Big news, Olympia: There’s a show opening July 3. Yes, an actual live performance that will happen right before the audience’s eyes without help from a screen of any kind.
String and Shadow Puppet Theater, which has been performing socially distanced pop-up shows since April, is taking another giant leap into the entertainment void with its first drive-in puppet show, “The Paper Moon.” In fact, “Moon” might well be the first drive-in puppet show anywhere.
The show, suitable for all ages, tells the story of the moon’s fall from the sky and its attempts to find a way back. The “Paper Moon” is actually papier-mâché. Four feet in diameter and rising about 12 feet in the air on a long pole, the moon is just one of several giant puppets in the show, said Emily McHugh, String and Shadow’s chief puppet maker.
The performances are set to happen at sundown Fridays and Saturdays and at 7 p.m. Sundays in Isthmus Park. As at a traditional drive-in movie, there’ll be audio available via an FM transmitter, and in a modern twist, the soundtrack for “Moon” will also be available for streaming on a cell phone, which will be particularly handy for those who choose to bring their own chairs and sit at a social distance instead of staying in a vehicle. The pre-recorded soundtrack features narration by storyteller and theatrical impresario Elizabeth Lord along with old-time music to give the feel of a 1940s radio broadcast.
McHugh, who grew up in Olympia, graduated from The Evergreen State College in 2014 and studied puppetry with Paperhand Puppet Intervention in Saxapahaw, N.C., came up with the idea of a drive-in puppet show a few months ago while brainstorming with Donald Palardy III, her partner in life and puppetry.
“It was right when things were starting to shut down,” McHugh said. “We’ve been through this whole period trying to figure out what we can do to continue to perform in the Covid landscape. It occurred to me that at a drive-in movie theater, people can stay socially distant and that maybe we could find a way to do that with a puppet show.”
McHugh and Palardy have been taking a 10-minute pop-up puppet show through neighborhoods and to homes and even elementary school graduations. They portray space lizards who came to earth to study old-time music in the short shows, available by donation.
In between about 100 performances of the traveling show, which includes old-time tunes and jokes written on cardboard speech bubbles, the couple has been working on “Moon,” with McHugh designing the show’s fanciful creatures and Palardy spearheading the technical elements for what they envision as a show that could be put on anywhere.
They both serve as puppeteers, too, along with Luz Gaxiola and Dylan Clifthorne. When they began planning the puppet show while sheltering in place, McHugh and Palardy thought they would have to enlist their housemates for performances. That’s also why they had Lord record the narration in advance.
“This was all really hatched from the heart of the quarantine.” McHugh said.
The loosening of restrictions aimed at containing the spread of the coronavirus have made putting on the show a little bit easier, allowing for some audience members to bring their own chairs.
There will be a limited number of socially distanced spots for chairs and of parking spots that will have a good view of the action, McHugh said.
“Space is limited,” she said. “Keeping the crowd small and safe is our first priority.”
The Paper Moon: A Drive-In Puppet Show
Sundown July 3, 4, 10, 11, 17, 18, 24 and 25,
7 p.m. July 5, 12, 19 and 26
Isthmus Park, 529 Fourth Ave. W., Olympia
Free, with donations appreciated