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Optical illusions
WordsAndPictures: Infertility issues on the puppet-theater stage
Reid Knuttila and Patti Gage with puppets George and Hester. Photo by Amy Waksmonski
by Tami Mohamed Brown

Optical illusions are often about what the eye is drawn to, instead of what the eye should be looking at. For couples struggling with infertility, this can be a meaningful and moving metaphor. As an artist and puppeteer, Anne Sawyer-Aitch can't help but think visually. With the hope of both entertaining and raising awareness on the topics of infertility and miscarriage, Magic Lantern Puppet Theater's "Children and Other Optical Illusions" explores the questions and sorrow of two couples on their quest to become parents.

Not a children's story
"We typically think of puppetry as a medium for children, but it's not limited to that," shared Tamara McCoy-Carroll, publicity contact for this adult-oriented production. "It's a real art. The puppets take away the face, essentially, from the storyteller and allow the story to become more relatable."

"There's a real couple, and a puppet couple," explained Sawyer-Aitch broadly of the production. "The two couples have parallel stories, with different endings." The show also features shadow animation, stop motion animation, live-feed video and an original score.

The script, written by Sawyer-Aitch, is semi-autobiographical, based on herself and her husband of nearly eight years, and their own journey to conceive and become parents.

"We sought medical expertise, had things tested many times, tried everything," Sawyer-Aitch recounted. "But the story is more than those nuts and bolts; it's about the spiritual, intellectual and emotional journey." It also incorporates others' real experiences and delves into global rituals surrounding infertility and miscarriage.

Members of the cast have also brought their own experiences of grief and loss to the production. "But there's also a lot of humor," Sawyer-Aitch said.

Begin again
Magic Lantern was awarded a Metropolitan Regional Arts Council (MRAC) Arts Activity grant to re-envision the production, which reopens in June. "When I asked the cast if they would redo it, everyone said yes right away," Sawyer-Aitch said.

As more than a remounting of the show-the first showing was in June 2010, at Dreamland Arts-Sawyer-Aitch is also working with local artist Zaraawar Mistry this time around. "I'm not trained as a director-I'm a puppeteer," Sawyer-Aitch explained, "Zaraawar runs Dreamland Arts, and saw the original production many times. Because I respect him as an artist, I asked him if he would serve as a mentor to me as we revisited the piece. His approach is asking a lot of questions-what makes sense to take, what to leave, what are you trying to communicate here."


After the first showing, Sawyer-Aitch and her spouse decided to try one more time. "We used all the resources and science that was available to us-but no dice," she reflects. She also reflected on the re-envisioning of the production, and shared a question that mentor Mistry asked her to consider-what does your gut tell you about why you are doing this show now?

Healing effort
"There had been so little in my control, I thought, at least I can do this," Sawyer-Aitch said. "It's been healing for me to do it-which may sound trite-but I can go through this process once more with a group of people who have supported me, and help other people who may be going through this and experience catharsis.

"In my mind, doing this play again in some ways will help, not really come to terms, but to be ready to think about what comes next. We need to have a breath," she explained.

"My husband and I have eight nieces and nephews between us, and a godchild. I teach in the schools-there are so many children's lives to be a part of. And maybe that's OK."

What: Magic Lantern Puppet Theater's "Children and Other Optical Illusions"
Where: Open Eye Figure Theatre, 506 E. 24th St., Minneapolis
When: June 9-11, 2011, 7:30 p.m.
Cost: $13 in advance, $15 at the door
Note: Recommended for adult audiences
Tickets: www.brownpapertickets.com/event/170576 or 612-874-6338
FFI: http://annesawyerpuppets.com

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