Interview: Bart Buch of Music Animated featuring Dreamland Faces

Starting tomorrow, February 23rd,  you can catch the second installment of Music Animated, at Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theater. The Cedar is proud to be the fiscal sponsor of this concert series in which puppeteers and live musicians come together for a unique performance, bringing music to life through masks, puppets, and shadows. This time around, the series features the Minnesota based duo Dreamland Faces, accompanied by puppeteers Seth Eberle, Masanari Kawahara, Angela Olson, and Laurie Witzkowski. The series tells the story of South Minneapolis, tying the past to the present through stories of places long since changed, but not forgotten. In the essay below, director Bart Buch delves deeper into the significance of Music Animated, explaining his inspiration for the work, where it went from there, and what he hopes audiences take away from the experience.

Music inspires my creative process as a puppeteer and maker of puppet theatre. When I start working on new artistic projects, I listen to music to help envision the work. Also, because I use little to no spoken word in my puppet performances, the music acts as a main language of the work, giving mood and meaning to the visual images and puppet movement to convey the poetry or narrative I am working with.

Music Animated is further exploring this interactive relationship of music and puppetry. Usually when I work with a musician or musical group, they accompany the puppet scenes. Think musicians accompanying a silent film. With Music Animated, the idea is reversed. The puppeteers and I are trying to accompany the music with visual imagery. Think Fantasia, or some music videos. So the puppeteers and I are listening more deeply to the music with the project, to give the rhythm a visual voice, match a visual image or movement with a specific instrument, or match the right “narratives” with the right tunes. Songs with upbeat moods are matched with upbeat dramatic scenes. For example, the drumbeat is matched up with a bird’s wings flapping, or a specific puppet comes in each time the piano melody enters the musical composition. I am calling these performances “puppet concerts.”

That was the ideal we were aiming at. To be totally honest, the process drifted a bit from the ideal when it came to creating the puppet content and I am excited about this drift. Besides directing puppet performances, I also direct a program at In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre (HOBT) called The Phillips Project. In the Phillips Project, HOBT artists work-year round with youth throughout the neighborhood. This work naturally informs my own art.

Every winter, we study neighborhood history and create a fun, interactive event called The Phillips History Museum. I was inspired to dive into neighborhood history for this upcoming round of Music Animated also. For this new puppet concert, we are working with the musical group Dreamland Faces, who embody echoes of history in their music. They regularly accompany silent films with compositions using accordion, piano, cornet, cello and musical saw. I’ve loved them since I saw them play the corner stage of the old Viking Bar a long time ago.

We are using a few overhead projectors, large movie screens made of sheets, a scrim and some special lighting effects. We will highlight four historical places, people, and things of our South Minneapolis and Philips neighborhood. They are stories not many people know; about an amusement park, a forest, a snow-cone dealer, and a movie theatre. To tell the stories, we use masks, hand puppets, many shadows, shadow subtitles, oregano, slat, flat toy theatre, tree branches, saws, and a cranky, which is a hand-cranked moving picture scroll.

There has been a lot of talk around the concept/trend of place-making in recent years. HOBT has been doing this for decades and it seems now people are finally catching on. But also an alternative term, place-discovering, seems more appropriate, or at least seems like an important stage of being grounded and working in a place. With this installment of Music Animated in February, we are definitely doing a lot of discovering that opens us up to who and what has been here before. Through this artistic process, I am re-learning the need to remember what came before us to inform where we are going. We need all the past tool, knowledge and stories we can get right now as we head into a very uncertain future.

Bottom line for folks to know about Music Animated – this puppet concert is going to be really pretty in sound, movement and image. Bonus – you might learn something about local history too!

Bart Buch – Director of Music Animated


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Music Animated featuring Dreamland Faces will be running Thursday February 23rd through Saturday February 25th, with shows beginning at 7:30pm and a special all ages matinee at 2:00pm Saturday. The show runs for 70 minutes with no intermission. You can read more about the event and pick up tickets at In the Heart of the Beast’s page here.

Brenna Tierney – Marketing Intern