Interview with local artist Orren Fen

by Mary Ellen Kaluza

Last month the small street launched a new feature film highlighting young Phillips artists. Moments after coming up with the idea for a regular featured artist, I knew I had to speak with Orren Fen. I first met Orren a few years ago in pre-COVID times. I was visiting their house and they showed me a project they were working on: a cardboard puppet stage, maybe 4 feet tall and 3 feet wide. I was blown away by the clever design, the creativity, the engineering – both structural and mechanical. Orren explained all the parts, moving and fixed, in detail. Like I said, I was blown away! Luckily for us, Orren graciously agreed to be interviewed for the small street.

How old are you? What class are you in?

Fourteen years old, and I’m a freshman in high school.

Describe your primary art form.

I mainly focus on puppetry and performance art.

What prompted you to get into art?

I grew up two blocks from the In the Heart of the Beast Theater and have participated in May Day parades since I was two years old. It has always been part of my life. I’ve also been on BareBones Halloween Extravaganza since I was young.

Where do you find your ideas?

I have a lot of random creative ideas popping up. Sometimes I delve into them, and sometimes I keep them hidden away in the corners of my mind.

Do you have a mentor or a teacher?

I grew up with Mark Safford, a puppeteer who mentored me through BareBones. And Harry Waters, Jr., a person I met at the May Day ceremony, and more recently I’ve worked with Harry on several theater projects.

Are there any other art forms you would like to try?

I really love puppetry because it’s a very fluid and adaptive art form that involves so many other art forms – painting, sculpture, acting, sewing.

What other interests do you have?

I am very interested in costumes and scenography. I’m also very interested in the backstage of theatre, but puppetry is a great way to get involved in the creative and performing aspects of theatre.

Is there anything else you would like the small street readers to know about you?

I’m helping with backstage design and puppetry for the next show at In the Heart of the Beast. It’s a show about two black girls in south Minneapolis in the ’80s, and disco dinosaurs are in on it. The show is called The impact theory of mass extinction by Jundauda Petrus Nasah and Steve Ackerman. It premieres in mid-June at the Avalon Theater.

Orren showed me examples of puppets and sculptures they have made, both realistic and whimsical. I was once again impressed by their creativity and their know-how. Orren provided the accompanying photos of their work. Their dedication to the arts and to the community is inspiring. Learn more about the upcoming In the Heart of the Beast puppet and mask theater production from The impact theory of mass extinction to https://hobt.org/impact-theory/. And find information about the work of the BareBones Puppet Theater on https://barebonespuppets.org/.

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