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Open Eye Figure Theatre begins 10th year of Driveway Tour

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Open Eye Figure Theatre is celebrating the 10th anniversary of its ever-popular Driveway Tour this summer. The program, which was created by founders Sue Haas and Michael Sommers, has evolved over the years, but continues its mission to provide free puppet shows hosted throughout different neighborhoods.   [jump]

After 9/11, Haas and Sommers went down to Mexico with their kids, traveling to different villages with a suitcase show. "We would arrive as strangers," Haas recalls, "and suddenly we would have 100 people." When they returned to the United States, they realized how little of that kind of culture Minnesota has in terms of open, public community arts.  

The post-9/11 atmosphere had created a situation where people weren't going out as much to theater. "People stayed buckled down at home," Haas says. The driveway tour was very accessible and fun, and went right into the communities where people lived. The program works where a host -- often a family or individual who has a back yard -- invites their neighbors and friends to see the show. 

Over the years the driveway tour has served different needs, from getting people out of their houses and into their communities, to providing a much needed free and accessible event when the economy fell apart. "The fact that we were offering this for free -- that was a huge deal," Haas says. "People have been so appreciative of it."  

In the last couple years, Haas says, she and Sommers have decided that they didn't necessarily want to do the shows all the time. So they created a kind of training program where they bring young artists in and teach them in what has become a "puppetry boot camp." Participants put a show together in about a month. The program gives Open Eye a way to teach people who are interested in puppet theater. In the last few years there have been one or two young artists who have stayed with the company afterwards.  

This year, Open Eye took the apprenticeship a step further by offering two young artists an opportunity to create their own show. Liz Schachterle and Andy Kraft, who have both worked with Open Eye in previous years, have developed their own concept for a piece that they developed and built with the support of Open Eye, including help making the puppets, workshops, and sound design by Haas. Of Schachterle, Haas says: "This has been a really good year for her. She's never had the time or the support to really dig in and develop things full out."  

The new show, called The Amazing Cow Boat, is about a little boy named Charlie who takes a bath and ends up taking his tub toys on an adventure. His cow turns into a boat, and he encounters pirates, outer space, and all sorts of imaginative things.  

The Amazing Cow Boat will be performed along with The Adventures of Juan Bobo, written and directed by Michael Sommers. It's been quite a few years since Open Eye has produced the play, and it will be featuring Haas and Sommers's daughter Zoe Haas as one of the performers. "It's good training for her," Haas says. Zoe will also be working on next fall's show.

There are currently 78 Driveway Tour shows scheduled. In addition, during the tour, Open Eye will be presenting Millie and Tillie, which is also free but is presented in Open Eye's space. See here for a complete schedule.