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Monday July 15th 2024


The Story of Crow Boy by In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre Photo by Daniel Polsfuss

The Story of Crow Boy by In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre
Photo by Daniel Polsfuss

Created by Masanari Kawahara, Sandy Spieler, Steven Epp and Momoko Tanno

In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre

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

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

In a time when the world is challenged by cultural suspicion and ethnic distrust, HOBT enables this  conversation with a new performance by some of the Twin Cities leading visual and performance artists.

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.

Artists at HOBT have explored the life and poetic imagery surrounding the work of Taro Yashima for three years. 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), exploring various styles and combinations of mask and puppet work, combining with live actors and singers, and working 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 has been inspired by the characteristics of ”˜the puppet theatre”' to portray the many inner and outer facets of Yashima”'s emotional, social, political, and artistic journey.

The language of this production is 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.”

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”.

Tickets: $22 HOBT Box Office, 612-721-2535, ,or Individual and group discounts are available.

*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 see for more information. 

In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre

1500 East Lake Street · Minneapolis, MN 55407 · 612-721-2535

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