DUMBO — On Wednesday evening, five of the Great Small Works puppetry company had one of their final run-throughs for an upcoming toy theater show in Dumbo.
A hand waddled a checkbook sized cut-out of Bradley Manning across the small stage. They perfected the flapping and position of their paper butterflies. And they found that euphonic middle tone for their chant.
“Hosannah. Praise the Fords and the Rockefellers. Hosannah. To the buyers and the sellers,” they droned in unison.
The group was two days away from the kick off of their 10th International Toy Theater Festival, a nine day showcase of a Victorian form of entertainment that’ll include both small performances and exhibits in Dumbo’s St. Ann’s Warehouse.
Toy theater is distinct from other forms of puppetry in that the cast is usually flat, everything including the mini-theater is usually made of paper, and motivated audiences can recreate shows they like at home.
And everything is small. One man will perform an entire show made from and the size of matchboxes.
Some of the festival's exhibits and shows will use ornate paper theaters—proscenia—that look like shrunken opera houses in a more traditional interpretation of the 19th century form of home entertainment.
But Great Small Works's toy theater incorporates projections three dimensional characters to tell contemporary stories in a modern albeit tinier way.
“Calling it ‘toy theater makes it misunderstood,” said Trudi Cohen, of Great Small Works. “It’s not really for kids.”
While the festival will have some family-friendly fare like Vrooom! about a spider’s family vacation inside a vacuum cleaner, many of other shows are more mature.
Along with Great Small Works's WikiLeaks show, a Puerto Rican company will put on a show about foreclosures in Boston and another from New Hampshire will re-tell a brutal 19th century murder.
Most of the festival’s performances will take place on St. Ann’s main stage, but behind that, crews built a labyrinth of colorful drapes to house exhibits and smaller, more intimate shows with limited seating.
The exhibition will feature theaters the size of a shoebox, a flea circus, and even one theater build in a top hat, all unified in their smallness.
"The smallness does something to intimacy," said Jenny Romaine, of Great Small Works. "When everything is very small, it becomes incredibly powerful."