Anna Fitzgerald, 31, likes to tell stories, but she doesn’t need paper and pen; she uses two pieces of cloth, a ball and several cast members who are good with their hands.
Fitzgerald is a puppeteer and director of “Reverse Cascade,” an upcoming show at the Creative Alliance at the Patterson on Feb. 18. The Baltimore native has been interested in theater arts since high school.
“I like to say [puppeteering] is using objects to tell a story,” said Fitzgerald. “Sometimes [the] object looks like the object, and sometimes the object is created to look like a creature.”
The performance, named after a common juggling trick, is based on the true story of Judy Finelli, a world-class juggler and performer whose career was shaken when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
“Judy was instrumental in the new circus movement, where things like Cirque du Soleil came from,” said Fitzgerald, who studied with Finelli at the Clown Conservatory in San Francisco. “All of a sudden, she started dropping [juggling] clubs and couldn’t figure out [why].”
Finelli wasn’t diagnosed until her 30s and eventually lost the use of her arms and legs. Fitzgerald decided to tell Finelli’s story through puppetry. She began the project while pursuing her graduate degree in puppet arts at the University of Connecticut.
“The fact that there is no dialogue really adds to the piece,” said Moira Horowitz, one of Fitzgerald’s five cast members. “It allows people to take away from it what they [will], and it makes it a more personal experience.”
Fitzgerald added that the piece will be performed internationally for the first time in Izmir, Turkey, home to the International Puppet Days Festival. With no dependence upon dialogue, Fitzgerald can cross language barriers while telling Finelli’s story.
Horowitz, 31, grew up in Pennsylvania and attended Goucher College. She met Fitzgerald through an online request for people interested in puppetry. Although she was already involved in theater arts, puppetry was new to her, and she wanted to experiment.
“I like the idea of bringing life into objects that are not what they appear to be,” said Horowitz.
Sarah Nolen, 29, another member of Fitzgerald’s cast, echoed Horowitz’s sentiment about bringing objects to life. For her, the appeal of puppetry is about performing without being in the spotlight.
“[Puppeteers] are a very humble bunch,” said Nolen. “We all share a sense of empathy and community with each other because we know the show isn’t about us.”
Horowitz joked that the puppetry community can be very “manipulative and controlling.”
Nolen, who is from Texas, became interested in puppetry at an early age and filmed her first puppet shows because performing in person intimidated her. She leans toward filmmaking and puppetry because they allow her to tell a story without being the center of attention.
“It’s very interesting to think about [how] people view puppetry,” said Nolen. “Because it’s always a surprise that it is not just for kids anymore.”
Horowitz added, “[Puppetry is] an art form that has been done for thousands of years. I think most people don’t realize that it is just another form of theater.
at Creative Alliance at the Patterson
3134 Eastern Ave. Baltimore
Feb. 18 at 8 p.m.
$15, $12 for members and $3 at the door
For more information, call 410-276-1651 or visit creativealliance.org/events/2015/reverse-cascade