By Alec Clayton
Update August 23, 2021: “Moss Covered Claws Live!” has been rescheduled to take place at 7 p.m. Sept 12. More details are below.
A one-of-a-kind literary and performance event is happening one night only in Lions Park in the Eastside Olympia nieghborhood.
Blue Cactus Press is set to present Olympia author Jonah Barrett and the String and Shadow Puppet Theater in “Moss Covered Claws Live!” — a reading and performance based on a fantasy story from Barrett’s book of short stories of the same name.
Barrett will narrate and serve as master of ceremonies, while local actors Mandy Ryle, Alice Rosewater and Austin Bennett portray characters from Barrett’s story “Boggy” from their book published by Blue Cactus Press.
The book is Barrett’s debut short story collection. It is filled with tales of anxiety-feeding demons, anti-fascists that travel dimensions, and the vengeful spirits of dead seabirds. Barrett mashes dreams and reality together in these ten macabre tales of speculative fiction. The fables offer a fresh, cheeky voice to Queer fiction and fantasy genres, delivered in this multiverse of forgotten dreams and broken promises.
String and Shadow is known for creating giant puppet shows, masks and shadow plays. As storytellers, String and Shadow blur the line between children’s stories and stories for adults. Olympians recently had the pleasure of seeing String and Shadow’s giant puppet pageant “Fauna Fantastique” at Lions Park.
Barret says, “‘Boggy’ is about two high school seniors who go camping in a bog for their last slumber party before going off to college. They encounter a giant prehistoric creature, and the experience unlocks traumatic memories for one of the girls.
“The story is based off a blackberry bog I grew up next to when I was a child,” Barrett says. “I was really into ‘mysterious beings’ back then (like the Loch Ness Monster and Bigfoot) and created my own cryptid, ‘Boggy.’ “
Boggy, says Barrett, was a fearsome, prehistoric lake monster who inhabited the bog on their parent’s farm. They described Boggy almost as an imaginary friend, but worse. “If you want to get really nerdy,” says Barrett, “it’s a tanystropheus.”
The titular monster will be brought to life by String and Shadow, consisting of Emily McHugh and Donald Palardy III, using a giant monster puppet nicknamed “Splashy.”
The one-night show will include a post-show Q&A with the author and actors, as well as a book sale where Blue Cactus Press owner Christina Butcher will be selling copies of “Moss Covered Claws” and other BCP books.
“I’m really jazzed to be doing this theater production of one of my stories,” Barrett says. “It’s a medium I don’t usually dabble in and it’s always fun to stretch the creative muscles.”
Barrett continues, “I always thought I’d have a reading event at a bookstore when this book came out, but we obviously couldn’t do that in these wacky times. Christina threw me a wonderful virtual reading back in March, and it was so heartwarming and lovely. This is kind of like a Part Two of that reading, but with an in-your-face element in the form of a giant creature puppet.”
Butcher says, “Blue Cactus Press has been itching to work with String & Shadow for ages. They put on the most incredible performances. So when Jonah mentioned they thought we could collaborate with the puppeteering troupe to bring ‘Boggy’ to the stage, I was over the moon with excitement.”
Barrett says, “I approached Emily and Donald wanting to do a show in the summer for ‘Moss Covered Claws.’ We went over the stories and decided ‘Boggy’ was the most plausible we could carry out. That story is secretly my favorite, so I’m glad it was the one we chose. There will be live actors involved, just playing regular ol’ humans, and one creature puppet.”
Moss Covered Claws: a reading and puppet show
7 p.m., Sunday, Sept 12
4224 Johnson Point Rd NE, Olympia
(A private, urban farm, please be respectful when parking and bring your own seating.)