A shot from “Kid’s Table.” Image courtesy of Human Being Productions.
A shot from “Kid’s Table.” Image courtesy of Human Being Productions.

A distinctive film premieres in Boston this Friday, with tales of the painstaking transition from adolescence into teenage-hood – as told by puppets. Its presentation comes courtesy of Baltimore-based Human Being Productions.

Ben Levin, guitarist for Boston-based avant-garde rock group Bent Knee, approached Human Being Productions co-founder Greg Bowen with an idea: He wanted to capture the raw experience of “a group of kids going from being kids to being teenagers, and kind of destroying all their relationships and building new ones,” Bowen said.

“His writing has gone far and wide – space monsters, the afterlife, other things,” Bowen said of Levin, a past collaborator who’s also his former high school classmate. “But this was pulled from personal experience when he was a kid.”

But the only way Levin could comfortably tell it, Bowen said, “was to do it in these puppet voices. He started writing these songs and they only came out in high, squeaky voices.”

Enter the the main characters of the nearly finished product, dubbed “Kid’s Table”: adolescents depicted in stark form by skeletal, fleece-made, rod-controlled puppets. They are, to quote their creator, “just kind of weird.”

“There’s more of a strange feeling than a completely endearing feeling coming from the puppets,” said Bowen, who’s been doing live puppet shows for five years.

Here’s a trailer, to give you an idea.

YouTube video

The approach to the film, much like that of Bent Knee with their music, was anything but traditional. The group thrives on melding genres and harmony and discord, and mixing minimalism with theatrics. Levin brought the same unique feel to “Kid’s Table,” which is structured like a music-video opera. Its plot is musically driven, with no plain-old dialogue.

“‘Kid’s Table’ is a collection of reflections on a period of time in people’s lives where they get their identities assigned to them,” Bowen said. “Each song in ‘Kid’s Table’ is pulling at one story. Most of them are things that Ben remembers from being a kid.”

Levin recruited his bandmates and other Boston-based musicians to score the film. Baltimore, meanwhile, contributed the filming site, production and a fair share of the acting. Shannon Light Hadley, Sam Grossman, Anna Platis and Katelynn Zimmerman were among a crew of Baltimore actors who operated the puppets, while Levin and Boston-based actors Kristin Santangelo, Aaron Emmanuel and Jessica Kion provide the vocals.

For a project as unique as this, Bowen said his home city was the perfect place to shoot.

“There’s a feeling about Baltimore where people will go along with you for some insane ride without having to ask too many questions,” he said. “Every person who’s worked on this thing…brings a wealth of experience that they’ve gotten working on independent theater or artistic projects, or the things that people do in Baltimore.”

“Kid’s Table” was funded with a $14,000 grant from The Boston Foundation’s Live Arts Boston initiative. An in-progress version of the movie will screen on Friday, Dec. 1, at The Record Co. music incubator space in Boston.

The finished work will premiere here in Baltimore in the spring, Bowen said.

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Ethan McLeod

Ethan McLeod is a freelance reporter in Baltimore. He previously worked as an editor for the Baltimore Business Journal and Baltimore Fishbowl. His work has appeared in Bloomberg CityLab, Next City and...