Touring bands are a dime a dozen. When you’re a working musician, it’s expected that at some point you’ll go out and hit the dusty trail. For performance artists, that’s a different story entirely. Nobody expects a shadow puppeteer and animator to take the show on the road.
“It’s kind of similar,” Rae Anna Hample (a.k.a. Rae Red) says, about what it’s like to be a touring performance artist. “You’re making connections through community; it just happens to be through theater or puppet communities versus the music scene.”
Rae Red has been touring out of her homebase in Marfa, Texas, over the last few years, putting on multimedia shows across the country. A puppeteer, animator, visual artist, and musician, she mixes her different passions and skills together to put on one-of-a-kind shows. She’s not so much a touring solo performer as she is a one-woman vaudeville extravaganza.
Red will be passing through Phoenix on Monday, July 2, for her Color Wheel: A Shadow Projection Show tour. We talked with her on the phone about her playful animation style, her background in puppetry, and how she got into beekeeping as a hobby.
I was watching some of the animations on your website and one of the pieces, "Swarm", mesmerized me. How did that piece come about?
That one was for my first solo tour, a couple summers ago. I’m a beekeeper, and so that show is all about bees, and doing what I could to bring awareness around helping bees and their pollinators. I like to incorporate animations into all of my performances. For that one, I interviewed my friend Wilbourn Elliot, who’s an old beekeeper — a multigenerational beekeeper — down here in Texas. He’s 93 now — he recently fell down and broke his hip. I wanted to instill his wisdom into the piece through that animation because it was so amazing talking to him. His knowledge of beekeeping wasn’t textbook: It was drawn from experience. A lot of that knowledge he learned from his mom, who was a single mom on the border of Texas in the early 1900s. Keeping bees so she didn’t have to be in society as much, and find a husband, and all of that.
Okay, so I have to ask: How did you get into beekeeping?
I started awhile ago. I’m just a hobby beekeeper; I don’t make money from selling honey or anything. I had gone on a really long bike tour, and I was teaching yoga along the way, and farming. And the idea was to go on this long tour and then start a farm in New Mexico. At the end, we did that — we started the farm, but it didn’t last long. But the thing that did last for me was the beekeeping aspect.
We got bees for the farm. It’s a trippy story, actually, because I knew nothing about bees. I had gotten my first beekeeping book, and I was just learning about them, and gaining a tiny inkling about the magic about them. I was biking home and I literally biked right into a swarm of bees — because they swarm in the spring. I biked straight into this tornado of bees that swarmed and circled around me. So that was our first hive. We ended up capturing them in an Igloo cooler and took them to the farm.
So you literally biked into your first hive?!
Yeah, I stumbled right into it. And I didn’t have any equipment. So we were like, ‘What do we do to protect ourselves?’ We got these ski masks and mittens — that was the only protection we could think of. But luckily, the bees were super-docile.
Your animation has a super-tactile element to it. Looking at pieces like “The Bottom Of The Tub,” with the paper waves and the random household objects mixed in there — it reminds me a lot of the paper animations Lawrence Jordan does. I was wondering what drew you to the materials that you work.
A lot of my art is made out of crepe paper. For doing the shadow puppetry … that’s my medium. And it lends itself easily to animation. It’s really easy to manipulate paper in that very, very slow methodology. It’s such a meditative practice. Performing can be so chaotic — all the adrenaline that goes with being in front of people. It’s nice having another part of my process that’s more internal, and meditative, and just me, alone, in a room. It’s a nice balance.
What’s your background as a puppeteer? Is it something you received formal training in, or did you pick it up on your own?
I have no training at all. I’m actually moving to the East Coast after I finish this tour to go to theater school. I studied art my whole life, and at the end of college I was making these big installations that were viewer-activated puppets. After I graduated, I went on this big puppet tour on bike and it got me into exploring my own take on puppetry and performance.
What can folks expect from your new Color Wheel show?
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It’s going to be a mixture of performance, shadows, overhead projections, animations, videos, and a little bit of singing.
When I make performances, I take a very broad subject like beekeeping or water. These broad universal things that affect all of us — like how bees pollinate our food. Color is the same way in that it affects our perception. So it’s all about taking these gigantic concepts, and narrowing them down through my brain.
With Color Wheel, I’m going a bit more abstract. It’s a lot of thoughts on perception, and the way that a lot of what we take to be so concrete and absolute is not — it’s just a product of our brains. That filter that we create and see reality through.
Rae Red's Color Wheel: A Shadow Projection Show will be happening on Monday, July 2, at Wasted Ink Zine Distro. The show starts at 8 p.m. Visit wizd-az.com.