Puppets sing, play and wreak havoc on Atlanta stages

Tyrone, a bad puppet from the Alliance Theatre production “Hand to God,” decides it’s time to get a tattoo on his cloth arm from artist Jett Bryant. CONTRIBUTED

Puppets and bloodshed. Puppets and sex. Puppets and Mozart.”

Puppets are doing some strange things on Atlanta stages this fall, offering entertainments that are far removed from “Romper Room.”

The Atlanta Opera is staging a performance of "The Magic Flute" with a Chinese dragon, a flying bird and an 8-foot Queen of the Night.

The Center for Puppetry Arts is just finishing up a return of "The Ghastly Dreadfuls," a NSFW Grand Guignol-style spectacle with disembowelings and such (but all in good taste).

A doctor and his assistant attempt to bring the doctor’s daughter back to life in “A Horrific Experiment,” one of the more gruesome elements of “The Ghastly Dreadfuls” at the Center for Puppetry Arts. CONTRIBUTED BY CENTER FOR PUPPETRY ARTS

And the Alliance Theatre, in collaboration with Dad's Garage Theatre, is up to the kind of mischief that Dad's Garage is known for, with a production of "Hand to God" featuring an exorcism, bad language and puppets in flagrante delicto.

“Our promotional material very explicitly says don’t bring the kids,” said director Marc Masterson.

Here’s a quick look at what our foam and felt friends are up to.

‘Hand to God’

A 2015 Tony Award nominee, this regional theatrical hit is about “a puppet ministry that goes very, very wrong.”

While the Alliance undergoes extensive renovation at its home theater in the Woodruff Arts Center, the Alliance company brings this production to Dad's Garage Theatre in the Old Fourth Ward, where it opened Friday.

“These puppet characters take over. They do things that you don’t expect,” Masterson said. Does that include puppet sex? “I’m not answering that question,” he said. “By not answering that question, I’m answering that question.”

The actors don’t have extensive experience in puppetry, and so have had to catch up on this old skill. “I’m really pleased with the way that these actors have approached the challenge of doing this,” Masterson said, “and they’re having a lot of fun.”

Through Nov. 12. 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays. $52. Dad's Garage Theatre, 569 Ezzard St. SE, Atlanta. 404-733-4650, alliancetheatre.org‎.

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‘The Ghastly Dreadfuls’

Like "Hand to God" and "The Magic Flute," this annual spooky production by the Center for Puppetry Arts combines live actors and puppets. And like "Hand to God," some of these puppets are very bad individuals. Over the past two seasons, the grotesque element has been amped up. "Last year was the first time everything got drenched in blood," said Jason Hines, a puppet builder, who operates the zombie cat puppet named Catly Dreadful.

The show’s human actors also play instruments (Hines plays theremin), performing their music live on stage and serving as the backing band for the action.

“The Ghastlies have always had live music as part of the show,” Hines said. “One of the reasons we wanted to do the Ghastlies is we wanted to be in a band. We had to do this puppet show as an excuse to put the band together,” he joked.

Oct. 25-28. 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday. $18.25 (members) and $24.50 (nonmembers). Center for Puppetry Arts, 1404 Spring St. NW, Atlanta. 404-873-3391, www.puppet.org.

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Papageno from the Atlanta Opera’s new production of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” is surrounded by birds created in the work-room of the Center for Puppetry Arts.

‘The Magic Flute’

Mozart’s fantasy, though it includes a little mayhem of its own, is appropriate for all audiences, in this new cut-down production by the Atlanta Opera Studio. This 55-minute version was, in fact, created to be portable, so that it could be packed up and hauled to several Atlanta schools.

The puppets in the show, including hand puppets and a larger-than-life street puppet (operated by three puppeteers), were designed by the Center for Puppetry Arts under the guidance of artistic director Jon Ludwig.

“Every single one of my puppeteers are opera singers,” said director and stage manager Brenna Corner, who is the Atlanta Opera Studio artist-in-residence, and who retranslated this version of the opera from the German, with particular attention to preserving the libretto’s rhyme scheme.

Puppetry, she said, “is a whole new skill that they’ve never done, and they have to do this while they’re singing opera, like driving and doing your makeup and getting a pedicure all at once.”

The show has just finished at Smyrna Elementary School, and it will return to other schools later in the year. A production is planned for the Center for Puppetry Arts in January. www.atlantaopera.org.

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