Soozin Hirschmugl (photo by Scotty Reynolds)
Twin Cities puppeteer, theater director, stilter, visual artist, teacher, and social worker Soozin Hirschmugl died Tuesday, surrounded by a circle of friends, after a battle with a virulent and quick moving cancer. She was 51.
Whether she was sing-narrating her melodic form of storytelling, mentoring younger artists, or driving to Wisconsin to pick up sparklers for a last minute show detail, Hirschmugl was a generous collaborator and inventive problem solver. She touched many through organizations like In the Heart of the Beast, Barebones, Chicks on Sticks, and the Art Shanty Projects, and created radiant performances, installations, and interactive happenings at places like Bedlam, Open Eye Figure Theatre, and the Minnesota Zoo.
Originally from Missouri, Hirschmugl moved to Minneapolis in 1994, when she worked first as a volunteer and later as a staff artist for In the Heart of the Beast, and was a founding artist at Barebones Puppets.
“She had very strong personal vision, and knew the strengths of the people she worked with,” says Mark Safford, another Barebones founder. “Some of the most beautiful Barebones shows were created with her at the helm.”
In one memorable Barebones show, Hirschmugl created a ghost puppet, which she filmed and then projected onto a group of trees as part of the performance. To her friend and collaborator Tara Fahey, the moment spoke to Hirschmugl’s tendency toward experimental curiosity. “She would say, ‘I don’t know if it is going to work— let’s just try this,’” Fahey said.
Besides her work in the Twin Cities, Hirschmugl travelled extensively, and spent four years as a company member with Bread and Puppet Theater, after appearing in the company’s last “Our Domestic Resurrection Circus” in 1998.
“As an artist she was amazing,” said Clare Dolans, a puppeteer at Bread and Puppet. “She had incredible puppet building skills.”
According to artist Mike Hoyt, Hirschmugl was the kind of person that would make every resource she had available to other people. “She was a servant leader,” he said. “She was just a champion of collective creativity.”
Hoyt met Hirschmugl participating in the MayDay Parade in the mid 1990s, and got to know her better about ten years later when she was running music and theater programming at her Black Box Shanty on Medicine Lake.
“She was really feisty and I think lovingly opinionated— and I mean that in a good way,” Hoyt said. “She always had a strong voice for justice.”
Agroup of about 20 friends— many of them artists— cared for Hirschmugl during her struggle with a rare form of cancer, since she grew ill last October. Family members from St. Louis had been to visit the week before she passed, and will be organizing the memorial on Saturday.
Her frequent collaborator Mary Jo Nikolai, said in the last days, all of the friends sang to her, led by vocalist Laurie Witzkowski.
The memorial takes place 11-5 p.m. Saturday, July 6, beginning with an open house/potluck and a program beginning at 3 p.m., at the Avalon Theater, 1500 E. Lake St., Minneapolis.