Walking into Hidden Falls Regional Park during the final weekend of October meant finding yourself face-to-face with formally dressed ghouls.
They greeted you at the gates, guided you through the park and got you to the stage. And suddenly, you were met with fire, giant papier-mâché owls and ghostly butterflies on stilts.
The annual BareBones Puppets Halloween Extravaganza has brought thousands of people and hundreds of volunteers into the woods for 26 years to experience the spookiness of the season and remember loved ones who have passed.
“There’s just a kind of magic to it,” said staff artist Andrew Young. “The spectacle of it and vulnerability around it really stood out to me when I first saw it.”
The shows are completely original and extravaganza creators start from scratch each year. There’s no script or basis for how it’ll begin, so they leave it up to community members to decide.
“Sometimes it’s like, ‘Oh my God, how are we going to do this?’ But as we start to get into it, it kind of revitalizes a lot of people — especially the new people that come in,” said Peter Schulze, a member of BareBones’ board of directors.
BareBones holds public meetings in which they ask questions to determine the direction of the show. This year, they asked questions like, “What nourishes you?” or “How do we hold one another up?”
“There are a lot of challenges that so many people are facing internally and externally,” said Rah Diavola, co-director of the show. “We’re questioning ‘How do we keep up the struggle and hold one another up as people living on this planet in the midst of total ecological collapse?’”
Through the meetings, they decided that this year’s show, “And the fires will burn…,” will explore the relationships humans have with nature, focusing on dandelions as the featured symbol.
“We talked a lot about having the audience empathize with some aspect of nature that wasn’t an animal,” said co-director Angie Courchaine.
The dandelion was their symbol of resilience, and it stood strong in the show as the fires that represented destruction danced around it.
“When you blow the dandelion seeds to make a wish, the seeds are carried across the world,” Diavola said. “The winds and waters are carrying those wishes of hope for people.”
After settling on this storyline, the puppet-making process began. BareBones worked with puppeteers from Monkeybear’s Harmolodic Workshop to construct the dozens of puppets in the show.
“I took inspiration from artists who were part of BareBones of previous years,” said Ty Chapman, one of the puppeteers in the show. “There’s quite a few people in this community who have been around for years, and we’re getting guidance from them to create this year’s puppets.”
The puppets are made of bamboo, paper and other materials that are purchased at hardware stores, according to Chapman. Some of the puppets took months, like the ghost owl that appears in the middle of the show.
“Especially in this communal building space, I think there’s a lot more opportunity for hands on creating and playing with the puppets to see how they work,” said Chapman.
“And the fires will burn…” is almost devoid of dialogue to let the audience interpret it personally. Some of the scenes include a haunted tunnel, ghouls called “the fates” and a moment in which audience members call the names of those they’ve lost, all of which is in an effort to celebrate everything that has been and everything that will come.
“It’s absolutely an honor to work with so many dedicated artists and performers that do this, not because it’s their job, but because it’s their inspiration and their passion,” Diavola said.
What: The 26th Annual BareBones Puppets Halloween Extravaganza
When: 7 p.m., Oct. 25-26 and 31 and Nov. 1-2
Where: Hidden Falls Regional Park North Gate, 1305 S. Mississippi Blvd., St Paul
Cost: Free, but $10-20 suggested donation