Reflections on morphing, molting & making magic at Link’s Hall.

“Chicago’s Charlie Vernon–a very modern midwesterner.” Photo by Stacy Nigrelli (1981)

I found my first puppet theater discarded on the street. I was in seventh grade, or so.

It was a long, flat piece of heavy wood with a rounded rectangle cut out of it. Perfect for marionettes, I imagined, somehow. I cut it apart, hinged the sides, propped it up to make a U-shape on the floor.

As it turned out, it was a Formica sink surround. My marionettes could hang low, my back bent, seen through the “fourth wall.” I mostly went it alone.

A curtain would be fashioned to move on a rod to make the proscenium. Christmas tree lights—one each, red, green, blue—could be used separately or in combination with dimmer switches to great effect. Most of the stories included daylight, darkness, fire, lightening. The usual stuff.

Marionettes are costly. So, in my go-to story, there were just Hansel & Gretel with one expression each and a nasty witch, whose mouth could open with a cackle. Not-existent Dad and step-Mom were off-stage, heard but not seen, bossing and bickering. This is the bread crumb story and you know how that goes. Climax with witch. Four to five voices, three sets of strings and hand painted sets on corrugated card board. Inevitably, perhaps, there was a tangled mess premiere performance in front of cocktail-infused neighbors, laughing.

Bruised, I was, but it thickened one’s skin.

I had graduated with a B.F.A. in Dance in 1976. “What will they think of next?” my grandmother seemed puzzled. “You really like the show business, don’t you?”

I guess you could say that.

At Link’s Hall, there was an actual breeze that drew in the fresh air, inspiration with it—surprising solutions. There was a wall to shadow with. Here, the imagination could fly.

Link’s Hall was an incubator. Bob managed the rentals. We painted the ceiling on ladders while inebriated. Bob did a ritual of dry-mopping the floor in striped lines: Grand Union or Carol Burnett?

Morphing: Incorporating.

Audiences required seats.

Were fixtures an over-reach?

An insult to empty?

The El train noise reinforced John Cage,

Michael Zerang scraped metal at sunrise

—it’s all music, isn’t it?

Chance operations, pedestrian activity.

Naked man comes in through window, strips off layers of shirts. Hides in closet.

Sock monkey’s video, Women’s Health, Hamburger King, Martial Arts.

Waiting in cramped corridor.

Moving morph: Quadruple the size.

Mission expanded. Cultural exchanges. Artist residencies. Tea ceremony.

Even puppets, for gosh sake.

House is open. Plenty of morphing ahead. Shows will go on.

—Charlie