Handspring Puppet Company
Woyzeck on the Highveld

  • Edlis Neeson Theater
    First Floor, Accessible via the Griffin Entrance on Pearson Street
    220 E Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL 60611


Sunday, September 30, is an American Sign Language (ASL)–interpreted performance.

Featured image

Photo: John Hodgkiss


Set in the tense twilight of apartheid, Woyzeck on the Highveld uses animated film by renowned artist and filmmaker William Kentridge, and hand-carved wood puppets created by South Africa’s acclaimed Handspring Puppet Company to reveal the agitated mind of a man trying to make sense of his circumstances. Directed by Kentridge, this powerful production is an adaptation of German writer Georg Büchner’s unfinished drama of jealousy, murder, and the struggle of an individual against an uncaring society which eventually destroys him.

In the original work by Büchner, Woyzeck was a downtrodden German soldier in the 1800s. Handspring and Kentridge recreate him as a black migrant worker in the exploited and depressed mining communities of Johannesburg, South Africa, in the 1950s. Evoking the dehumanizing effects of both medical science and the military on a common man’s life, Woyzeck’s trials etch deeply on the soul.

Woyzeck on the Highveld (1992) was the team’s first collaboration and the artists have since gone on to create numerous world-acclaimed productions, such as Kentridge’s The Nose (at the Metropolitan Opera) and Handspring Puppet Company’s Tony and Olivier Award–winner War Horse (with London’s National Theatre.) This is this is the final tour of Woyzeck on the Highveld and is performed by members of the original cast.

The performance is presented in conjunction with the exhibition MCA DNA: William Kentridge.

Recommended for mature audiences.
Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission


Photo: John Hodgkiss

Artists Up Close

First night post-show talk
Thu, Sep 27

Audience members are invited to stay after the performance for an insightful discussion with the artists.


Photo: John Hodgkiss

About the Artists

Handspring Puppet Company was founded in 1981 by four graduates of the Michaelis School of Fine Art in Cape Town, South Africa. Two of the cofounders, Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones, continue to run the company. Originally they created shows for children and later works for adult audiences within an African context. Handspring is one of the most renowned puppetry companies in the world and has collaborated with South African directors including Malcolm Purkey, Barney Simon, and artist William Kentridge. Thys Stander, Handspring’s chief puppet maker, is responsible for ongoing training at Handspring’s factory in Cape Town. The company provides an artistic home and professional base for a core group of performers, designers, theater artists, and technicians who collaborate with them on a project basis.

William Kentridge was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1955. Having witnessed apartheid in South Africa, he uses film, drawing, sculpture, animation, and performance, to transform sobering political events into powerful poetic allegories. In a now-signature technique, Kentridge photographs his charcoal drawings and paper collages over time, recording scenes as they evolve. Working without a script or storyboard, he plots out each animated film, preserving every addition and erasure. He is acclaimed for staging Il ritornod’Ulisse in patria by Monteverdi and Die Zauberflöte by Mozart, and his world premiere of The Nose by Shostakovich was at the Metropolitan Opera. He attended the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg; Johannesburg Art Foundation; and studied mime and theater at L’École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq, Paris.


Photo: John Hodgkiss


Generous support for Woyzeck on Highveld is provided by Susan and Lew Manilow, and Lois and Steve Eisen and The Eisen Family Foundation.