Rude, Crude and Coming Unglued

Twin Cities production company 3 Legged Race gave puppeteer Moe Flaherty complete artistic freedom, six months to develop their

Amy Danielson

Moe Flaherty was in New York City on Sept. 11. She lucidly recalls the horrific sight of a giant cloud of dust and debris as it hurled around a building. She describes in a phone interview that she captured this moment on Super-8 film and will integrate it into “Buy This!” her segment of the upcoming 3 Legged Race production Hand Driven 4, a showcase for new puppetry and object manipulation theater. Although the scene of demolition in New York partially inspired Flaherty’s upcoming performance, cleaning out a deceased man’s apartment cluttered with mail order catalogs and unopened packages stirred her more frantically. She realized then that her boyfriend’s brother was a lonely man who probably purchased things to fill a void in his life. Also, as a camera assistant in the television commercial industry, she has become a bit jaded knowing the ins and outs of the industry, or as she puts it, “knowing that the ice cream is really just mashed potatoes.” With her multiple experiences and various ways of thinking about the issues surrounding advertising and American culture, she explores human loneliness and everyone’s desire to be heard in a series of short vignettes that she created herself, from the costumes and props to the narratives and performances.

The producers of 3 Legged Race call themselves a “servant producer” and, as their name suggests, work collaboratively with artists, providing resources to develop a production. By giving artists freedom to create and take risks without worrying about what is socially desirable, they encourage some of the most fascinating theater available (which often incorporates dance, circus arts and puppetry). Each year they commission new work which challenges our expectations of what local theater should be. Furthermore, the Hand Driven series has been a vehicle for the company to stage new puppetry and object theater by eclectic groups of up-and-coming artists over the last three years. This, their fourth Hand Driven, emerges with five original works and a new theme: rude. These are works in-process. Staples and glue are still visible. 3 Legged Race wants to celebrate the raw, so they have limited their direction with the artists.

Flaherty was not sure where to go with her project at first, since 3 Legged Race gave her and the other artists complete artistic freedom, six months to develop their pieces and one guideline: Keep it rude. Yet, as Flaherty eagerly adds at the end of an interview, “They have been exceptionally supportive along the way.”

Her section of the show, in 30-second clips, explores what happens when people try to sell stuff to people that do not want to be sold to, but want to be heard. “America’s so big and so disconnected.” Flaherty noticed that all commercials halted on Sept. 11. “Everyone stopped to listen to the people who were making so much noise.” She believes people often do horrible things to get our attention when they are not being acknowledged. In one of her vignettes, Flaherty portrays a woman wearing a bizarre hat. She has transformed an old spinning tie rack into a hat by turning it upside-down and attaching objects to it (a red door, a white bird, a devil and other sparkly things). She is the bright idea woman who says things like, “I’m freshy fresh.” Her invisible dog starts acting out because she disregards him. Flaherty has rigged a purse with a bladder full of water that runs down a tube attached to her dog leash. This allows her invisible dog to pee and lap up water on stage.

More characters comprise Flaherty’s comment on advertising politics. In a sketch that pokes fun at Ebay, she enters the stage in the dark accompanied by monastic chanting, “Ebay … Ebay … Ebay …” Her monologue follows, “This is why I don’t leave … I will be nobody’s proxy … I will anxiously await your plain brown wrapper.” A package arrives. “I won the shiny shiny!” she exclaims. “You love me and you don’t even know me … I want to lick the world.” She holds a small box wrapped in brown paper, lit up from the inside with fiber optics.

Another vignette shows Flaherty dressed as a door-to-door salesman clad in a burlap jacket. She walks with a little red door which she dangles near the floor and kicks as she strolls across the stage. She goes to a small house to try to sell something to the people inside. A smaller puppet show inside the house shows glossy cut-out people flipping through television channels. Flaherty’s big face attempts to come through the tiny door, but the puppets bar the door with their television. In the end, foam bubbles cascade through the windows to show that the salesman managed to force something into the house.

Other characters in the show are more cynical, suspect of all advertising. One believes that everyone on television is evil. He talks back to his television, and spins a small television attached to a tether. Another character exclaims, “I’m torn between my right to privacy and my need to be needed.”

flaherty and the other artists involved in Hand Driven use objects for something other than the intended purpose. A snow machine sprays foam in “Buy This!” Karen Haselmann, videographer and celebrated inventor of Jet Pack Shadow Theater, does her shadow puppet magic within a 6-foot-tall puppet head. Colleen Ludwig and Bruce Charlesworth combine theater and puppetry with technology to dissect domestic routines in a funny and alarming piece. Tory Vazquez manipulates objects such as tape recorders to recreate her cartoon-inspired character’s past. Additionally, Stacy Dawson and Jenny Stern maneuver objects while dancing to create a sensation of being in a haunted forest.

Sadly, Hand Driven will only play for one weekend, but Saturday night offers a special delight: Open Mic Puppet Party will follow the show. Bedlam Theater’s Maren Ward hosts the extravaganza of anything-goes puppetry. Whoever shows up to perform will be awarded a moment on stage (those who arrive early have a better chance of showing off their talent). Since no one knows who will show up to perform, and some may even improvise on the spot, this may be the evening’s rudest event.


Hand Driven 4 plays Oct. 3-6 at Minneapolis Theater Garage, 612-332-3200.