Living-room fun from the 19th century

Retro Acting
By MEGAN GRUMBLING  |  June 20, 2013


TAKING FLIGHT Facto Teatro tells a tale of dreaming big.  

Home entertainment has come a long and dubious way — the next wave of gaming technologies may even be able sense how excited or bored we are, then instantly shapeshift to better please us. Do any Luddites out there long for ye older days of living-room fun? If so, the simple, do-it-yourself arts of Toy Theater — all the 19th-century rage in parlors across the US and Europe — may well be your balm. Three short productions employing the Toy Theater arts, from Berlin, Mexico City, and Brooklyn, will perform at Mayo Street Arts next week.

Toy Theater was originally a 19th-century innovation in playtime that arose from paper and printing technologies now accessible to a wider public. Using paper cutouts and panoramas on rolls, industrial-age children and families could create small-scale theater in their own homes. As we know, Toy Theater found itself kicked to the stoop in the age of TV and motion-sensing gaming controllers. But in the early 1990s, it experienced a revival in America in the hands of Great Small Works, a company of Toy Theater artists reacting to the Gulf War and critic Walter Benjamin's notion of a perpetual "state of emergency" in the modern world. The movement soon took hold with other groups internationally, and now touring festivals travel the world with Toy Theater stories spanning many lands and themes.

Next Thursday's show will feature three: Great Small Works will present the apocalyptic critique Sandy, Sandy, Sandy, an "oral history soap opera" about an underwater New York's sea spirits and sailors in the aftermath of a bad storm. From the Mexican company Facto Teatro comes Don Chico con alas, adapted from a story by the poet and novelist Eraclio Zepeda that tells of Don Pacífico Muñoz's dream to build wings in the mountains of Chiapas. Finally, the German duo Barbara Steinitz and Björn Kollin will perform Like Master, Like Dog, an out-of-the-suitcase show about outsiders who overcome the prejudices of their mainstream world, and find love. Perhaps these shows will move you bring paper to life in your own living room.

Toy Theater trio | at Mayo Street Arts, 10 Mayo St, Portland | June 27 @ 8 pm |

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