Torry Bend’s New Toy-Theater Piece, “The Paper Hat Game,” Features Videos by Raquel Salvatella de Prada

Torry R. Bend will present a new and improved version of her September 2011 toy-theater creation, The Paper Hat Game, with video design by her fellow Duke University faculty member Raquel Salvatella de Prada, on Oct. 18-21 and 24-28 and Nov. 1-3 at Manbites Dog Theater in Durham as part of Manbites Dog’s critically acclaimed Other Voices Series of productions by guest artists and companies.

In her news release for the show, Torry Bend writes, “The Paper Hat Game tells the story of [a] notorious prankster [called] the ‘Paper Hat Guy‘ through the language of toy theater and projection. The hero of this visual kaleidoscope has a simple game, handing out paper hats on the subway with the intention of bringing a bit of childlike joy to daily commuters. But even heroes fall on hard times; and despite the Paper Hat Guy’s daily attempt to brighten the city, the city isn’t always able to reciprocate.”

SPECIAL TICKET OFFER: To buy up to four advance tickets for any Oct. 18-21 performance for just $5 each, find the code hidden in this online version of the show’s poster:

On its website, Manbites Dog Theater asks: “Can you fit an entire city in a theater? How about inside a paper hat? First presented for a limited run at Duke in [the Fall of] 2011, The Paper Hat Game uses dreamlike video, gritty soundscapes, and live puppetry to create a mesmerizing journey into the soul of a city.”

“I was inspired by the true story of my friend Scotty Iseri, the inventor of the ‘Paper Hat Game,’ and the things that happened to him around the time his game became popular,” reveals Torry Bend, who is an assistant professor of the practice of Theater Studies at Duke University.

She adds, “Scotty’s work and process brought up a lot of interesting ideas, and showed me how you can find both the magical and the mundane in any given moment of living in a city….

“From the first workshops through the developmental run at Duke last fall,” reports Torry Bend, “there’s been a clarification of narrative and a greater focus on how video interacts with the puppetry. We’ve explored how the projections and live action blend and create a dreamlike quality, which has become more important in the show as we’ve continued to develop it. We’ve also created space for dramatic scenes that offer more tension and give the audience more time with specific puppets.”

Bend says, “The ‘Paper Hat Guy’ has the lead role as the single ‘articulated’ puppet, but the city itself is a central character in the story. The energy and density of the city becomes essential to how the Paper Hat Guy moves through the world. The narrative itself follows Scotty [Iseri]’s enchantment with the city, his subsequent disenchantment, and then his acceptance and understanding of what it means to be part of a greater urban community.”

"The Paper Hat Game" is a toy-theater creation
“The Paper Hat Game” is a toy-theater creation

In addition to The Paper Hat Game’s creator and director Torry Bend and video designer Raquel Salvatella de Prada, the show’s creative team includes producer Tim Scales, lighting designer Jeanette Yew, assistant lighting designer Rebecca S. Buck, sound designer Colbert S. Davis, and stage manager Joe Keilholz. Performers include Drina Dunlap, Jess Jones, Monet Marshall, and Evan Mitchell.

“Pretty much everything in the project is constructed out of newspaper and foam core: basic, familiar materials that ideally create a sense of density,” explains Paper Hat Game creator and director Torry Bend. “The newspaper not only has a familiar texture and feel, but it is also the record of the people. Because of that, it represents the population of the city even if I don’t directly create this population on stage with puppets.”

She adds, “The video [by Duke University assistant professor of the practice of Visual and Media Arts Raquel Salvatella de Prada] is intended to be a counterpoint of the physical representation of objects. The video uses real backgrounds, places, and people, and then blends them with the very representative and aesthetically constructed city, so there is a tension between the realism of the puppet in front of you and the realism of actual places and spaces you may recognize in the video….

“Lighting for puppetry is a very specific business,” claims Torry Bend, “and shows often underestimate how much power lighting can have. The lighting in our show treats the puppets in a very theatrical manner that heightens the focus and helps the audience fall deeper into the spell of the show.”

Bend confesses, “The importance of the minutiae is both what draws me to puppetry and also what drives me crazy. In order to create the density and the texture of the city, and to create physical representations of space and place as primary storytellers, it is essential to include a great deal of detail and specificity. That means hours of building and fine-tuning, and that can become exhausting but also — in the end — extremely rewarding.

The Paper Hat Game is the littlest show you’ll ever see, but it also includes more individual sets than most Broadway musicals. They’re all just very, very small. This gives a sense of extreme grandeur, packed into a tiny space. It also means that the audience is small, creating an intimate and private experience.”

That smallness allows Torry Bend and cohorts to extend a very special invitation to Triangle theatergoers: “After each performance, the audience will be invited to walk backstage and explore how the show was created.”

SECOND OPINION: Oct. 17th Durham, NC Independent Weekly mini-preview by Chris Vitiello:; and Sept. 8, 2011 Durham, NC Herald-Sun preview by Cliff Bellamy: (Note: You must register to read this article.)

Torry Bend presents THE PAPER HAT GAME at 8:15 p.m. Oct. 18-20, 3:15 p.m. Oct. 21, 8:15 p.m. Oct. 24-26, 3:15 and 8:15 p.m. Oct. 27, 3:15 p.m. Oct. 27, 8:15 p.m. Nov. 1 and 2, and 3:15 and 8:15 p.m. Nov. 3 at Manbites Dog Theater, 703 Foster St., Durham, North Carolina 27701.

TICKETS: $12 Wednesday and Thursday and $17 Friday, except $2 Student Rush Tickets (sold one hour before show) and $2 discounts for seniors 62+ and active-duty military personnel. (NOTE: To buy up to four advance tickets for any Oct. 18-21 performance for just $5 each, find the code hidden in the poster here:

BOX OFFICE: 919-682-3343 or


VIDEO PREVIEW (by Raquel Salvatella de Prada):





The Paper Hat Game (game): (official web page).

Scotty Iseri: (official website).

The Paper Hat Game (play): (official website).

Torry R. Bend: (official website) and (Duke University faculty bio).

Raquel Salvatella de Prada: (official website) and (Duke University faculty bio).

Creative Team/Puppeteers: (official web page).


Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This preview is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.

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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).