room to panic

The Annex

October 3 - 19, 2008
Thursday - Saturday at 7:30pm
Sunday at 2:30pm
*Preview - Oct 3, Opens Oct 4
***Added: Wed, 10/15 at 7:30pm***

Tickets $25

Created by Federico Restrepo & Denise Greber of Loco 7
Music by Elizabeth Swados

photo by Gian Marco Lo Forte

"...the elegant multimedia show"
New York Times

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"Room to Panic" is a new work by LOCO7 ( depicting, in movement and visual theater, the struggles of the immigrant's mind on the path toward assimilation. The piece is conceived and created by Federico Restrepo and Denise Greber with music composed by Elizabeth Swados.  It brings together magical puppets, choreography, three-dimensional scenery and video.  Typical of Federico Restrepo's style, the puppets will include huge winged creatures, fifteen foot high politicians and mothers, a dancing puppet house and body-puppets of Restrepo himself.  There is a cast of ten.

Federico Restrepo is a Colombian-born master of puppet theater and physical theater who stages epic thoughts using giant puppetry, acrobatic choreography and tempestuous music.  In recent years, he has conceived his shows primarily with two collaborators:  Denise Greber (concepts, costumes) and Elizabeth Swados (musical score). 

"Room to Panic" is the culminating production of a trilogy that Restrepo began in 2002, exploring the phenomenon of being a stranger in a strange land.  Compared to the preceding two shows, it is more autobiographical and psychological.  There is a living collage of images on the experience of living in a new culture.  Since immigrants in a new country feel like fluttering birds without a home, the show opens with a flock of giant puppet birds plunging through the oceans on a huge boat.  A "Memory Box" with a huge ear glides through the space, representing what's nagging at them that they can't forget.  Large "Mother" puppets suggest memories of home; cooking videos suggest the foods that are left behind.  A "Panic Room Dance" illustrates the feeling of being trapped in a new place.  Its movement includes pantomime of straining against encircling walls.  One performer repositions the "tent" of his life at varying places around the space:  the image is of a "house" where you set down roots and stabilize yourself.  Eventually, he "outgrows" the tent, bursting through it with his head and arms. 

Restrepo dons body puppets to indicate how we assume new identities; he removes them to indicate breaking free of memories.  Throughout, there is the feeling that all the characters are going through the same process--they are all immigrants at various parts of their journey.  Masks descend around the space, representing their forefathers whose memories haunt them.  Massive "Politician Puppets" pass a giant globe from hand to hand, indicating the ultimate authority of the powerful.  Ultimately, the cast erects a floor-to-ceiling puppet house from large panels, symbolizing that they will finally be at home.

The visual feast is played to a continuous score by Elizabeth Swados that is sung by the ensemble and played live with percussion, violin, Shakuhachi and keyboard.  The piece will also incorporate text from "Gate of the Sun" by Lebanese novelist and playwright Elias Khoury, which will be used as spoken text and sung in the score.

Restrepo's "immigration trilogy" began in 2002 with "9 Windows," in which nine episodic vignettes revealed a series of multi-media, live art paintings depicting the experience of being displaced.  "Open Door," the second episode, had a score by Elizabeth Swados and premiered in 2006.  It directly addressed the impact of the many new immigrants of New York City, who were shown living together in the a huge puppet apartment building, exchanging stories and revealing their states of mind.

"Room to Panic" is conceived and created by Federico Restrepo and Denise Greber, directed and choreographed by Federico Restrepo with puppet, set, video and light design by Federico Restrepo. Costume Design is by Denise Greber.  Music is composed by Elizabeth Swados.  Text is taken from "Gate of the Sun" by Elias Khoury (with permission from the author).  The performing ensemble includes Federico Restrepo, Denise Greber, Cary Gant, Allison Hiroto, Sara Galassini, Emily Vick, Linwood Young, Joah Gonzales, Kat Yew and Dmitry Chepovetsky (all of whom dance, sing and manipulate puppets).  Musical director is Kris Kukul.  The musicians are Yukio Tsuji (percussion and shakuhachi), Heather Paauwe (violin) and Jon Sapino (keyboard).  The Tent Puppet is designed by visual artist Catarina Leitão (  Additional video design by Angela “Nena” Sierra (

photo by Jonathan Slaff

La MaMa Puppet series Festival Part II

Ko'olau is part of The La MaMa Puppet Series Festival Part II, which also features multicultural works from Hawaii, Colombia and Japan.  All the productions are brimming with international art forms.  The series contains "Ko'olau" by Tom Lee, a puppet epic based on a now-legendary story of Hawai'i in the 1890s (September 18 to October 5), "Room To Panic" and "The Doll Sisters" (Ningyo Shimai), directed by Setsu Asakura, the most noted stage designer of contemporary Japan (October 23 to November 2).

Purchase two shows and receive $3 discount each show.
Or purchase all three shows and receive $5 discount each show!!


In New Land, Still Haunted by the Old

By Anita Gates
New York Times

There are 15-foot-tall puppets playing politicians and much smaller ones cast as graceful migrating birds. Two giant screens flash images as disturbing as the famous photograph of the terrified Vietnamese girl burned by napalm running down a road, and as gentle as a nature portrait of a panda. Dancers tell sad stories to haunting music by Elizabeth Swados and inventive choreography by Federico Restrepo.

“Room to Panic,” the elegant multimedia show at La MaMa’s Annex, by Mr. Restrepo and his company, Loco7, is all about the immigrant experience in the United States. Its 18 scenes have titles like “Ball of Confusion,” “Strip Down and Break Down — Losing Cultural Identity,” “Coming to Terms With Yesterday to Move Forward Today” and “Setting Down Roots.” But audiences know this only because the names are listed in the program. With all those media going simultaneously (sometimes it was difficult to know where to look), it would have been helpful to see the scene titles on one of the screens too.

Even without that assistance (which some might consider a cheat sheet), the show is consistently touching and evocative. The script, based on Elias Khoury’s “Gate of the Sun,” a novel about the Palestinian people, is equally eloquent. A player reflects on beginning a new life in America: “But what do I mean by ‘begin my life’? When I say ‘begin,’ does that mean that everything I did before doesn’t count?”

Another confesses to hearing the “voices speaking like the wind” of people from the old country: “I know they don’t want me to talk about them. Maybe whenever I talk about them, the dead remember, and their memories hurt like knives.”

“Room to Panic” is the final installment of Mr. Restrepo’s urban-odyssey trilogy, which began with “9 Windows” (2002) and “Open Door” (2006). He directed the new show and, along with Denise Greber, conceived and created it. And because Mr. Restrepo was born in Colombia, it is probably safe to say he lived it as well.


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