Phillips West News

RELEASE: HOBT’s much anticipated THE STORY OF CROW BOY on stage, Feb 18 – 28


Created by Masanari Kawahara, Sandy Spieler, Steven Epp and Momoko Tanno
In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre
Feb 18 – Feb 28, 2016
1500 East Lake Street, Minneapolis, MN 55407
Tickets: $22/ $18/ $15
Box Office/Information: 612-721-2535 or

The Story of Crow Boy
asks what it means to be human amidst incredible brutality

HOBT’s latest collaboration is on stage Feb 18 – 28, 2016

“A timely story of how experience can inspire art, and how art can transform the world”
– Steve Epp, Core Collaborator

(MINNEAPOLIS; 1/22/2016) –In a time when the world is challenged by cultural suspicion and ethnic distrust, In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre (HOBT) joins this important conversation with a newly devised performance piece by some of the Twin Cities leading visual and performance artists.

On stage Feb 18 – Feb 28, 2016 at HOBT’s Avalon Theater.

THE STORY OF CROW BOY explores the intriguing life story of Taro Yashima who wrestled with human brutality, racial discrimination, and the ravages of WWII to build work of social conscience, compassionate insight, poetic visual form, and ultimately – of joy. Yashima reminds us what it means to be human, and offers understanding into the complexities of cultural survival. This production draws on his searing graphic autobiographical and luminous fictional books including the Caldecott Honor Award-winning CROW BOY (1956) about a young boy who learns to sing the “voices of crows” in defiance of his years of being bullied.


Over the past three years, artists at HOBT have explored the life and poetic imagery surrounding the work of Taro Yashima. Taro’s children’s book, CROW BOY, has long been an influence and inspiration for Artistic Director, Sandy Spieler. The central story of an ostracized and misunderstood young boy, who comes to find his own brave voice, felt like a perfect story for a puppet show — playful, inspirational, and redeeming. When they discovered Taro’s haunting graphic autobiographies — THE NEW SUN, and HOROZION IS CALLING, they knew there was a bigger story to tell.

Born in 1908, Taro grew up in a small village in southern Japan. Initially he went to military school, but quickly abandoned that idea to become a painter. With the rise of fascism in Japan, Taro and his wife Mitsu, worked as artists against this new militarism. Both were imprisoned and tortured as political activists. In 1939 they took refuge in the United States, leaving behind their four-year-old son. Following the attack at Pearl Harbor, Taro wrote his first graphic autobiography, THE NEW SUN, and later, HORIZON IS CALLING, to try and help Americans understand that not all Japanese people supported imperialist Japan. Taro eventually joined Special Forces in the U.S. Army to work against the Japanese military, and traveled to Japan to witness the aftermath of the dropping of the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Following the war Taro became very sick, but with the birth of his daughter, Momo, he was inspired to tell her about the rich beauty and life of his beloved Japan. This led to his prolific work as a children’s book artist, creating many gorgeous picture books. Like Crow Boy, he too had found his voice.

So, how to bring this amazing journey to life on stage? Two summers ago (with NEA support) the artistic team began researching and improvising images/scenes based on historical texts, military documents, personal letters and the many books authored and illustrated by Yashima. They began to explore various styles and combinations of mask and puppet work, combined with live actors and singers. Artists worked with forms of storytelling and narrative voice, visual scale and intimacy. And crows, lots of crows. They wanted the piece to embrace the spare and harrowing feel of Taro’s black and white graphic novels, while eliciting the exuberance and rich color of his playful children’s books. The cast have been continually inspired by the essential usefulness of ‘the puppet theatre’ to speak into the many inner and outer wrestling of Yashima’s emotional, social, political, and artistic journey.

The language of this production will be minimal, inspired by the brilliantly sparse yet essential narrative of Yashima’s works, and the music invented. Momoko Tanno, whose voice will lead the performance has been experimenting with many different vocal productions to find different colors and emotions of crows and the human characters. “I will create soundscape and organize music to weave together the story and visuals for the performance journey of the piece” says Tanno.

As Taro Yishma said: “It takes a long time to make a book for children. Finding the right way has taken me half a lifetime. I cannot help hoping that children will live through their difficulties, and I cannot help having the desire to give them something to help them through — these children who are innocent, helpless and beautiful, and ready to grow with such splendid possibilities. Let children enjoy living on this earth. Let children be strong enough not to be beaten or twisted by evil on this earth.”

HOBT Artistic Director and co-creator of THE STORY OF CROW BOY, Sandra Spieler feels that it is vitally important to tell stories of personal and professional faith in the sanctity of all peoples, especially during a time where we see so much violence in domestic and world affairs, and when laws and policies are often based on hierarchical exclusion. She explains; “At times achingly sweet, at times sharp-as–a knife, Yashima pulls us to the core of our being. His passionate artistic and activist path posthumously mentors our own artistic and community practice that seeks healing of the broken world”.


Returning to the In the Heart of the Beast stage are past company members, Masanari Kawahara and Steve Epp, who have joined forces with McKnight Distinguished Artist Award recipient and HOBT Artistic Director, Sandra Spieler and the extraordinary vocal artist Momoko Tanno.

The cast feel especially privileged to be in close contact with Yashima’s daughter Momo Yashima for her immediate intimacy and connection to the legacy of her father’s work with the historical perspective of Japanese-Americans, especially as HOBT grapples with disturbing experiences of racism amongst immigrants in their own neighborhood of South Minneapolis.

Collaborator, Masanari Kawahara “I feel personally connected to Taro Yashima through the similarities we share. Like Taro, I am a Japanese artist who moved to the U.S. where I use my art to explore themes of war and injustice, and to act as a bridge between Japanese and American culture. Also like Taro, I look at Japanese and American culture from the outside in”.


Sandy Spieler (Director, Puppeteer, Puppet Design)
Sandy is a puppeteer, visual artist, director, teacher and perpetual student. Her work includes tiny puppet shows performed in a suitcase, main stage theater productions, epic community collaborations and permanent public art. She has served as Artistic Director of In the Heart of the Beast Theatre since 1976. She is a director/midwife of the annual Mayday Parade and Ceremony involving thousands of participants in her diverse home community in Minneapolis, and has directed and taught in countless sites locally and internationally. For over 30 years Sandy has created work about Water, including the on-going multi-faceted initiative “Invigorate the Common Well”. Sandy holds an MA of Cultural Performance from Bristol University England. She received two UNIMA-USA Citations of Excellence in the Art of Puppetry, and holds the 2014 “Distinguished Artist of the Year Award” from The McKnight Foundation in Minneapolis.

Masanari Kawahara (Puppeteer, Actor, Puppet Design)
One of the unique strengths of our team is the insightful work of Masanari Kawarhara whose personal artistic integrity is akin to that of Yashima’s. As a company member of In the Heart of the Beast Puppet Theatre from 1998 to 2009, he generated numerous productions including A Path Home: A Story of Thich Nhat Hanh (chosen for outstanding puppetry by Lavender magazine), GOTAMA: Journey to the Buddha ( his design recognized by Mpls City Pages as one of the ten great sets/scenic designs of the year). He has created several solo short works including GOJIRA! (2008), O-Rho Rho, the song of the Owl God (2004) and Little Boy (2014), commissioned by Pangea World Theater, Minneapolis. As an actor, Masanari worked with Jon Ferguson’s clown shows, Pangea World Theatre, Illusion Theater, Theater Mu and Theatre de la Jeune Lune. As a Butoh dancer, Masanari is part of Nenkin Butoh-dan led by since 2012. Masanari was a Playwrights’ Center McKnight Theater Artist Fellow (2010-2011).

Steven Epp (Movement Artist, Puppeteer, Actor, Writer, History Major)
Steve was part of the ensemble of HOBT (1979—1985), was an Associate Artistic Director and lead actor of Theatre de la Jeune Lune and is now co-Artistic Director of The Moving Company. He is a consummate creator, writer and performer of original work. His work with Theatre de la June Lune garnered many awards including the 2005 Regional Theatre Tony Award and the 1993 Outer-Critics Circle award for best new play. Epp has been seen on many stages including the Guthrie Theatre, Yale Repertory Theatre, La Jolla Playhouse, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Trinity Repertory Theatre, Spoleto Festival, American Repertory Theatre, Actors Theatre of Louisville, CenterStage, The Alley Theatre, The Intiman, Ten Thousand Things, and The New Victory Theatre. Other awards include a 1999 Fox Fellow and a 2009 Playwrights’ Center McKnight Artist Fellowship for Theater Artists. He holds a degree in Theatre and History from Gustavus Adolphus College.

Momoko Tanno (Movement Artist, Puppeteer, Singer)
Momoko is versatile in experimental, Japanese and Western classical music. She has worked with Theatre de la Jeune Lune, the Guthrie Theater, American Repertory Theatre, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Park Square Theater and Mu Performing Arts. Concerts include work with the Minnesota Orchestra, Bach Society of Minnesota, Heinrich Schütz-Chor, Tokyo and Heilbronn, Germany. She has recently generated a new Japanese opera Yukionna with composer Asako Hirabayashi and released a CD of Japanese Songs: “Kono Michi (This Road)”.

THE STORY OF CROW BOY team also includes the marvelous skills of; Daniel Benoit (Projection Artist), Shante Zenith (Researcher and Performer), Steve Ackerman (Performer) and George Meyer (Lighting Designer & Stage Manager).


Tickets for THE STORY OF CROW BOY are $22 and can be purchased at the HOBT Box Office at 612-721-2535 or online or through
Individual and group discounts are available.

*Recommended for age 13 and above


Thursday, February 18, 2016 – 7:30pm
Friday, February 19, 2016 – 7:30pm
Saturday, February 20, 2016 – 7:30pm
Sunday, February 21, 2016 – 2:00pm
Sunday, February 21, 2016 – 7:30pm

Thursday, February 25, 2016 – 7:30pm
Friday, February 26, 2016 – 7:30pm
Saturday, February 27, 2016 – 7:30pm
Sunday, February 28, 2016 – 2.00pm
Sunday, February 28, 2016 – 7:30pm


There will be post-show discussions, lectures, exhibitions and other special events occurring in conversation with this production. Please for more information.

SPECIAL THANKS to the National Endowment for the Arts, the Japan Foundation of New York, the Jim Henson Foundation, and the Minnesota State Arts Board. [Momoko Tanno, in partnership with In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre, is a fiscal year 2015 recipient of a Cultural Community Partnership grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board. This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation by the Minnesota State Legislature; and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.]


Founded in 1973, In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre (HOBT) is a singular theater company recognized internationally for both its artistry and service to the community. Through performance, ceremony, teaching, and community building, HOBT explores and celebrates the human experience and the wonders of the world’s natural and cultural richness.

Through a collaborative artistic process, HOBT’s educational and community programming draws together diverse communities to address local and global issues and celebrate our shared humanity. Work is devised “from scratch”, combining original design, writing, music, movement, and varying types of puppetry to create stunning visual theater to serve the specific project and constituents. Now in its 42ndyear, HOBT’s annual Mayday Festival is a much loved ritual of creativity and participation.


Please see:

Please credit the rehearsal image to: Daniel Polsfuss

Many thanks,

Release – The Story of Crow Boy, Feb 2016.docx