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For master puppeteer Deborah Hunt, there was no other choice. In the direct aftermath of Hurricane Maria, the artist and performer was struggling to help not just others, but herself. She'd take her cell phone to the local hospital and, when the spot intermittently had power, she'd plug it in to charge and put a call out to her community of puppeteers across the United States.
"I would charge my iPhone and send out messages to different friends I knew with theatres, or who were organizers, to ask if they could schedule something for us," she says. "That's what happened in Asheville. It's kind of a miracle tour."
Hunt will be bringing her work, Tale 53; Snowhite, to Asheville's BeBe Theatre for performances on December 1-3. While the show is not suitable for children (its source materials are the very dark original "Snow White" tale recorded by the Brothers Grimm and its adaptation by Spanish author and illustrator Ana Juan), it's a striking work that combines music and "toy theatre," a miniature theatre popular in 19th-century Europe. The plot, according to the show description, follows "the life of a young woman who falls prey to a bloodthirsty stepmother, an hostile city, hustling dwarves, and a rapacious prince," filtered through a lens of feminist satire.
All of the theatrical components are painted or printed onto paper, and backdrops slide in and out or move on cranks. Another key element is live cello accompaniment from composer Shanti LaliTa. "She's an extraordinary cellist," says Hunt. "This is really a two-woman show."
The performance is also not language-dependent. There are no spoken words; rather, words and phrases are displayed on a flip board that can be written in any language. The show has already toured in Puerto Rico and Denmark, and will be presented at the Taller Internacional de Títeres de Matanzas en Cuba in 2018.
Photo: Tommy Bay
For Hunt, raising funds for herself through this tour will ultimately help her give back to the island. "What I'm doing is in combination with people who are already organizing in Puerto Rico," she explains. "If we go to perform in a remote place, we can take supplies for people. I also want to go to schools. A lot of schools are shutting down, or have already been shut down by the Education Department, so performing in schools or giving workshops is another way we can support community and community efforts."
Hunt connected with local puppeteer Keith Shubert (Toybox Theatre) to plan the Asheville performances. "He's so enthusiastic and has amazing energy," she says.
One silver lining of Maria has been Hunt's strengthening connections with the puppetry community. "I can't wait to get to Asheville!," she exclaims. "There are so many puppeteers in town. It's terrible that the circumstances are so tragic, but I'm happy I get to come and share this with people I've often only known on Facebook. We feel we're friends already. It's lovely."
Tale 53; Snowhite will be performed at the BeBe Theatre (20 Commerce St.) in downtown Asheville on Friday, December 1 (7 pm), Saturday, December 2 (7 & 9 p.m.), and Sunday, December 3 (7 p.m.). Tickets are $15 cash at the door.
Facebook event page here.