ORLANDO – The Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival kicks off at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, May 16 at the Lowndes Shakespeare Center, and runs through May 29. This year the nearly three-week long festival will feature the largest line-up of shows in its history.
Now, think about this: Fringe has given audiences comedy, drama, music, dance, and magic. Just to liven things up, how about puppets, too?
Mind of a Snail, a shadow theatre duo from Vancouver, Canada, is coming to Orlando Fringe to perform “Caws & Effect,” a large-scale shadow theatre about a pair of wise-cracking crows.
Billed as a “large scale shadow theatre from a bird’s eye view,” where the crows are re-dreaming the world, “Caws & Effect” is “a modern fable that explores the unexpected consequences that arise after a crow plants a magical seed,” noted Chloé Ziner, who along with Jessica Gabriel makes up the Mind of a Snail duo.
“The story is told using handmade layered projections, puppetry, masks, and an original musical score,” Chloe noted. “All aspects of the show are created and performed by two artists: Mind of a Snail’s Chloe Ziner & Jessica Gabriel. Their large-scale shadow puppetry is quirky and beautiful, like an early animation performed live before your eyes.”
Mind of a Snail has been doing these puppetry shows since 2003, developing a multilayered style of visual storytelling using overhead projectors as their main light source.
Intrigued, Freeline Media decided to get the scoop from Chloe on what those crows will be up to.
Freeline Media: Crows — puppets — visual images in the background. That has Fringe written all over it.
Chloe Ziner: Yes! Our show “Caws & Effect” is a modern fable about crows. We tell the story using two overhead projectors to project layered, colorful images on a giant screen with an original musical soundtrack. We are puppeteers, but we are also in character as crows throughout the show – sometimes we are manipulating the shadow puppets and backgrounds, and other times we step into the projections and become part of the action. Because there are only two of us, part of the fun is watching us multi-tasking to create the spectacle.
FM: Fringe Festivals are great because the audiences are very open and looking for new theater experiences. I think people get excited about our show because it’s something different that they haven’t seen before. Many fringes have a lot of one person storytelling shows and local musicals, so it’s refreshing for audiences to see something unique with high production value, but that’s also created by hand where you see some of the process of how it’s being made in the moment.
FM: How did you conceive of telling your story through two crows?
Chloe: We’ve had people come up to us after our show and say they don’t usually like crows, but they loved our show, and now see them in a new way! Crows have a complex social structure and a large brain relative to their size, so in some ways, they are a lot like humans. There’s a huge number of crows in Vancouver, Canada where we live – we spent a lot of time studying their movement and habits while making the show. They are quite entertaining, and also very smart. We asked ourselves: if crows could shape their environment the way humans have, what kind of world would they dream up?
FM: Puppet theater is enormously popular. What are the challenges of doing it creatively and in an innovative way.
Chloe: I’m glad you say puppet theater is enormously popular! There are so many forms of puppetry, and I’m happy it’s being recognized more and more as an art form. When you say puppet theater, some people think of muppet-style puppets with silly voices, or black & white shadow puppets made with your hands onto a small screen. These are great, but it’s not what we do. What we do is more like hand-made animation performed live on a giant screen. My partner Jessica has a degree in painting and visual arts, and I’ve studied music for many years. We both have training in physical comedy and mask, so our work is a combination of all these art forms put together!
While performing at fringe festivals, one of the biggest challenges for us is the set-up and tear down. There are lots of shows programmed in the same venue, so usually each group only has 15 minutes before and after the show. We have many little pieces to keep track of and put in the right places, and we also have a big screen that needs to come up and down. That’s when we really sweat and move fast! We are always trying to push the complexity of our shows while still being able to perform within the limits of the fringe festival.
FM: Is this a G-rated show that kids will love, is it more geared strictly for adult audiences, or is it one kids can enjoy while adults pick up on those subtexts that sail over the little ones’ heads?
Chloe: Yes, the third option! We created this show for adults, but kids over 7 years old will also enjoy it. The show is mostly visual storytelling with music – there are no words spoken aloud in the show. There’s a bit of dialogue and wordplay that appears onscreen in cartoon-style word bubbles, so it helps to be able to read to understand the story.
FM: Tell us about your theater company in Canada and the kind of works you do.
Chloe: We’ve been developing our style of shadow theater for the last 13+ years and we’ve been making our living doing this for the last 7 years or so. Throughout the year we create and design shows, teach workshops and perform. We’ve toured across Canada multiple times, and this year we also had our first overseas tour. We performed Caws & Effect translated into Mandarin for audiences in Taiwan just last month, which was pretty exciting! This is our first time performing in Orlando, so that’s pretty exciting too!
“Caws & Effect” by Mind of a Snail will be performed at the Silver Venue on the following dates:
* Friday, May 19 at 10:30 p.m.
* Saturday, May 20 at 1 p.m.
* Sunday, May 21 at 6:45 p.m.
* Tuesday, May 23 at 8:45 p.m.
* Thursday, May 25 at 7:15 p.m.
* Saturday, May 27 at 1 p.m.
* Sunday, May 28 at 2:45 p.m.
For tickets visit Orlando Fringe.
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright and author of the book “Bloody Rabbit”. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com..