Village People Help the World Go Round

Last weekend some friends and I went to see Of Wings and Feet, the latest show by Saxapahaw’s Paperhand Puppet Intervention at the Forest Theater in Chapel Hill. Since 1998, Paperhand’s founders and directors, Jan Burger and Donovan Zimmerman, have been making and mixing many art forms including giant puppets into spectacular shows to inspire people and promote social change, and their 2017 summer show has all of their mission’s trademark passion, artistry, and fun.

Though I had read about Paperhand’s shows and heard rave reviews for years, I did not go to one of their shows until last weekend. I mention this because I think this is one of the whole messages that these amazing creators and performers convey: Come, see, sing, clap, think, do; experience this amazing creation we know as art; claim your place as a part of the whole Earth; express this vitality of living together. We can put off things, choices, ignore ideas, dreams, feelings, but they are still within us. If we stop and think, breathe, let the world show itself (beyond the tweets, as important and potent as they might be; beyond the bombardment of images, sounds, streams, what we call “demands” of life), what do we hear, see, think, feel? How and what are we creating together?

When Jan Burger and Donovan Zimmerman came up with the name, they have said they imagined a giant paper hand coming out of the clouds and tapping someone on the head, saying, Wake up! Zimmerman has said people have come to him after a show and said, Thank you for speaking the language of dreams. Others wait for more of a story-line. He has a question for them: what do you feel?

We humans live story-lines, but we know we also live and remember our lives in what seem like bits and pieces. Some of us love to have a story to follow, and others like to have the dream-time remade on stage. When we think about love, what powers us, isn’t it our emotions that help us relate the most clearly, purely, to living, and to loving each other and the planet that is our home? We can see ourselves on stage, in whatever amazing costume, and laugh and cry, clap and cheer. Story-lines emerge as we do.

Chris Carter is part of the Paperhand family, and for this show is also credited with “Engineering & Effects, and for “making the impossible possible.” Chris lives near Saxapahaw, uses wind and sun to make electricity, and always teaches me great tidbits about bugs, plants, and the river that just happen to come up in conversation.

I saw Chris Carter at the Store yesterday, as on many days, and told him that some friends and I had seen the show, and we loved it. I loved the spectacle of it, the artistry, the energy, the flow, the music, the voices, the message, and the crowd of all ages. He commented on the commitment of the project, with a full smile: it’s almost like a priesthood, Chris said…as we get together and rehearse, some are crying afterwards, we keep rehearsing, and as we practice together, we get past that phase and get it together. We’re very serious about what we’re doing, and it’s fun.

Remembering the raw power of compassion, the vitality of life, and that the energy of each of us is unique and also part of a community, a world, indivisible and beautiful when we see and feel it is no dream. It’s an organic symphony. In the show is a sign with the words The Cycle of Beginnings and Endings. The beginnings and endings we experience are profound, sometimes fleeting, sometimes lasting.  Of Wings and Feet shows how our consciousnesses emerge, grow, interact and constantly form the world that we experience.

After I experienced the Paperhand show, I heard Lorna Goodison, Jamaica’s Poet Laureate, on the BBC on writing a poem to commemorate Jamaica’s Emancipation Day. August 1, 1834 was the date that the end of slavery was proclaimed throughout the British Empire.  Goodison pointed out that all slaves were not freed until 1838, when the Apprenticeship system ended. Scenes and sounds from the Paperhand show came to my mind as I listened to the poet speak about the poetry in her and about the importance of hope and of remembering the suffering and system of plantation slavery.

Goodison spoke about her process of letting the poem reveal itself, in different voices. Here is the end of the last part, which in me was interwoven with the powerful message and mission of Paperhand Puppet Intervention’s creative commitment.

Some believe all the foolishness hard heart people say

bout freedom not for any and every one.

How some need to be


led with bridle and bit like mule and horse.

Not because some get let go first,

always remember this:


It matters not when you did leave.

Every single one of a we

come out a the cane piece.

Always remember this: These puppeteers are active celebrants. The Earth and all of life are ours to love. Celebrating and nurturing life is a fantastic commitment, not for the faint of heart and full of satisfaction. The winds blow, the seas rise, the circus rumbles through with tumbling acrobats and strong-men. Sad, strange and wonderful things appear. Each piece has its substance and illusion. We can forget to breathe, and be awakened. Our wonderful friends of the Saxapahaw Paperhand family bring it all to life in magical and memorable ways. Join those who have made the Paperhand shows an annual family adventure! Go, see Of Wings and Feet, and be sure to read the program, too. The combined talent will blow you away. We are grateful for them all.


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