Rough House

Puppetry: Into the Uncanny Valley

Into the Uncanny Valley is a lyrical tragedy in the spirit of Isaac Asimov and Philip K. Dick told through puppetry, music, and dance. The story focuses on Alana, a young woman who attempts to resurrect her sister Majel’s memories by implanting them into an android replica. The Android of Majel indeed comes to life, but as a robotic infant with records of human memories recorded by rote, with neither human impulses nor human experience. As Android Majel matures, she begins to assert her own identity as a sentient robot while having the uncanny yet false resemblance to the woman after whom she is modeled. Alana is faced with the responsibility of having created a living creature that she cannot tolerate and perhaps even fears.

The show will have human actors performing alongside life-sized hand puppets directly manipulated by visible puppeteers. There are two puppets- the Android Majel and Puppytron. The Android will be constructed of a jointed neoprene cast whose body will only have enough material to passably fill out human clothes — her joints, wires, and other mechanical components will be in view peeking out from her skin. Puppytron, played by a hand puppet, is a cybernetic puppy that has the appearance of techno/frankensteined lifelike bulldog puppy.

Central to the story is the fact that the Android inherits Majel’s muscle memories — that is, Majel was a dancer, and while the Android is not adept at nuanced human communication or facial expression, it finds expression through dance. At first, the Android merely repeats the moves Majel had once done, but as it evolves, the Android creates its own mode of dance movement that more accurately represents its robot consciousness.


About the Company

Rough House is an interdisciplinary puppet and object-based theater company based in Chicago. It is built on the belief that theater should be wild, beautiful, brutal and always sincere.

While the empathetic nature and imaginative possibilities of puppetry enable the company to relate stories in a way that human actors never could, Rough House embraces visible human players on stage rather than hide them behind mask or curtain.  After all, a puppet without a performer is a little more than an inert object. This visibly intimate interaction symbolizes the fight for the enduring humanity that resides within the analog and the low-fi amidst a world of ubiquitous digitization. In utilizing found and recycled objects, the company seeks to bring new life to the old artifacts that society is quick to dispose of and eager to forget. Its work strives to balance the Elegant with the Rough.

Rough House was founded by Max Wirt, Shelley Geiszler, and Mike Oleon. It began as an illegal underground theater space in Logan Square. After the storefront was devastatingly flooded, Rough House shifted to focus exclusively on Object Theater. As a young company, Rough House headlined the 2011 National Puppetry Festival with Ichthyodyssey: a Fish Puppet Rock Opera.Rough House’s second show, Murder Ballads,  performed to sold-out crowds in Open Eye Figure Theater’s Toy Theater After Dark Festival in Minneapolis. Murder Ballads has performed around Chicago including Abbiefest, The Hideout, and Orchestra Hall in Logan Square.

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