Image courtesy Open Eye Figure Theatre
Artistic inspiration can come from many places. For Michael Sommers, the spark of Open Eye Figure Theatre's latest piece came from the dogs in the building, and the toys they would chew up.
"I started making hand puppets out of them. There was this rabbit that was wonderful. They had turned it inside out, and I started thinking of Alice in Wonderland," he says.
The eventual result of those thoughts is A Hole, which invites the audience to take an Alice-like journey through, and outside of, Open Eye. It follows a similar path as last year's Refreshments, where a series of scenes were played out, interspersed with food and drink.
Considering the impact food and drink have on Alice in Lewis Carroll's story, it's not surprising that they'd come up in this reinterpretation. What you won't find is much of the original story. "I did research. Read the books and read Lewis Carroll's letters," Sommers says, but as work continued "the Alice in Wonderland stuff receded and other stuff took over -- about going down the rabbit hole and the different meanings of that."
Part of this is the pared-down style of the storytelling. Each scene is presented almost as a tableau, with slight movements from Sommers and the other puppeteers. "I'm looking at distillation. What is the simplest economic gesture possible?" he says.
"There is a pile of puppets downstairs I built for this show that found their way into the show and then moved out. I took another box of stuff for this last night downstairs," he adds.
That has continued through rehearsals. "Last night, I started cutting more and more to see what is the essence," Sommers says.
And it wasn't just the dog-chewed toys that ended up as inspiration. "I was helping my mother, and I found a doll her great-grandmother had given her," Sommers says, noting that the German-made doll has become an essential part of the storytelling.
Each scene takes the audience deeper into Open Eye, until they are lead outside for a bit of mid-show refreshment (carrots, not surprisingly, are on the menu). This moment doesn't include any scenes, though a six-voice choir singing songs inspired by Alice in Wonderland will provide entertainment.
"We'll have 30 people around one table. It will be like the mad hatter tea party," Sommers says. "It will be really compacted, but it will just be this little plate of food. We're not trying to force any event on them."
Sommers is trying for a steady, slower pace to the show. "You will have plenty of time to look about and wonder," he says. "Dramaturgically, it's definitely not a play. It's an event and we're not going to have it all connect."
IF YOU GO
Open Eye Figure Theatre
506 E. 24th St., Minneapolis.
8 p.m. Saturday through September 30 (no late seating).
For information, call 612.874.6338 or visit online