A puppet head for “Flor” in the making with Ana Díaz Barriga (L) and Jess Kaufman (R).

Jess Kaufman was running around Patagonia earlier this month. Well, not exactly running, but let’s say moving at a “New York pace.” She was visiting various Voices from the Border members in Patagonia and working on plans for the second Beyond the Wall Festival, a cross-border celebration of borderlands arts that will take place in Nogales Arizona/Sonora on Sunday, May 5.

Back in 2017, Kaufman, a puppeteer who makes and researches theatre for young people and families, was looking for a way to connect her artistic work to activism. She called up a friend, Ana Díaz Barriga, a Mexican theatre artist and puppeteer focused on international collaborative performance.

Together, they conceived of a performance with 15-foot-tall puppets at the border wall, made collaboratively with local artists and young people. The event got quite a bit of national media coverage including the Huffington Post, Nogales International, and El Diario to name a few.

Being out of towners, (Kaufman lives in New York and Barriga is from Mexico City) Kaufman reached out to make contacts at the border and found her very first offer of help from the Patagonia Voices from the Border group. Voices had some experience with cross border collaboration to offer her, having created an innovative cross border Mother’s Day event in Nogales. “Our friends at Voices were the first big “YES!” we got, and were instrumental in making the first event, and thus our whole organization, a reality and a success,” Kaufman said. “We wouldn’t be here without India, Kathi, and the whole gang, and we’re so grateful to be friends and collaborators still today.”

Both Kaufman and Barriga have international reputations; they met at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London and have performed (separately and together) in London, Scotland, the Czech Republic, and the U.S. and Mexico.

Later this year they’ll bring the giant puppets to the Prague Quadrennial and London’s “Creative Interruptions” festival. Kaufman’s play “Mathilda and the Orange Balloon” (based on the picture book by Randall de Seve) is currently touring the U.K., being performed by a company of deaf and hearing actors. Barriga is pursuing her PhD at Northwestern University, researching how puppetry incites/invokes empathy.

Over the past year, Kaufman has made several trips to the area to consult with her friends from Voices, the rest of the local Beyond The Wall team, and to work with Nogales, AZ and Nogales, Sonora high school students to develop Beyond the Wall’s pen pal program.

Teenagers from both countries have written to each other for the past academic year, getting to know each another, breaking down stereotypes and “building bridges, not walls.” The teens will come together in May to conceive, build and ultimately, animate, the giant puppets for this year’s festival.

The festival will feature artist booths, two stages, and a performance of 15-foot-tall puppets at the wall, as well as a corresponding binational art exhibition at two galleries in Ambos Nogales that will continue throughout the month. It is free to the public and family friendly. As their literature says, the festival “aims to showcase authentic, diverse, local perspectives on life at the border through the work of local artists, in contrast to the pervasive negative picture of the border painted by the media.”

The Beyond the Wall / Más Allá del Muro Festival will take place on Sunday May 5, from 1-7p.m. in Karam Park in Nogales, AZ and Plaza Pesqueira in Nogales, SON.