What is Banners & Cranks?

Banners and Cranks is an annual festival of cantastoria and cranky performance by artists and musicians from all over the United States. Cantastoria is the Italian word for an ancient performance form involving the theatrical display of paintings accompanied by sung narration. A precursor to modern puppet theater, this practice originated in 6th Century India and spread East and West, with many different variations in style and subject matter.

Recently there has been a revival of interest in Cantastoria among puppeteers, artists, and activists in the West, who find that this ancient form has startlingly modern qualities and can easily be infused with fresh content. The use of the cranky (a sister to the cantastoria in which the images appear on a scroll which is turned by means of a crank) has also lately grown popular among folk musicians and artists looking for new ways to perform their songs and display their artwork in a performance context.

The first Banners and Cranks festival, in Chicago in 2010, included an exhibition and three weeks of shows by 12 different artists or companies. In 2011 the fest moved to New York, at HERE arts space, and presented 21 different performers over three weeks. In 2012, 2013 and 2014 the fest appeared in San Juan Puerto Rico, at the Jalopy Theater in Brooklyn, and in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. Our 2015 festival included 5 different programs of shows and a lecture, in venues throughout Detroit, sponsored  by the Detroit Institute of Art. In 2016 we returned to Puerto Rico for a smaller festival: one weekend of shows in San Juan. In 2017 we appeared in Storrs, Connecticut in conjunction with a Banners and Cranks exhibition at the Ballard Institute, and we also brought Banners and Cranks to New Jersey. In 2018 & 2019, in the wake of hurricane and earthquake in Puerto Rico, we took a hiatus. Then the Covid epidemic put the breaks on our plans for 2020 and 2021 events. Now we bravely look ahead to a fest in 2022, fingers crossed!

We are committed to the concept of a nomadic festival, both because it is in keeping with the historic itinerant roots of the performance form, and also because we hope that the fest will reach new audiences of makers and thinkers who have never seen cantastoria before, inspiring the uninitiated to take up the form and invent fresh approaches to the magic of the cranky and the picture story.

This is a living and breathing folk performance practice that has its own particular place alongside the technology and media of the 21st century.