At Kyle Loven’s studio space in Belltown, the worktable is littered with ears—latex ears, which he’s been perfecting for his recent work, When You Point at the Moon. The spooky story is based on Chinese moon mythology that warns, “Don’t point at the moon, or the moon will cut your ears off.” Loven, a skilled puppeteer who uses film, transparency projections (seen at right) and live acting in his work, heard the phrase while performing in Taiwan. “I couldn’t get it out of my head,” he says.
Moon, presented at On the Boards last summer, features a boy (conveyed by a small puppet head and an articulated paper hand) who points at the moon (Loven, in a false nose and white face paint) and—spoiler alert—suffers the consequences.
“I’m generally drawn to the dark and mysterious, the unknown, the fantastical,” Loven says. As a kid in Minnesota, he was enchanted by twisted magic, including Grimms’ fairy tales and Jim Henson’s moodier puppet films, The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth (the latter of which “blew his fourth-grade mind”). “For me, there is an intriguing overlap between the use of puppets and the idea of magic,” he says. “As audience members, we suspend our disbelief to imagine that this thing before us is alive and moving on its own.”
In Loven’s able hands, inanimate objects leap to life. He has an uncanny knack for animating everything from hand puppets and marionettes (which he crafts) to teapots, paper cranes and envelopes. His pacing is sophisticated—slow and shadowy, increasing suspense and wonder. Loven, 27, attributes his sophisticated stagecraft to Open Eye Figure Theatre, the “mom-and-pop” puppet company in Minneapolis where he interned and worked after graduating from Augsburg College in 2006 with a degree in theater.
Uninterested in a straight puppet show (in which the puppeteer hides behind a set), Loven prefers the interaction between human and puppet, bringing himself into the action as a character. “I’m always trying to push the boundaries of the one-man show,” he says, “to create more dense imagery.” In his first show, My Dear Lewis (2009), he employed the clever trick of two false arms, while using his real ones to keep the action going. In Crandal’s Bag (2010), he played a magician who collects and converses with cast-off items.
Loven has only lived in Seattle since 2009, but has already received tremendous accolades—from adults. Though filled with puppets and funny voices, his shows are not for kids. (“That’s a challenge for me,” he says, laughing, “to make a family-friendly show.”) It’s the complexity of themes that’s a kid deterrent. Moon is about the loss of innocence, Crandal is about the psychic burdens of a public-service-oriented career, and Lewis is about looking back on a life lived and sorting through what was most important.
For Loven, what’s most important right now is completing his new work, Blink, which, at press time, was still in progress. But the puppets he’s crafting may include twin girls, a talking owl, a small, articulated gorilla hand he found at an estate sale, and “a motley group of people existing in different realities.” The theme is a compelling one for a one-man-show puppeteer: the importance of human interaction and what happens in its absence. As for what to expect, it’s best not to. Loven says, “I’m happiest when people come to my shows with an open mind.”