.  And I can only conclude in the way in which I began:  Hansel & Gretel is unlike any show CMT has ever staged; whether child or adult, you are in for an extraordinary storytelling treat.


~ Arik Bjorn

Hansel & Gretel runs until December 29 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 252.7366 for more information or to reserve party space for your little ones.  To learn more about Columbia Marionette Theatre, visit .

NOTE: Tuesday Oct. 9th, from 6:00 to 8:00 PM, there will be a special event in the Hallway at 701 Whaley showcasing The Art of Hansel and Gretel by Lyon Forrest Hill. Get a glimpse inside Columbia Marionette Theatre's production of Hansel and Gretel. This exhibit features conceptual art including sketches, character designs and prototype marionettes by Lyon Forrest Hill. Deliciously evil treats provided by Jenny Mae Hill. Details can be found at

Jasper 2012 Artists of the Year Finalists

Jasper Magazine is pleased to announce the finalists for Jasper 2012 Artist of the Year in the categories of Dance, Literary Arts, Music, Theatre, and Visual Arts.


Dance:  Brooklyn Mack, Regina Willoughby, and Marcy Jo Yonkey-Clayton

Literary Arts:  Kwame Dawes, Julia Elliott, and Dianne Johnson

Music:  Aaron Graves, Morihiko Nakahara, and Josh Roberts

Theatre:  Chad Henderson, Vicky Saye Henderson, and Shelby Sessler

Visual Arts:   Thomas Crouch, Lyon Hill, and Susan Lenz


The above 15 artists were among a number of artists nominated by their peers and fans. Based on the information submitted with the nominations, a panel of judges selected the top three artists in each category to compete for the title Jasper 2012 Artist of the Year.

Now the fun begins! You’re invited to vote for your choice for Jasper 2012 Artist of the Year in each of the five categories by visiting the Jasper website. There, you’ll find summaries of each artist’s accomplishments for the period of September 15, 2011 – September 15, 2012.

The winners of Jasper 2012 Artist of the Year in Dance, Literary Arts, Music, Theatre, and Visual Arts will be announced at 7 pm November 15, 2012 at the release of Jasper Magazine V. 002, N. 002 at City Art during Vista Lights. All 15 artists will be featured in the same issue of Jasper Magazine.

For more on the finalists, please continue reading.


Jasper 2012 Artist of the Year Finalists


Brooklyn Mack

Although Brooklyn Mack’s full time position in the Washington Ballet doesn’t allow him as much time in the SC Midlands as he once had, the dancer still considers Elgin his home and, despite a career that finds him dancing across the continents, the Columbia area is where you’ll find him during almost any time off. Nominated by Dance Magazine as one of the 25 young dancers to watch in 2012, Mack was the first African American male to win the Gold Medal at the 2012 Varna International Ballet Competition. He won the gold medal at the 2nd Annual Boston International Ballet Competition and the Grand Prix at the 3rd International Istanbul Ballet Competition, both in June 2012. An interview on National Public Radio, an invitation to dance at the Kremlin Palace, and guest solo artist invitations and performances in Indiana and at Jackson, not to mention performances with Columbia Classical Ballet and Washington Ballet, round out a busy year for Mack.


Marcy Jo Yonkey-Clayton

Recipient of the 2012 South Carolina Arts Commission Fellowship Award for Dance Choreography, Yonkey-Clayton created the dance, The More We Get Together (performed in Columbia, SC and Albany, GA), as well as Get On It, performed at the Columbia College Fall 2011 Faculty Concert. She danced in the following performances: Cow Beans & Cool Water, Angel Train, The More We Get Together, and the Columbia College Dance Lab’s Third Annual Campus Walking Tour of Dance. An assistant professor at Columbia College, Yonkey-Clayton teaches emerging dance artists, choreographs and performs with the Power Company, and the CCdanceLab. This year she taught at the American College Dance Festival in Albany, GA, the SC Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance in Myrtle Beach, and the Greenville Fine Arts Center, as well as for Richland One Dance and Columbia College Summer Camp. She completed a Choreography Residence at Ridge View High School, serves as editor awards committee member for the South Carolina Dance Association.


Regina Willoughby

Ballerina with Columbia City Ballet, Regina Willoughby danced the following starring roles with the company between September 2011 and 2012 – Lucy in Dracula, Sugar Plum Fairy and Snow Queen in The Nutcracker, Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, (a role she says she has dreamed of dancing for 20 years!), and Aurora in Sleeping Beauty (a role she says she felt she needed to conquer before she retires). She also appeared with Ballet Spartanburg’s Dance Synergy III and earned the American Ballet Theater Teacher Training Curriculum certification in NYC.


Literary Arts


Kwame Dawes

Earlier this year, Kwame Dawes joined the ranks of Ansel Adams, Langston Hughes, Henry Kissinger, Derek Walcott, and Eudora Welty, as winner of a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship.  Dawes was one of 181 scholars, artists, and scientists selected from nearly 3000 applicants.  In March he received the Poets & Writers magazine Barnes and Noble Writers for Writers Award, which recognizes writers who have given generously to other writers.  Even though Dawes moved to the University of Nebraska in Lincoln last year to become the editor of the renowned literary magazine Prairie Schooner, the Jamaican poet says he still thinks of himself as a South Carolinian, and much of his work has been about getting South Carolina writers in print. Within the past year, Dawes published Home Is Where: An Anthology of African American Poetry from the Carolinas, an essential collection of contemporary African-American writers from South and North Carolina published by Hub City Press of Spartanburg and launched at the Columbia Museum of Art last fall.  He also published Jubilation: An Anthology of Poetry Celebrating Fifty Years of Jamaican Independence (Peepal Tree, 2012) and his groundbreaking poetry and journalism project, Voices of Haiti, which won the National Press club’s 2011 Joan Friedenberg Award for Online Journalism, is now available as an I-book from the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Recording.  Two books forthcoming this fall also suggest his continuing commitment to South Carolina voices:  Seeking: South Carolina Poets Responding to the Art of Jonathan Green (USC Press, fall 2012), and Seven Strong: South Carolina Poetry Prize Winners (also USC Press, fall 2012), selections from the state poetry prize series founded in by Dawes in 2005.


 Julia Elliott

“Totally original” is what the awards committee for the Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award said of Cayce writer Julia Elliott, or more precisely, “incredibly imaginative, sharply observed, and totally original.”  Elliott was one of six women writers selected this fall for the $30,000 award, which is given annually to writers who demonstrate excellence and promise early in their careers.  Two short stories were published this spring in Conjunctions and in Tin House, journals known for experimental literary fiction, and her story “Regeneration at Mukti,” originally published in Conjunctions, received a Pushcart Prize and will appear in the 2013 anthology later this year.  An assistant professor English and Women’s and Gender Studies at USC, Elliott is currently finishing The New and Improved Romie Futch, a novel about a SC taxidermist, as well as working on a second novel about primatologists and baboons, which she studied in-depth at the NC Zoo in Asheboro in 2011 as recipient of a creative arts grant from USC.


 Dianne Johnson

Last year, Columbia city officials chose Dianne Johnson’s All Around Town: The Photographs of Richard Samuel Roberts, originally published in 1998, for the city reading initiative Together We Can.  As the program’s featured writer, Johnson gave 45 presentations in 6 weeks, working in partnership with the Columbia Museum of Art and Richland County Public Library, and interacting with over 2000 third graders from Richland District One, working.  Wearing her signature red “FREADOM” shirt, she talks with children about the kinds of freedom they can have if they master reading.  Every student received a copy of the book, which brings Columbia history to life with Roberts’ photographs of Columbia’s African-American communities from the 1920s, accompanied by Johnson’s poetry.  A professor of English at USC, Johnson was also featured at the Upcountry Literary Festival at USC-Union and the South Carolina Book Festival, and she served as a judge for the SC State Library Letters about Literature Program and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators New Writers Contest.  One of her nominators lauded “her contribution to the lives and futures of these 2000 children” and “her tireless enthusiasm and respect for all children.”



Aaron Graves (of Those Lavender Whales)

As the leader/mastermind behind the oddball indie-pop outfit Those Lavender Whales and one of the primary forces behind the community-centered Fork & Spoon Records, Graves is at the very heart of the music scene here in Columbia. While often more associated with his promotional efforts at Fork & Spoon, this past year has been more focused on his long-gestating full-lengthTomahawk of Praise, a powerfully honest and arresting album that pairs quirky arrangements with lyrics that tackle the nature of family, faith, and growing up in what is (arguably) the most fully-realized local recording of 2012. A sold-out release show, numerous regional shows, a tour up the East Coast, and notable performances at the Free Times Music Crawl and the Arts & Draughts series rounded out a banner year for Graves and his band, which also includes his wife Jessica Bornick, and Fork & Spoon co-founder Chris Gardner.


Josh Roberts (of Josh Roberts & the Hinges)

Frequently touted as one of the city's best live acts, Josh Roberts has long been known as one of our scene's true guitar gods, a masterful rock and roller who is capable of both extended technical flights of improvisation fancy and writing monster guitar riff after monster guitar riff. Highlight performances over the past year have included opening gigs for the likes of Band of Horses and Drive-by Truckers as well as a year-capping performance before headliner George Clinton on New Year’s 2011 on Main Street. And just a few weeks ago, Roberts ended a five year recording drought with the Hinges with the release of Mighty Old Distance and Murky Old Time, a concise distillation of the power of his songwriting and guitar chops that captures the musician at the top of his game.


Morihiko Nakahara

In 2011- 2012, Morihiko Nakahara completed his 4th year as Music Director and Conductor of the South Carolina Philharmonic Orchestra. He also serves as Resident Conductor for the Spokane Symphony in Spokane, Washington. Acclaimed as a versatile artist and a passionate believer in music education for all ages, Nakahara leads a series of successful educational and community access concerts every season. In addition, he is a popular clinician, guest conductor, and speaker at various educational institutions. As a personable ambassador for classical music, Nakahara makes frequent appearances on local media outlets as well as at local businesses and service clubs.


Visual Arts

Lyon Hill

Lyon Hill creates two-dimensional visual art, and as filmmaker, puppeteer, and Artistic Director of the Columbia Marionette Theatre, designs three-dimensional creations as well.  In 2012 he was an awarded participant in the What's Love: input/output exhibition at 701 Whaley.  In the past year he has performed numerous works featuring his creations:  Supine at the Columbia Indie Grits Festival/Spork in Hand Puppet Slam and at the Center for Puppetry Arts National Slam in Atlanta, GA, an excerpt from Hansel and Gretel as part of Pocket Productions' "Playing After Dark" series, and assorted Marionette Theatre productions (including The Brementown Musicians, The Brave Tin Soldier, Pinocchio, and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.)  His short film Junk Palace was awarded a Citation of Excellence in the Recorded Media category by the American Chapter of the UNIMA (Union Internationale de la Marionette.) 

 Thomas Crouch

Creator of the Art Bar Agora, an annual artists’ showcase by and for artists, Crouch produced the third annual showcase in late spring 2012. His art exhibits this year include “Wolfs vs. Baboons” solo show at the Tapps Arts Center, Artista Vista, Mingle and Jingle on Main Street and at the SC Philharmonic Orchestra benefit, “Jail Break” at the Charleston Old City Jail, “No Man’s Land” solo show at Gallery 701 Hallway, an open Farmers’ Market booth, the “Bullets for Band-Aids” veteran’s benefit, “Logical Operator—she loves Me, She Loves Me Not” for the What’s Love solo hallway show. He participated in the Trustus Theatre arts/theatre collaboration for the musical Passing Strange, exhibited at Middleton Gardens in Charleston for the Charleston International Film Festival Live Auction, a Garden Deli show in Columbia, as well as at the Tapp’s Ronald McDonald House Fundraiser, and The Pretty Girls Feminist Art show. Crouch recently gave a presentation on his creative process for High Noon City Art, participated in the S & S Art Supply panel fundraiser, and was commissioned to produce the cover for the short story collection, Buttered Biscuits.


Susan Lenz

Textile and Installation Artist Susan Lenz completed three artist residencies and scholarship programs this year including Studios Midwest, in Galesburg, IL, The Studios at Key West in Key West, FL, and the Hot Springs National Park Artist Residency at Hot Springs, AR. She was the recipient of the SC Palmetto Hands Juried Fine Craft Exhibition Best of Show award in North Charleston, SC and the Niche Award 2011 for fibers in the decorative category winner by Niche Magazine in Baltimore, MD. Her exhibitions include the following: the 2012 Quilt Festival at the la Conner Quilt and Textile Museum in La Conner, WA; a solo show, Fiber Architecture:  Buildings in Stitches at Fredericksburg Center for the Creative Arts in VA; an invitational show, Decision Portraits at Quilt, Inc.’s International Quilt Show in Houston; Lowell Art Quilt 2012 at the Brush Gallery in Lowell, MA; Material Voice at Ayers Loft Gallery in Lowell, MA; Small Stories at Urban Alchemist in Brooklyn, NY; a solo show, Sun and Sand at Frame of Mind, in Columbia; an invitational show, Narrative Threads at the Page-Walker Gallery in Cary, NC; I’m Not Crazy, Studio Art Quilt Associates traveling exhibition; La Grange National XXVII in LaGrange, GA; a solo show, Last Words, at the Imperial Center, Rocky Mount, NC; the 33rd Annual Contemporary Crafts at the Mesa Arts Center in Mesa, AZ; an invitational show, Meet the Designers at the Columbia Museum of Art; Crafts National at Mulvane Art Museum in Topeka, KS, Art and the Human Form: Concept, Costume & Beyond, Blue Door Gallery, Yonkers, NY; Textiles in a Tube 2 at Riverworks Gallery in Greenville, SC; the SC Palmetto Hands Fine Craft Exhibition in North Charleston; the 2012 Exhibition at McKissick Museum; a solo show, Last Words at Vision Gallery in Chandler, AZ; an invitational show, The Winter Show at Green Hill Center in Greensboro, NC; Art of Fiber at Workhouse Art Center in Lorton, VA; Fine Crafts at Fredericksburg Creative Center for the Arts in VA; SAQA Layers of Memories, Studio Art Quilt; National Fiber Directions Exhibition 2011, Wichita, KS; Tapps Center for the Arts window installation, Two Hours at the Beach; an invitational show, Green: The Color and the Cause at the Textile Museum in Washington, DC; National Juried Quilt Exhibit at Delaplane Visual Arts Center in Frederick, MD; Unearth: A Celebration of Naturally Inspired Art at Saluda Shoals in Columbia; and the National Heritage Quilt Show at McMinn County Living Heritage Museum in Athens, TN.




Chad Henderson

One of Columbia's youngest professional directors, Chad Henderson has helmed six shows, all coincidentally musicals, in the past year at three of the area's major theatres:  John and Jen at Workshop Theatre, Pinkalicious - The Musical (which was revived later in the season after selling out 100% of its performances) at Columbia Children's Theatre, and Spring Awakening, Passing Strange, Avenue Q, and Next to Normal, all at Trustus Theatre.  Additionally, he represented the Midlands via a residency at The Studios of Key West in Florida, where he directed the 24-hour theatre festival "One Night Stand."  As an actor, he was seen in The Great American Trailer Park Musical at Trustus, as well as in training scenarios for law enforcement and counseling professionals in SC, MT and NM.

Vicky Saye Henderson

Vicky Saye Henderson has been seen in five stage productions in the last year: Andrew Lippa's Wild Party (as Queenie, the tortured showgirl) at Workshop Theatre, and at Trustus Theatre Next to Normal (as Diana, the bipolar wife and mom) Spring Awakening (all adult females), The Great American Trailer Park Musical (as Betty) and Almost an Evening (multiple roles.)  Additionally she acted in two staged readings of plays at Trustus: Southern Discomfort and Satan in High Heels. A SC Arts Commision-approved teaching artist, she has worked with numerous schools, colleges, churches, businesses and individuals, offering specialized courses in theatre arts, improvisation, and professional development.  Her improv and sketch comedy training program for youth, ReWired, is in its 6th year at Workshop Theatre, and she is director for drama ministries at St. Andrews Lutheran Church.  She also appeared in two film projects, Lola's Prayer and Taken In, which were screened at three film festivals, including Columbia's Indie Grits Festival.

Shelby Sessler 

A senior Music major concentrating in voice at USC, Shelby Sessler has performed diverse roles at four of Columbia's major theatres in the past year: the naive Pickles in The Great American Trailer Park Musical at Trustus Theatre, the titular tyke in Pinkalicious - The Musical at Columbia Children's Theatre, Vivienne the snooty antagonist in Legally Blonde at Workshop Theatre, and all three female roles (a German femme fatale, a forlorn Scottish farm wife, and a proper British lady) in Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps at Town Theatre. Additionally she teaches voice in Workshop Theatre's Broadway Bound Program. Behind the scenes, Sessler worked as Assistant Stage Manager for the SC Shakespeare Co.'s spring production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged.)

Hansel and Gretel: Columbia Marionette Theatre’s new production puts an emphasis on experimentation -- A guest blog by Lyon Hill

At Jasper, we hate spam. But what we hate even more than spam is when real messages -- important messages -- get mistakenly relegated to our spam file. Grrrr.

That's what happened last week when this important guest blog by local marionette genius Lyon Hill got lost in our spam file and never saw the light of day. We just found it. Like 5 minutes ago.

But rather than throw the wooden baby puppet out with the shredded pieces of blue paper that look like bath water, we're going to go ahead and run this guest blog anyway. (And when you get to the part where Lyon is inviting you to become a part of their almost-over kickstarter campaign -- don't freak out. It was successful!)


And now, for a few words from Lyon ...

Hansel and Gretel: Columbia Marionette Theatre’s new production puts an emphasis on experimentation.

The classic Grimm’s fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel has always been a favorite of mine and I yet rarely see it adapted well. The dark forest, the lost children, the gingerbread house, the sinister witch; all of these are potent images and they are perfect for our puppet stage.

Awhile back, I began experimenting with telling this story in a look inspired by early animation; particularly the cartoons of the Fleischer brothers. They created surreal and silly Betty Boop and Popeye shorts that are still intriguing today for their humor and ingenuity. My first take on the characters can be seen in the issue of Jasper in which I am interviewed.

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of working with Wade Sellers of CoalPowered Filmworks (also featured in Jasper) to create a vignette for a ‘Playing After Dark’ event. We coupled these puppets with projected computer animation and it clicked. The puppets seemed to be moving through a deep and dark, dimensional forest.

At that point, I knew we had something and we decided to flesh out the concept and put it on CMT’s main stage. I knew music would be a key factor, so I contacted Dave Drazin, who scored my short film, Junk Palace. He is an accomplished silent film accompanist and well versed in the sound of the time.

We have been hard at work bringing these diverse elements together. While there is still much left to be done, I am excited by the progress so far. One of the things I am most pleased with is the warmth and humor. While we do deliver on a spooky forest and a nasty witch, the show has been written with a very young audience in mind. I think children will connect with the characters of Hansel and Gretel, and the whole family will find it enjoyable.

CMT traditionally creates almost entirely in-house, so we have created a kickstarter  fundraising campaign to offset the expenses of hiring collaborators. While we have had many generous offers of donations, we are only a couple of days away with more money to raise.

We have tried to make the rewards enticing, so please have a look and consider contributing to this unique project. In any case, please come see the show, opening September 22 and running through the end of the year. We have performances every Saturday at 11am and 3pm, as well as the third Monday of each month at 10 am.

Lyon Hill is the art director and puppetmaker at the Columbia Marionette Theatre.


401 Laurel St

Columbia, SC 29201



Playing After Dark -- This Friday and Saturday Nights

Neither cartoons, puppets, video games, nor music sound all too foreign.  Unless you’ve been living under a rather sizable rock (or had the misfortune of attending an artistically disinclined South Carolina public school), you’ve undoubtedly encountered each of these creative media before.  But chances are you haven’t encountered them together as a single, collaborative event.

This Friday and Saturday, Pocket Productions affords you the opportunity to do so.  Since 2009, this local arts organization has been expanding the public’s definition of art by exposing Columbia to innovative examples of interdisciplinary artistic cooperation.  Their “Playing After Dark” series, in particular, has introduced audiences to visual, musical, performing, and even culinary arts.

This weekend’s installment of Playing After Dark (titled “1001”) revolves around the unique collaboration between digital and analog art.  It will feature the following performances: Dre and Sammy Lopez of Piensa Art Company will present a combination of digital and analog drawings; Lyon Hill (puppetmaker and puppeteer with the Columbia Marionette Theatre) and Wade Sellers (commercial producer/director and owner of Coal Powered Filmworks) will perform a marionette/cartoon act; Professor Fripples (brilliant young programmer David Hamiter) will show off an audio controlled video game that runs alongside a puppet show; and DJ Deft Key (Entropy Studios’ producer, sound engineer, multi-instrumentalist, and remix artist) and singer/songwriter Bob Benjamin will perform a fusion of digital and acoustic music.

Playing After Dark “1001” begins at 7 pm this Friday and Saturday at CMFA Arts Space (914 Pulaski).  Tickets are available for $10 in advance (online at, $12 at the door, or $8 with membership.  In addition to the one free drink with admission, fine IPAs, stouts, Merlot, Syraz, and hors d’oeuvre will be available.  The event may also feature a “puppet” boiled peanut stand courtesy of Happiness Bomb (a diverse group of artists, musicians, designers, programmers, and, of course, puppeteers).

For more information about Pocket Productions, check them out on Twitter ( and Facebook (


-- Austin Blaze - intern, Jasper Magazine



Avenue Q at Trustus Theatre - A Review

Avenue Q, the new summer show now running at Trustus Theatre, is a lively, witty, naughty musical romp through the challenges of young adulthood in the big city, told via catchy, silly, bouncy songs, performed by puppets. Well, by live actors, four of whom give voice and life to a number of Muppet-style hand puppets.  For sheer escapism and entertainment, you absolutely will not be disappointed by this triple Tony winner that ran for over six years in New York, and still thrives and prospers off-Broadway today.

With music and lyrics by creators Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, and book by Jeff Whitty, Avenue Q  follows the adventures of recent college grad Princeton, an archetypal naïf looking for his meaning in life... or perhaps just a job, and a cheap place to live, which he finds in the low-rent zone of Avenue Q.  Princeton is Everyman (or Everypuppet) at 22, and this theme has been explored countless times over the years, in films like How to Marry a Millionaire, musicals like How to Succeed in Business, and even the current HBO series Girls.  The show's brilliance lies in its reinvention of the coming-of-age genre, using multi-colored felt and cloth puppets, especially since the impression conveyed is that we are seeing the familiar Sesame Street characters all grown up, and having to confront the realities and responsibilities of maturity.  A disclaimer in the program makes it clear that there is no actual connection to any Jim Henson creations or properties; one imagines that at this stage, Elmo, Kermit and friends are such cultural icons that they classify as public figures, and therefore fair game for parody and satire.  Unlike the Muppets, however, the audience actually sees each performer skillfully manipulating his or her diminutive alter-ego, and so the relevant expressions and emotions are visible on the live actor's face as well.  All are attractive and talented, causing one to want to follow them on stage, but just as much attention needs to be paid to the puppets, who are the actual characters.

Performing Princeton, Kevin Bush finds just the right tone to seem sympathetic, yet still a bit of an immature tool.  A subplot revolving around an ambiguous pair of roommates (think Bert and Ernie) features Bush as Rod, an uptight and closeted yuppie banker whose nose and eye design are as phallic as his name.  Rod's denial of his sexuality and feelings for his best friend become increasingly ludicrous, culminating in a stream-of-consciousness musical fabrication about an imaginary girlfriend, from Canada, named Alberta, who lives in... ummm... Vancouver.  The ever-youthful Bush could really have played either of these roles quite believably in a "normal" play; I do wish there were a bit more distinction in their voices, especially since between the two characters, he has at least 50% of the dialogue in the show.  Still, he's a great singer and a delight to see.

Katie Leitner as Princeton's love interest, Kate Monster, is equally appealing.  Looking back over my notes, I see at least half a dozen times where she duets with Bush or joins in a group number, and I have jotted down "beautiful harmony" or "incredible voice."  Her solo "Fine Fine Line" (a melancholy reflection on the difference between lovers and friends) could easily have been part of a "serious" musical, whereas most of the other songs replicate the sing-song style of a children's show.  With no way to really change the facial expression of the hand puppets, emotions must be conveyed by adjusting their posture or position; somehow Leitner expertly manages to depict Kate Monster as a sloppy drunk, with her hair falling into her face, and the moment is one of many comic highlights.  She also gets to create Lucy the Slut, who oozes mint-julep sultriness and temptation, with a rich deep voice an octave or so lower than Kate's.  Brien Hollingsworth also displays amazing diversity in his voice characterizations as four different characters, including Trekkie Monster (addicted to porn in lieu of cookies) and Nicky, who accepts BFF Rod's sexuality long before Rod acknowledges it.  Hollingsworth and Elisabeth Smith Baker perform Nicky together, and also appear as the Bad Idea Bears, Care Bear-like apparitions who suggest things like chugging Long Island Teas the night before an important day at work, or using funds sent from the 'rents to buy some beer, and it might as well be a case, since those are better bargains.  Baker probably does the best at recreating the perky, cartoonish voices one expects, and also helps to manipulate most of the other puppet characters when their principal portrayers are busy, e.g. she performs Lucy's movements when Leitner is performing Kate. Through some skillful choreography and misdirection, rarely can one ever tell that the principal actor is doing both voices, and this also means that Baker has to know not only her own characters' lines, but most of the rest of the script too, in order to move the puppet's mouth at the right moment, in synch with the right dialogue. The other three performers accomplish this as well, but Baker is perhaps the best at turning invisible on stage, this being that rarest of times when that's a good thing.  And did I mention that Princeton and Kate engage in some graphic puppet sex?  Well, as graphic as hand puppets who only exist from the waist up can get, but that's incredibly, and hilariously, graphic.

Just like Sesame Street, there are human characters too, similarly disillusioned 20-somethings, played by G. Scott Wild, Annie Kim, and Devin Anderson.  While these characters are never fully developed, the performers are excellent, and their voices blend beautifully with the rest of the cast.  Director Chad Henderson brings the customary style that I have come to expect from his shows:  everyone is completely believable in their characters, everything moves at a lively pace, and there's never a dull moment on stage, even in transitional moments and bridging scenes.  Musical Director Randy Moore capably leads four other musicians and never once drowns out the singers.  Danny Harrington's set is ostensibly a simplistic, child-like facade of an apartment row, but utilizes striking colors and odd angles (much like his recent set for Grease at Town Theatre) to make an attractive visual statement.  Performers frequently have to make rapid exits in time to appear as another character in an upstairs window, and I'm guessing the true extent of Harrington's design can only be appreciated from backstage, as everything seems to flow quite smoothly.   There's also a multi-media component, incorporating a tv-like screen that projects video clips (created by Aaron Johnson) and little visual lessons, in that same Sesame Street style.  The excellent puppet creations are by Lyon Hill (profiled in the cover story of the current issue of Jasper - The Word on Columbia Arts) and Karri Scollon, the result of a collaboration between Trustus and the Columbia Marionette Theatre.

Trustus of course is at a crossroads, with new leadership coming in, and the ever-present challenge to stay true to their mission (edgy shows from NY that might not be done elsewhere locally) while giving the audiences what they want (which by and large is light, frothy, silly musical comedies.)  Through some happy harmonic convergence, Avenue Q  manages to do both simultaneously.  The only caveats might be:  a) however adorable the puppets may be, and however appealing the performers, the humor and language is decidedly R-rated, so consider yourself forewarned, or titillated in advance, as the case may be; and  b) the score is quite catchy and eminently hummable, but no moreso (and no less) than any good Muppet Show song.  As above, coming-of-age stories are nothing new, and have been depicted musically as recently as March's Passing Strange, which was wildly popular among most artists, musicians and theatre folks I know. For me, however, Avenue Q  is the most entertaining production I've seen at Trustus in years, and certainly the best show I've seen locally since Victor/Victoria  at Workshop some 15 months ago.  Retelling  fundamental and timeless themes using a new, unexpected, yet also familiar story-telling technique is simply a stroke of genius, and you owe it to yourself to take a trip down to Avenue Q.

Avenue Q runs through Sat. July 21st; contact the Trustus box office at 803-254-9732 for ticket information.

~ August Krickel

(Photo credit - Bonnie Boiter-Jolley)

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 .

"Collecting" At Its Best?

Last week’s First Thursday exhibition at Tapp’s Arts Center featured artist and writer Alex Smith reading from Matt Bell’s moving chapbook “The Collectors,” a fictionalized true story about reclusive brothers Homer and Langley Collyer, whose deaths in their beyond-cluttered Manhattan brownstone in 1947 became apparent only after the stench of their remains wafted into neighboring spaces.

Though the reading was nearly an hour long, I sat riveted, alternately feeling horrified, mesmerized, enchanted, disgusted, melancholy, and, ultimately, thoughtful. If you didn’t catch Smith’s reading, you really missed out. And if you haven’t before heard the story of the ultra-hoarding Collyer brothers, you should read about it. Plenty has been published on the case. In addition to Bell’s manuscript, there’s Ghostly Men by Franz Lidz, and Homer and Langley: A Novel by E.L. Doctorow.

Able to get into the home only through an upstairs window, police literally had to bail thousands of pounds of debris for two hours before discovering the blind invalid Homer’s body. Although Langley’s decomposing body was only 10 feet away, it was not located until two weeks later due to the vast accumulation of junk, which Langley had navigated through bobby-trapped tunnels that are believed to have inadvertently collapsed on him, leading to his death. The paralyzed Homer, with his dead brother unable to care for him, dies several days later, slowly, of hunger and thirst.

All of New York City watched as officials, gagging from the stink, removed more than 130 tons of refuse stacked floor to ceiling from the filthy dwelling: items such as farm tools, musical instruments, newspapers, books, and magazines, old stacked furniture, weapons and ammunition, dressmaker mannequins, old medical equipment, a sewing machine, baby carriages, skeletons of small animals, and even a nearly intact Ford Model T. Newspapers at the time featured photos of the rubbish being set on the curb outside the notorious home.

Author Bell takes exquisite liberties in telling the Collyers’ sad story, artfully setting the scene and communicating what each of the brothers must have been thinking and feeling as their final hours unfolded:

Homer experiences the lack of guideposts, of landmarks, of bread crumbs. He knows his brother is dead or dying and that finding him will not change this, but even though he wants to turn around he’s not sure how. He tries to remember if he climbed the stairs or if he crawled upwards or if he is still on the first floor of the house, just twisted and turned inside it. He tries to remember the right and the left, the up and the down, the falls and the getting back up, but when he does the memories come all at once or else as just one static image of moving in the dark, like a claustrophobia of neurons. He wants to lie down upon on the floor, wants to stop this incessant, wasted movement.

He closes his eyes and leans against the piles. His breath comes long and ragged, whole rooms of air displaced by the straining bellows of his lungs. He smells the long dormant stench of his sweat and piss and shit, come shamefully alive now that’s he’s on the move again.

Somewhere beyond himself, he smells, if he sniffs hard enough, just a hint of his orange peels, the last of their crushed sweetness.

Homer opens his eyes, useless as they are, and points himself toward the wafting rot of his last thousand meals. He holds his robe closed with his right hand, reaches out into the darkness with his left. He puts one foot in front of the other, then smiles when he finally feels the rinds and tapped ash begin to squish between his toes.

He slips, and falls, and crashes into the tortured leather of his favorite chair. He pulls himself up. He sits himself down. He puts his heavy head into his hands.

Smith’s dark, dramatic reading was complemented by photographic slides from the 1947 excavation along with haunting music from William Christopher on keyboards and sound effects from Lucas Sams.

Tapp’s window displays featured artists who assembled various “collections” for public perusal. Among my favorites were Billy Guess’s Barbie-themed dolls and mannequins, Jorge Holman’s assortment of superhero action figures and iconography, and Jenny Maxwell’s collection of old hand-held fans from funerals. Perhaps best of the best, however, was Lyon Hill’s mind-blowing 3-D sketches arranged into a diorama of the Collyer residence accompanied by a looped animation film using dioramic images to dramatize scenes from the brothers’ desperate lives. These can be found in the inside foyer window at the Main Street-facing entrance to Tapp’s.

As the exhibition’s theme says, there is a “Fine Line Between Collecting and Hoarding.” I, too, am a “collector” of numerous odd items, including neckties, blazers, and books. So many books. But the collection I love the most is my art collection, which includes oil, acrylic, and watercolor paintings, sculptures, batiks, handmade ceramic platters and vessels, and mosaics by both local and non-local artists. I probably started collecting art because my father collected. I have paintings he purchased while our military family was stationed in Europe. I have a nearly 50-year-old California redwood tree trunk table my dad bought back in the 1970s. So much stuff, and I won’t part with any of it. Does that make me a collector … or a hoarder?

Many of my friends are artists. Some have neat, organized studios. Others work in complete disarray. I’ve found no rhyme or reason in the working spaces of creative people. More and more, found objects are material fodder for art. A great example of that is Kirkland Smith’s amazing portrait assemblages.

Among the many, many books in my personal “collection” is Southern Writers, published by USC Press in 1997. Page 49 presents a black-and-white photograph of the late James Dickey sitting at his desk surrounded by piles of books all around him, on the desk, the floor, the credenza. I could imagine him trying to peer over the great wall of books to greet a visitor. He had to know the photographer was coming to shoot the picture for the book that day. Was the result of his tidying up? It makes me curious. Was Dickey a book hoarder?

Well, anyway, I digress. And I apologize for the length of this blog entry. Writing can be a lot like “collecting.” Sometimes you just don’t know when to stop.

NOTE: The collectors/hoarders window exhibit is still up at Tapp’s for the next couple of weeks, so check it out. If you’d like to read The Collectors, you can download it for free in pdf at

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