Weather you believe

Barebones Productions twists ancient prophecy to modern problems.

Niels Strandskov

At the end of October the veil between the world we see and that which we do not see becomes gossamer. Barebones Productions, a local puppetry collective, has for the past 10 years taken this opportunity to honor the dead and give the living something to chew on.

The annual puppetry pageant, sometimes referred to as an “extravaganza,” is an opportunity for Twin Citians to set aside the mundane world for a moment, and imagine a different set of rules for reality. The pageant uses puppets (sized small to humongous) masks and music to create a different kind of space, where a clear-cut narrative and a strong grounding in material reality are superfluous, even hindering. The pageant rents out various local parks, so the chill October air, crackly leaves and occasional precipitation also play a role in the production.

This year’s pageant is entitled “Soothsayer: A radical faery tale.” The storyline, which is somewhat more complex than in years past, interweaves the historical figure Thomas the Rhymer, a 13th century poet, a 17th century Scottish border ballad based on his life, and some political and social notions from our own time.

Thomas is known to folklore for going away to the land of the faeries with the Faerie Queen, and returning with the ability (or curse) of always speaking the truth. Barebones has refigured this character as a modern-day weatherman, who prognosticates for a populace at the edge of doom.

Like previous Barebones stories, Thomas’ epic is told mostly through the agency of the extraordinary puppets the collective creates. Douglas Saldana, a five-year veteran of the collective who participated in both building this year’s puppets and designing the story, said audiences should not expect an unambiguous narrative structure. Much of the beauty of the Barebones experience, he maintained, is found in the varying interpretations possible with a story that lacks explicit narratives.

Barebones shows do not, however, lack excitement. In the dark, bundled against the chill, the eldritch spirits that inhabit the looming puppets can make even the most skeptical wonder about the wisdom of taking that dark path back to the car.

The shadows grow longer; it’s time to honor their power. It will be some time until the sun returns, and we can once again pretend that what we see is all that’s out there.