UNIMA-USA, one of 101 national centers of Union Internationale de la Marionnette, published my article about crankies in their most recent newsletter (May 2021)! Many thanks to Katherine Fahey for sharing her knowledge and experience with me for the story!
The Crankie: Not For Pleasure Only
The motto of the Royal Theatre at Copenhagen, Ej Blot Til Lyst (Not For Pleasure Only), captures the essence of the powerful art form, the crankie. This accessible and affordable medium can transform lives and build community.
On her website, www.thecrankiefactory.com – the consummate resource on crankies – Sue Truman describes a crankie as an illustrated scroll that is wound onto two spools in a box with a viewing window. The scroll is hand-cranked while a story is told, a song is sung, or a tune is played. Truman and others point to Peter Schumann, co-founder of Bread and Puppet Theater, as having revived the art of the scrolling story – also known as the moving drop, Victorian panorama, Italian cantastoria – back in the 1970s.
If you haven’t already, experience a crankie show live; you’ll be hooked and understand the truth in Anna Roberts-Gevalt’s statement in her booklet, How to Make A Crankie:
“A crankie is best experienced in person. It is an art form that ANYONE can make. For those two qualities, I believe it to be a REVOLUTIONARY and NECESSARY art form in this day and age.”
“Finding something I loved inspired me to be willing to face my fears! … to want to teach and perform. I was already singing, and performing a little … but they were just two women with their voices, instruments, and Crankies. I thought, maybe I can do that … I don’t need to be just an artist who promotes others.”
Using a beautiful combination of shadow puppetry and illustrated scrolls, Fahey’s crankie performances lift up lives; this is exactly what she wants others to do, “Everyone has a story to tell that is valuable and important – and everyone can make a crankie.”
Fahey states that “Crankies are not just a backdrop, they become puppets themselves helping to tell the story.” A wide range of materials and different forms of puppetry can be used to make a crankie as unique as the voice telling the story.
Need a place to start? Fahey recommends entering puppet slams, “Valeska Populoh asked me to do the first Baltimore puppet slam. It was terrifying,” the rest is history. Also, explore Clare Dolan’s Banners and Cranks Festival, the Crankies in the Puppet Community – And Beyond Facebook group, and delight in what comes next.