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Through puppetry, a vivid tale of migrant hardships

Sofía Padilla and Davey Steinman, artistic co-directors of Paradox Teatro, with their puppet, Ruben.Max Haynes/Paradox Teatro

The experience of refugees transcends words, both figuratively and literally, in Paradox Teatro’s “Migraciones / Migrations.”

The show is being presented Friday through Sunday at Puppet Showplace Theater in Brookline as part of its Puppets at Night series, which tackles more serious topics than their daytime shows and is intended for adults and older children (“Migraciones / Migrations” is recommended for ages 10 and up). Created by Paradox’s artistic co-directors Sofía Padilla and Davey Steinman, “Migraciones / Migrations” explores the physical and emotional hardships that migrants from all backgrounds face trying to reach the United States, utilizing life-size and shadow puppetry, sand drawings, video projections, and live music.


The production follows a camera-carrying puppet named Ruben as he documents a few of the countless stories from refugees who migrated to the United States, using the sand drawings and screen projection to transcribe their experiences and broadcast them to a wider audience.

“Our idea is that this puppet was a photojournalist that was following these migrants’ stories,” Padilla said. ‘We’re following his camera lens around the world.”

After a 16-show run in Mexico City, the production arrives in the Northeast for a dozen shows, starting in Massachusetts. “We’re very excited now to bring [the tour] back to the States,” Padilla said. “This tour was supposed to happen in 2020, and it’s finally happening all together at the same time.”

The dominant aspect of the show is Padilla’s sandscapes, which she creates live onstage with baking soda. “Sand can be bouncy, so it’s good for transitions and some other kinds of effects,” Padilla said. “But for the detailed faces and little things that I do, I prefer the weight of the baking soda.”

Projected onscreen, her drawings unfold before the audience in real time, changing dynamically from one moment to the next. Steinman performs the accompanying music, switching between the electric guitar, ukulele, and trumpet.


“The sand drawings have a certain rhythm that is slow and kind of meditative,” Padilla said. “We really like how the sand drawings are like a transformative, constant transition of images.”

Visual elements are truly the dominant focus of this 45-minute production; the show’s dialogue is minimal, popping up in sparse patches in a mix of English and Spanish.

“We always do everything in both languages,” Padilla said. “It’s very important for us to communicate with more people across languages, and that’s why we also use few words, because we want it to be as universal as possible.”

Though the performance is inspired by numerous stories of migration from around the world, it also has a deeply personal connection for the two artists. Padilla and Steinman met at Bread and Puppet Theater in Glover, Vt., and are now married, splitting their time between Mexico City and Minneapolis. The show’s inspiration came, in part, “from our fear of the increasing tensions between our countries, the border tensions that just were not getting better, and we were afraid — we are still afraid sometimes — that we might not be able to see each other again,” Padilla said. “It’s also a show that we wanted to make in honor of all these people that have to leave their homes forever.”

In addition to their three performances at the Puppet Showplace Theater, Padilla and Steinman are also planning to host a workshop for aspiring puppeteers, as is their tradition at each venue in which they perform.


“It’s very important for us to feel connected to the community,” Padilla said. “In our workshop, we’re going to show a little bit of the technology that we use, like the cameras and the light tables, and also show how we build the shadow puppets. They are also going to [use] baking soda to try some sand drawings of their own.”


Created by Paradox Teatro. At Puppet Showplace Theater, 32 Station St., Brookline. Aug. 12-13 at 8 p.m., Aug. 14 at 2 p.m. Tickets: $20, sliding scale.

Maya Homan can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @MayaHoman.