By Alyssa Mulligan
Creating a puppet theatre company wasn’t always the goal for the husband-and-wife duo of Phantom Limb Company. In fact, Erik Sanko was originally a “closet puppet maker,” crafting marionettes out of papier-mâché only as a hobby. Meanwhile, he was creating music with his band Skeleton Key, in addition to collaborating with The Lounge Lizards, John Cale and Yoko Ono.
Then in 2006 his wife and installation artist, Jessica Grindstaff, decided to include some of his puppets in an art show in Chelsea. When the gallery owner asked Sanko to perform a puppet show for the closing party, it took some convincing from Grindstaff for him to agree. However, once Sanko pushed past his reluctance, the performance was such a success that the couple received grants from both the Jim Henson Foundation and the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council to design a new production centered around his unique puppetry.
Their show, The Fortune Teller, opened in the Fall of 2006. It told the story of seven strangers invited to the mansion of a deceased millionaire, where a fortune teller predicts each of their untimely deaths. The show was originally set to run two weeks, but was quickly extended to a three-month sold-out tour.
The success of Phantom Limb’s first production continued on to several collaborations and creations throughout the following years. It also helped shape the company’s philosophy of creating holistic art experiences with an emphasis on exploring contemporary issues.
In 69˚S.,Phantom Limb juxtaposes the tale of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s 1914 voyage to Antarctica with present day climate change. Come and experience Phantom Limb’s puppetry for yourself and see what Sanko refers to as his “tiny, tiny actors.” 69˚S. is playing at the Paramount Center Mainstage from FEB 7 to FEB 12.