Paperhand Puppet Intervention’s Latest Puppet Pageant, “The Painted Bird,” Opens on Aug. 8th


Saxapahaw, NC-based Paperhand Puppet Intervention will present The Painted Bird, its 15th Annual Puppet Pageant for All Ages, at 7 p.m. Friday-Sunday from Aug. 8th to Sept. 7th in the Forest Theatre on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus and at 7 p.m. on Sept. 12-14 at the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh. A preshow concert, starting at 6:20 p.m., will precede each performances of The Painted Bird

“We’ve been creating shows now for 15 years here in the Triangle,” says Paperhand Puppet Intervention co-founder Donovan Zimmerman, “and our inspiration generally comes from the rub between the beauty in the world and its degradation by elements in the human condition. The friction there pushes us to speak out and strive toward something more connected, more sustainable, more just, and more harmonious.”

He adds, “All of our feedback comes from in house. We have never tried workshopping something out, though it would likely benefit us in some ways. Our process is condensed into second months of building giant puppets, masks, sets, etc., while also rehearsing and writing the show. Our work is very extemporaneous in nature.”

"The Painted Bird" features a field creature band (photo courtesy Paperhand Puppet Intervention)
“The Painted Bird” features a field creature band (photo courtesy Paperhand Puppet Intervention)

Zimmerman says, “We have this year an old rat (semi-inspired by Nicodemus from The Secret of NIMH) being our narrator and story teller. He tells a version of Creation through the lens of Color coming into being. Starting with Black and White then on to yellow, blue, green etc., we illustrate the wild imaginings of the rat.

“As the colors mix more and more they create the many shades of brown which are the land,” says Zimmerman. “A host of brown creatures of forest and field such as rabbits, mice, and hedgehogs, inhabit this world we create and live in harmony as they harvest the spectrum of colors from the ground and celebrate. The tale continues with a warning of the spreading of a dull insipid gray that threatens to consume the vibrant colors.

“The gray is represented by the senses, eyes, ears, noses, mouths, and hands that form into larger faces. The story of the Painted Bird is the story of our hopes and dreams renewed. The phoenix-like bird is a symbol (and a giant six-person puppet) of the beauty and creativity, the wilderness and imagination that must continue to thrive for the creatures (including us of course) to survive,” says Donovan Zimmerman.

Producing a politically provocative puppet pageant is presents many challenges, says Donovan Zimmerman. He adds, “From the logistics of assembling a crew of interns, puppeteers, and musicians, to inventing the puppets themselves never having had anyone show us how, to getting 30 people to be doing and playing the right thing for any given moment on stage. All of these [challenges] we try to approach with a sense of adventure and fun though admittedly it only works out some; and I’d say, most of the time. It is hard work. Lots of sweat, a little blood, and some tears all get mixed in to the big crazy that is making a giant puppet show spectacle. We love it and it is absolutely worth the suffering.”


The Paperhand Puppet Intervention creative team for The Painted Bird includes playwright and director Donovan Zimmerman, assistant director Jan Burger, musical director Jonathan Henderson, technical director Chris Carter, set designers Donovan Zimmerman and Chris Carter, costume designers Katie Beth Moorehead and Sarah Marguier, sound designer Charles Jones, and stage manager Devon Currie. The Painted Bird also features original music by Jonathan Henderson, Gabriel Pelli, Leah Gibson, Duncan Will Ridenour, Austin McCall, and Donovan Zimmerman and choreography by Donovan Zimmerman, Jan Burger, Alicia Best, and Tommy Noonan.

Donovan Zimmerman says, “There are two big parts in the show with what I would call sets. One is a giant brown landscape made up of huge heads and hands that roll in from all over the stage and turn into said landscape. The second is a giant gray city scape that covers the stage and acts as a shadow theater for the near end of the show.”

Colorful fish are part of "The Painted Bird" (photo courtesy Paperhand Puppet Intervention)
Colorful fish are part of “The Painted Bird” (photo courtesy Paperhand Puppet Intervention)

SECOND OPINION: Aug. 1st Chapel Hill, NC photographic preview by S.P. Murray:; and July 21st Winston-Salem, NC 88.5 WFDD interview with Donovan Zimmerman, conducted by David Ford:

Paperhand Puppet Intervention presents THE PAINTED BIRD at 6:20 p.m. [preshow] and 7 p.m. [show] 8-10, 15-17, and 22-24, Aug. 29-Sept. 1, and Sept. 5-7 in the Forest Theatre, 1832 Country Club Rd., Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27514, on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus; and 6:20 p.m. [preshow] and 7 p.m. [show] Sept. 12-14 in the Museum Park Theater at the North Carolina Museum of Art, 2110 Blue Ridge Rd., Raleigh, North Carolina 27607.


Chapel Hill: Suggested donation: $12 ($8 for kids). NOTE: No one will be turned away for lack of funds.

Raleigh: $17 ($8.50 children 7-18 and $12 NCMA Members). NOTE: Admission is FREE for children 6 and under.


Chapel Hill: Tickets will be sold at the door.

Raleigh: 919-715-5923 or




Chapel Hill: (directions:

Raleigh: (directions:


Donovan Zimmerman (playwright and director): (Paperhand Puppet Intervention bio) and (Facebook page).


Robert W. McDowell has written articles for The News & Observer, The Raleigh Times, Spectator Magazine, CVNC, and Triangle Arts and Entertainment, all based in Raleigh. He edits and publishes two FREE weekly e-mail newsletters. Triangle Review provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of local performing-arts events. (Start your FREE subscription by e-mailing and typing SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.) McDowell also maintains a FREE list of movie sneak previews. (To subscribe, e-mail and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.)

By Robert W. McDowell

Robert W. McDowell is a Raleigh, NC-based freelance writer, editor, and critic. He has written theater, film, book, and music previews and reviews for The News & Observer, The Raleigh Times, Spectator Magazine, and Classical Voice of North Carolina, all based in Raleigh. In 1980-91, he covered business, industry, government, and education for (We the People of) North Carolina magazine, published monthly by N.C. Citizens for Business and Industry. In April 2001, McDowell started Robert's Reviews, a FREE weekly e-mail newsletter that provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of the performing arts in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina, which includes Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, and Carrboro. Triangle Review is the latest-and-greatest version of McDowell's original newsletter. (To start your FREE subscription, e-mail robertm748[at] and type SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.) From December 1980 until September 2017, McDowell served on the board of directors of The Cinema, Inc., a Raleigh-based nonprofit film society formed in 1966. He currently publishes a weekly list of FREE advance screenings of movies in the Triangle area. (To have your e-mail address added to this FREE list, e-mail robertm748[at] and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.) McDowell also co-edited and supervised the production of Jim Valvano's Guide to Great Eating (JTV Enterprises, 1984), a 224-page sports celebrity cookbook; and he served as a fact checker for Valvano: They Gave Me a Lifetime Contract, and Then They Declared Me Dead (Pocket Books, 1991).