Neverland Ranch – Brooklyn (exhibition)

The Adventures of Michael Jackson & The Animals of Neverland Ranch, 2004
The Adventures of Michael Jackson & The Animals of Neverland Ranch, 2004

Puppets, props, and the set I designed and built for The Adventures of Michael Jackson and the Animals of Neverland Ranch were on display as part of Great Small Works’ Temporary Toy Theatre Museum at St. Ann’s Warehouse in the DUMBO neighborhood of Brooklyn. The Adventures of Michael Jackson and the Animals of Neverland Ranch was a table-top short-form puppetry piece highlighted a reclusive pop-star’s whimsical abuse of the animals in his private zoo amidst his troubling relationships with children. The Temporary Toy Theater Museum ran from June 10th-19th, 2005.

I adapted Neverland Ranch from a section of Michael Jackson Was My Lover, a questionably sourced, pulp, tell-all about Jackson’s relationship with a teenage boy written by former Hard Copy reporter, Victor M. Guitierrez. After the book’s publication, Guitierrez was successfully sued by Jackson for slander.  In reading Michael Jackson Was My Lover and following Jackson, I became fascinated by the cosmology of celebrities storylines and how they are constructed through our collective myth-making.

The excerpt I adapted chronicled Jackson’s alleged substandard care of his zoo animals, including an incident where he threw stones at his pet lion – Kimba. In another  incident,  he ordered security guards to burry a giraffe that died from overexposure. The book also alleged sexual transgressions with chimpanzees. The excerpt concluded with a trip to Disneyland with  Jackson’s child-friend.

I created Neverland Ranch in the fall of 2004 for Lymphomania at the Gamm Theatre, a variety evening of vaudeville, and live music to benefit artist, Jen Swain who at the time was battling lymphatic cancer. I went on to present Neverland Ranch at Perishable Theater as part of Blood From A Turnip, Rhode Island’s only late night puppetry salon, and then again at the McCormick Family Theater for Performance Studies International: Becoming Uncomfortable (PSI), a conference hosted by Brown University. Assisting with puppetry were Abby Saunders (at the Gamm and Perishable) and Vanessa Gilbert (at PSI).

Great Small Works Temporary Toy Theater Museum

From the program:

Great Small Works is a collective of six theater artists who produce outdoor spectacles with scores of volunteers, indoor miniature shows with paper and objects, variety cabarets with food and music, puppet parades and street pageants, created with a wide circle of veteran associates and first-time volunteers. On any scale, Great Small Works productions renew, cultivate, and strengthen the spirits of their audience by reinventing ancient, popular theater techniques as models for participating in modern-day public life…

…Why Toy Theater?
Using flat, paper cut-out figures and miniature scenery, toy theater (also known as “paper theater” and “juvenile drama”) originated with 19th century advances in printing and engraving. The original toy theaters of Europe were complete dramas modeled on stage hits of the day, do-it-yourself home entertainment kits containing scripts, characters, and scenery between the covers of a printed book, available from a specialty shop like those of Pollock, Webb, or Skelt in London, Schreiber in Germany, Jacobsen in Denmark, or even Scott and McLoughlin in New York City. While a few of these printing houses still exist to server a network of collectors and enthusiasts, the hand-decorated paper and cardboard proscenium stage has been replaced by a succession of other boxes that transmit dances, battle scenes, high drama, and the news of the day into the home.

From a Great Small Works flyer:

See the amazing Temporary Toy Theater Museum!
Mounted throughout the Warehouse, the finest examples of historical and contemporary toy theaters, representing nearly 100 artists and collectors. Curated and designed by Alessandra Nichols.