Duke Performances hosts local band with puppetry

LEFT TO RIGHT:  Daniel Michalak, James Philips, Stuart Robinson
LEFT TO RIGHT: Daniel Michalak, James Philips, Stuart Robinson

This weekend, Duke Performances will present “Love’s Infrastucture,” a show that combines local indie pop music, intense puppet work and dynamic live video feeds to create an innovative and unique experience.

“Love’s Infrastructure” is a collaboration between Torry Bend, a member of the theater studies faculty at Duke, and Durham-based Bombadil. Bend, in addition to being a faculty member at Duke, is a widely acclaimed puppeteer. Her original pieces have been praised by major publications for their depth and beauty.

“I think that many people in town are really blown away by the fullness of her vision,” said Aaron Greenwald, Director of Duke Performances. “I felt like there was potentially a conversation to be had between the music that Bombadil had made and Torry. We’ve sought ways to engage artists based locally in projects that are larger or more involved.”

Greenwald, though responsible for putting the two parties in contact and conceiving of the idea, allowed the two groups to have free reign in deciding how they would proceed with the project. When asked to describe the performance in a sentence, Greenwald laughed and eventually settled on “Bombadil and Tory Bend make an indie band puppet opera.”

“Tory contacted me towards the end of last summer about doing this project,” explained Jon Haas, video designer for the show. According to Haas, Bend envisioned a way to innovatively combine puppets and live film in her performance. Thus, the concept for “Love’s Infrastructure” was realized.

The show features two portable cameras that capture various environments, which are then projected and moved around on two monitors that the audience can see. A puppet will then be acting in front of the background monitor, and that will also be filmed. Haas sees theater and live video as the most appropriate medium for this type of story.

“I think it’s the difference between seeing a play and seeing a film. In a film, you have a lot more control over the way you want to shape and tell that story, but you have no control over the people who are watching and reacting to it. With theater and live performance, the performance itself can react and adjust to what the audience gives it,” he said.

The live aspect of this performance also appeals to trio Bombadil. The band's Daniel Michalak emphasized that the plot is easier to understand when seen.

“[Bend] took a character of ours, Angeline,” Michalak explained. “She’s this lady who works at a tollbooth...Kind of quiet and shy, but artsy and weird. She works in this tollbooth and she meets this guy who comes to her tollbooth every day.”

Just as this project is a departure for Bombadil, it is also a change of pace for Bend.

“My work in the past has been very small scale so a lot of the puppetry has been quite tiny,” Bend said. “If we integrated video into [the show], it was a way to continue to work in small scale but also show it to a lot of people.”

The relationship between music, video, and stories is built into the very core of the show.

“In a way, it was sort of a no-brainer. As you are creating visuals for music, the assumption is always music video,” Bend said. By playing with this medium and working in Bend’s story and puppetry, “Love’s Infrastructure” became the live, indie pop puppet opera that it is now.

This show is part of a larger push by Duke Performances to continue to integrate town and gown by bringing collaborations and commissioned pieces to the community.

“[Durham has] become a great place for artists and younger people,” Michalak said. By utilizing this nurturing community, the cast and crew behind “Love’s Infrastructure” hope to draw community members from both Duke and Durham.

“I think it is part of our identity as an organization that we can conceive of commissions and help to produce new work. That’s one of the four or five things that I think are most important and help differentiate Duke Performances from other folks in town and our peers in the university world,” said Greenwald.

Haas and Bend believe there is a good possibility for a future tour. “I think it definitely could happen. It would take a bit more work to hone it down to something that is manageable for a tour,” said Haas. Bend seems hopeful as well. “I’m not throwing anything away, I’ll say that. That’s the only thing that’s been decided.”

“Love’s Infrastructure” will be playing at the PSI Theatre at Durham Arts Council from Friday, Jan. 24 through Sunday, Jan. 26. Tickets are selling fast, with three of four already sold out. For more information, visit


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