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Saturday, May 18, 2024

DragonBox Theatre ignites Gainesville’s imagination with performances, puppetry

Griffin Wulf, George O’Brien pass on love for puppetry

<p>Griffin Wulf, a stilts performer, walks around the heart of Downtown Gainesville at the Bazar À La Carte Saturday, March 25, 2023.</p>

Griffin Wulf, a stilts performer, walks around the heart of Downtown Gainesville at the Bazar À La Carte Saturday, March 25, 2023.

Shoppers at the How Bazar Night Festival Saturday night watched in wonder as Griffin Wulf hung from ribbons, performing her aerial routine. 

Wulf, co-founder of DragonBox Theatre, commanded the crowd’s attention all evening — whether on stilts in a black and white clown costume or hanging upside down, waving the ribbons like butterfly wings. 

Robin Main and her daughter, Savannah, watched Wulf’s performance with awe. 

“The mom in me is like, ‘oh my god please don’t fall,’” Main said. “But it’s beautiful.” 

DragonBox Theatre, a local aerial arts, puppetry, performance and workshop theater company, often puts on shows at How Bazar’s Night Festival and other events. Wulf can be seen walking around the streets of downtown Gainesville on stilts or twisting several feet above the ground, while George O’Brien, the other co-founder of DragonBox Theatre, will usually have one of his marionettes. 

Founded around 2018, DragonBox Theatre spawned out of a shared love for puppets. 

Six years ago, Wulf, 34, wanted to begin making puppets. Specifically, she wanted to make a puppet incorporating garbage. 

Wulf already had skills in clowning, aerial arts and dancing. She also had command over the visual arts, like painting, but still wanted to dive into puppetry. Her mother knew the perfect person to introduce her to.

George O’Brien was working at The Repurpose Project, a used goods store. He had a life-long appreciation for the craft of puppetry, an interest indulged by childhood bedtime stories. His father would take stuffed animals and move them as if they were the ones talking, O’Brien said.  

He also crafted his own marionettes, suspended by strings, with complex backstories and worlds. After meeting O’Brien, Wulf was able to see some of the marionettes he’d created over the years. 

“My mind was just blown,” Wulf said. “It was  the kind of thing that I wanted to create too — the kind of thing that existed in my imagination.”

Two years into their friendship, the next step seemed natural to them, Wulf said. 

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Both Wulf and O’Brien appreciated “guerilla” performances, a style that includes pop-up shows up where people least expect them, and they both excelled in entertaining small audiences. 

They created their own theater company, DragonBox Theatre, with that goal in mind. 

“I've always wanted to have a very intimate sort of performance,” Wulf said. “Introducing this art to people who have never seen it before.”

The two have created several recurring characters and stories to perform for their audiences. 

One staple was the “Grim Repurposer,” a whimsical take on the Grim Reaper made out of recycled items and complete with a paper maché skull mask worn by O’Brien. Another is “Cootie Holly Wander,” a blue marionette that barely reaches above O’Brien’s ankle, complete with a miniature drum set. Cootie traveled to Earth to restore humanity's balance with nature and give her audience a renewed belief in their personal power. 

“Just believing in something can make it be,” O’Brien said. “You can take an invisible thing in your head and make it real. Like her. She used to be an idea in my head.”

O’Brien will sometimes answer a phone call on his banana phone in the middle of a performance — a bit that often results in laughter from younger audience members.

“I'll answer it to teach them how rude it is to talk on the banana when you're around people,” he said. 

DragonBox Theatre also runs an Etsy shop where Wulf and O’Brien sell handcrafted decorations, painted denim and puppets. They want to pass their adoration for the craft onto the next generation, O’Brien said. 

“I remember when I first saw puppeteer — the impact it had on me,” he said. “I hope I have that effect on at least one kid in my life.”

Contact Allessandra at Follow her on Twitter @ainzinna.

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Allessandra Inzinna

Allessandra is a third-year journalism major with a minor in English. In the past, she has covered local musicians and the cannabis industry. She is now the Student Government reporter for The Alligator. Allessandra paints and plays guitar in her free time. 

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