I was born and raised in Cincinnati Not much to say, but it’s a good place to be from. Growing up was a blur of junk food, community swimming pools and getting chased by the local yahoos who didn’t appreciate my humor. Northside, my little suburb, was a mixed ghetto and made for a mixed childhood.
I attended the School for Creative and Performing Arts (SCPA) from the 4th thru the 12 grades. During that time I majored in art and minored in drama. SCPA offered me a routine of practicing with my creativity, a habit I have not been able to get rid of. After graduating high school with more “perfect attendance” awards than I care to recall, I went to the Art Academy of Cinti where I completed my “foundations” year. By far the most important thing that happened to me in Art school was meeting all of my friends there and making art (and trying to make sense of it all) until the sun came up over Eden park. By the end of that year all I could think was “gotta go” so I left and went to Mexico.
Sketchbook in hand and adventure on my mind I continued moving and shaking for the next 8 years. I stopped in NW Connecticut and tried out organic farming and communal living. Both were great for me but neither allowed me the time to create. My travels took me back and forth across this great land several times, as well as India, all of the Canadian provinces, Mexico again, Guatemala and Honduras. I lived in Williams, OR for 2 years where I began making masks. This led to the creation of “Sticks and Stones Theater”, my first attempt to create a puppet company. It didn’t really work out.
Then I found the jewel of North Carolina, my future wife Lea, and we landed in Saxapahaw, NC. I had actually been visiting there to take part in the Haw River Festival for many years. The community of incredible people I met through the festival was, and is, amazing. Many of the festival folks have been essential to our venture in puppetry. I also met my long time friend and collaborator Jan Burger here. We have been working together now for 7 years on Paperhand, which has been huge in more ways than one.
I live in Saxapahaw on 15 acres with my wife Lea, our dogs Bella and Lily, and our cat Gertrude.
Jan Burger is a puppeteer, print maker, and paper cutter. He walks on stilts, works as an activist, leads group games, is an amateur naturalist and a terrible accordionist.
With Donovan Zimmerman, Jan is the co-founder of Paperhand Puppet Intervention.
Together they sculpt, paint, sew, design, direct, write, perform, play music and generally do whatever else it takes to make a puppet show; from the initial inklings of an idea while walking in the woods, to the slopping of paper mache goop with numerous volunteers, to performing in sweat soaked masks, and finally schlepping the puppets away.
Jan has been an artist most of his life. His official schooling is limited to one year at the Massachusetts College of Art, and a year spent studying outdoors with the Audubon Expedition Institute.
He has worked with many other Puppet theaters around the country including:
Bread & Puppet Theater, Glover, VT
The Boston Puppeteers Cooperative, Boston, MA
Art and Revolution, San Francisco, CA
Shoddy Puppet Co., Philadelphia, PA
Spiral Q , Philadelphia, PA
A large part of the puppeteering experience Jan has gained over the years has come from taking part in large scale demonstrations. Dozens of puppeteers from around the country and abroad converge to create hundreds of puppets over a week or more. They are then used in giant pageants in the streets to protest the injustices of corrupt institutions while highlighting the beauty and diversity of people working together. These include:
The W.T.O. Seattle, WA (world trade organization)
The I.M.F. and World Bank in Washington, DC (international monetary fund)
The march to unionize the strawberry workers of California, S.F., CA
The F.T.A.A. Miami, FL (free trade area of the Americas)
The School of the Americas Fort Benning, GA