Live Arts Festival in touch with its playful side

Julian Crouch is not in the cuddly puppet business. He does not make creatures you’d be tempted to tickle, nor does he direct cutesy foul-mouthed farces. If the residents of “Sesame Street” or “Avenue Q” found themselves in his workshop, they’d be equally unwelcome — and quite possibly barbecued.

Fortunately, the stars of “The Devil and Mister Punch” — Crouch’s dark and dirty comedy that premieres at this year’s Live Arts Festival — are restrained at this point. (“They’re in see-through crates … it’s like a bad scene from ‘Toy Story,’” he says.) More than a gimmick though, Crouch’s artfully wretched little puppets allow him to go places that human actors can’t. “People like anyone behaving badly, but puppets can get away with it a little easier,” he reasons. “When you’re throwing a baby out a window, it helps for the audience when a puppet’s doing it.”

“The Devil and Mister Punch” has plenty of playful company at Live Arts this year. The ambitious lineup of programs by local and international artists includes Pig Iron Theatre Company’s one-upping of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night”; “Elephant Room,” which is, among other things, a magic and illusion show; and “Traces,” a circus of sorts from the Canadian acrobat troupe 7 Fingers.

Not that this is kid stuff. Like “Mister Punch,” “Traces” uses its familiar medium to ask some larger questions of its audience.

“The people that have these jobs are pushing the limits of human possibility,” says “Traces”?director Shana Carroll of the very physical, gravity-testing show. “I think it inspires people to take risks in their life. It is dangerous, there are a lot of risks, but there are other risks of life that people are not aware of.”

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