Jeghetto gives life. To us mortals that’s magic, but when you ask him to explain how he does it, he can't. He too calls it magic. Even in puppetry, life is a mystery.
Jeghetto, whose real name is Tarish Pipkins, is also a creator. At his home in Chapel Hill he introduces us to some of his creations: Cornelius and Destiny Jones and Jesse Miller.
He will bring them to life in "Just Another Lynching: An American Horror Story," in performances Friday and Saturday at the ArtsCenter in Carrboro. They will tell the story about a white woman in an abusive marriage who accuses a black man of beating and raping her to save her abusive husband.
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“Mr. Jones is a strong, confident, black man,” Pipkins said, stretching his arm to introduce the puppet beside him. “He is an entrepreneur. He owns a grocery store with his wife.”
Jones has really big, penetrating eyes that pierce the soul. His lips are full, his forehead folded with a serious frown, the kind you get when someone's wasting your time. He has on a striped shirt and dress pants.
Next to him is a woman.
"That’s Destiny, Jones' wife,” Pipkins said, pointing his hand again. “They are very much in love.”
Destiny Jones is wearing a white silk top and a checkered skirt. She has a white necklace, the imitation pearl kind, long and looped twice round her neck. She is holding an empty basket like she is about to go get something at the store. She is pregnant.
There is another child, a daughter shyly standing by the wall, clutching her doll, wishing to be left alone.
And then there is the gentleman to the left of Jones.
“That’s Jesse Miller,” Pipkins said. “He is Jones' childhood friend.” Jesse Miller helped Jones build his store. He is a carpenter.
The life giver
Pipkins was born in Pittsburgh. He is a self-taught artist, which he took to full-time when he left Pittsburgh for North Carolina.
In North Carolina he launched his puppetry, which has blossomed. He has worked on a music video with rapper Missy Elliot and on a commercial for Amazon's Echo smart speaker. He has also worked on shows with Paperhand Puppet Intervention, the giant puppet troupe.
In "Just Another Lynching" the woman points at Mr. Jones as the culprit, and he is subsequently arrested. The Ku Klux Klan gathers, beats Jones up and lynches him.
Destiny, with a child and expecting another, is left to feed three mouths on her own.
Miller, Jones' friend, gives the eulogy.
“I am burdened, as we all are, by this disgusting act of bigotry and racism,” the puppet character says, “The violence visited upon our community is abhorrent, reprehensible, incorrigible. There is no place for this most murderous and heinous sort of crime in a just and lawful society such as ours, and we must not tolerate these actions — neither here nor anywhere in this great country.”
In creating this show, Pipkins digs into difficult American terrain.
He sees police killings of black youth today as a continuation of lynching. A historical wrong that was never righted, a difficult past he provokes with puppets.
"I wanted the audience to be uncomfortable” he said. “I want people to be disrupted. When people are disrupted they either ignore it or they want to say, 'Why am I uncomfortable? This is not right; I got to make change for everyone.'"
Miller, too, gets increasingly uncomfortable. As he speaks, he realizes he could have done much more. If he had, his friend would still be here.
Doing the show is not easy for Pipkins.
“It got real, the first time I did the show, I was overwhelmed with emotions," he said. "It was so real to me — all those lynchings came to me, and I got choked up during the show.”
Pipkins pauses, his arms drop to his sides.
Robin Pipkins, standing nearby, explains her husband got the inspiration for the story from the Racial Equity Institute, an anti-racism training group whose classes changed his understanding of race relations.
In presenting the show the ArtsCenter hopes to build on this understanding.
“It’s powerful to watch Tarish Pipkins perform assisted by his young son and consider how we transmit and pass on stories of the legacy of racism and injustice in our country across generations,” said Patrick Phelps-McKeown, the center's marketing director. “This is an important and timely production and something we wanted ArtsCenter audiences to be able to experience."
What: Jeghetto presents "Just Another Lynching: An American Horror Story"
When: 8 p.m. June 8 and 9
Where: ArtsCenter, 300-G E. Main St., Carrboro
Info: 919-929-2787 or artscenterlive.org/events