Preview: THE PAPER HAT GAME returns, to Manbites Dog Theater

THE PAPER HAT GAME plays deliciously with scale in several media. Photo: Eric Monson.

This Thursday, October 18, will see the opening of Torry Bend’s fascinating toy theater/puppetry piece, THE PAPER HAT GAME, at Manbites Dog Theater. Bend first produced the work last year in Duke’s Shaefer Lab Theater (she is Assistant Professor of the Practice in the Duke Department of Theater Studies), and I was wowed by the fabulous integration of multiple techniques and media, not to mention the touching story about a guy who makes newspaper hats and smiles on the Chicago El.

I spoke with Bend in the theater on the 15th (where, of course, it appeared that an opening in 3 days would not be possible). Dressed in patched jeans, a T-shirt featuring an image of a wheelbarrow, and a lace scarf, she sat calmly amid the paper hats, computers, controllers, projectors, cables, lighting gear, partially-made puppets, puppet-sized backdrops and assorted models made for the video component of the piece, which will be on display in Manbites’ lobby throughout the show’s run, to discuss the show’s changes.

Full-sized humans working puppets in front of artist-made city model in THE PAPER HAT GAME. Photo: Eric Monson.

“The voice-overs are softer, less theatrical,” she said, “with a more natural, documentary style.” Because she is hoping to tour the work, she has cut the number of puppeteers from 7 to 5 (still hard to see how they all fit behind that small proscenium/screen), so she had to cut a few scenes. She’s re-worked the 3-D street grid with buildings (“in my obsessive-compulsive way,” she groaned) to give it greater detail, more shadows, when it appears in the background. The piece will undoubtedly retain its great charm, but will be different enough that even those lucky enough to have seen it before will want to consider going again.

“The biggest problem with this form of work is that it limits the audience size,” Bend told me. The show will run for three weekends, but only 52 seats will be available for each performance. Get tickets at

A darker moment in THE PAPER HAT GAME, which has an unexpected twist. Photo: Eric Monson.

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