“Refugee puppetry and poetry in English and Español,” is how Paradox Teatro has described their shadow puppet show “Migraciones.” “In light of expanding border walls around the globe, ‘Migraciones’ follows the voyage of refugees as they travel through sand, water and shadows, in search of a new home.”
I saw the duo—Sofía Padilla from Mexico and Davey T. Steinman from the United States—perform “Migraciones” for the Bread and Puppet Theater company and friends at the troupe’s Papier-Mâché Cathedral in Glover, Vermont, one evening last week. The presentation represented the end of a tour that took Paradox Teatro to Minneapolis’s Open Eye Figure Theatre, Cincinnati’s Contemporary Arts Center, and, this month, to New York’s Puppet Fringe Festival and Worcester’s Sprinkler Factory.
“Migraciones” is a series of heartbreaking vignettes, presented as the impressions of a human-sized puppet-man of the refugees he sees through his camera. His “photos” are projected onto a screen for us in a spectacular bit of magic. Padilla and Steinman use a pair of what look like overhead projectors for a version of shadow puppetry. In fact, the devices are light boxes with video cameras mounted above, and the footage run through a laptop. This allows them to project their performance live plus added special effects.
But the main “special effect” is Padilla’s dazzling live drawing in baking soda on top of the light boxes. As she sketches with her fingers in the sandy material, a man appears on the screen, crossing a desert speckled with a few cacti, under a blazing sun. Then Padilla draws in a border wall. The feeling is as if it’s being erected right before our eyes. She draws people crowded in the back of a truck, the face of a crying woman above the desert, people packed into a boat amidst wild seas that overwhelm them.
Steinman plays spare trumpet, harmonica and mandolin (I think) to accompany Padilla’s spoken lines, which echo Warsan Shire’s poem “Home.” That text has become a rallying cry for refugee and migrant supporters, with lines like “no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck / feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled / means something more than journey” and “no one puts their children in a boat / unless the water is safer than the land.”
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