Multimedia performance artist Dan Froot believes a large and complicated human story can be told effectively in a tiny “toy” theater. With puppets. Specifically, in his show “Who’s Hungry?” — which premiered in L.A. in June and comes to the FlynnSpace this week — Froot and longtime collaborator Dan Hurlin take on the titular topic through the real-life stories of three food-insecure individuals. Their stories were winnowed from a series of interviews conducted in West Hollywood, which Froot assures is a far cry from its “Tinsel Town” neighbor.
In advance of the show, Froot, 48, was in Vermont last week talking to local schoolchildren about poverty and hunger. He also spoke to Seven Days on the phone. “The stories are mostly adult, but one of them is pitched to younger people,” Froot explained. “I told [the students] about the person the play is based on, and about the process we went through to go from 10 one-hour interviews and a transcription process to make this autobiography. Then from that oral history to a puppet play.” Froot also asked the children to try to imagine how they would respond in the character’s situation. “The question was, knowing what they know about ‘Sandy,’ and that she wants to get an apartment and a job, what would they do if they were her?”
At the West Hollywood performance in June, adults got into the act, too — that is, after the show. The individuals the puppet characters are based on were in the audience — “I call them the community narrators; they were part of the process all along,” Froot said. “Afterwards you had this really rich, provocative conversation” between “folks who access social services” and the “subscription-level theatergoers . . . People felt really moved.”
The size of the so-called “toy theater” — comparable to a microwave, Froot explained — necessitates a small audience, which in turn makes for an exceedingly intimate experience for performers and audience alike. (It also makes it easy to say the show sold out, Froot joked.) “One of the things about puppetry,” he said, “is that the audience’s work is very different than it is watching a live actor portraying a character — it happens at a different level. With puppetry, you have to give life to the character, and you have to engage your imagination as an audience member.”
With three shows scheduled for the FlynnSpace this weekend, Vermont audiences will have the opportunity to sell out a show that is as entertaining as it is thought-provoking. It’s also an occasion to consider, as Froot puts it, “somebody’s life who you probably pass on the street every now and then.”
“Who’s Hungry?” by Dan Froot and Dan Hurlin, Thursday and Friday, October 2 & 3, at the FlynnSpace in Burlington, 8 p.m. A third show was just added on October 3 at 5:30 p.m. $25/21. Attendees are encouraged to bring food items for the Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf. Tickets, www.flynncenter.org or 863-5966.