Letter from a Pittsburgh Puppet President

 

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Dave T. English is the new President of the Puppetry Guild of Pittsburgh

Sunday April 1st, 2018 – Today is Easter and it is also April Fool’s Day. A fine day to reflect on recent events. As I write this I am DJing and puppeteering at my regular Sunday afternoon gig at Arsenal Bowl in Pittsburgh, PA. There is a really nice Latinx family in the lane closest to my puppet stage and they are having a blast bowling and dancing with the puppets. I am writing this on my breaks.  

One frosty February morning earlier this year I woke up to find out that I was the president of the Puppetry Guild of Pittsburgh. I sat on the edge of my bed dangling my feet. Soaking it in. I took a deep breath and looked at my hands. My hands took a deep breath and looked back at me. I asked my hands “What am I going to do? What am I going to do with all of this power? Yesterday I was just another Sorry Charlie cruising the help wanted ads for puppet gigs- today I’m the puppet president of a major American city. It is a lot of pressure. I basically have my finger on the button. The puppet button.” Some people may look at this puppet presidency as a thankless powerless volunteer arts management position. But I know differently. I believe in the power of puppets and the magic of creating our own realities. It is what we make of it. So I slipped off the edge of the bed that morning and took my first steps into puppet guild presidency. I yelled to no one in particular, “Get me the mayor!” Which scared my cats.

A month and a half later it was March 21st, Pittsburgh Day of Puppetry, in alignment with the World Day of Puppetry. It was an even frostier morning featuring a record breaking snowfall. This time I sprang out of bed and hustled from station to station following the preparations I had made the night before. Shower, Clothes, Breakfast, Puppet Box, and Snow Gear. I walked down the steep hill I live on through the unplowed snow to jump in my man Al’s cargo van and shake a leg to my meeting with the mayor. I can legitimately say that back in my day we walked through the snow to our Pittsburgh Day of Puppetry meeting with the mayor and we liked it. A handful of our guild officers and members met me as we carried our puppets through security at City Hall in downtown Pittsburgh. Every one of them made the machine beep but we got in anyway. Magic. We were there for an official proclamation from Mayor Bill Peduto to forever institute March 21st as Pittsburgh Day of Puppetry. There would be puppets all over Pittsburgh that day and it all started in the Grand Lobby of the City County Building when the mayor took the podium in front of a crowd of cameras and press members, staffers and passers-by, puppeteers and puppets including a nine foot tall rendition of the mayor himself and a set of City Council Finger Puppets- a gift to the mayor from the Puppetry Guild of Pittsburgh. The moment that best expresses the absurd spirit of the proclamation event was captured in a photo where the mayor is wearing the finger puppet version of his city council nemesis and speaking to himself in her falsetto- while a much larger puppet mayor looms in the background- all at the podium surrounded by a crowd. The councilwoman later went on the record saying she “Thought the little puppet was cute.” On a day when it snowed eight inches and the city was in chaos we made the mayor and most of the people who work with him smile. Puppets are powerful and magical.

That night we partied at the Pittsburgh Day of Puppetry Happy Hour at the Brillobox. It was an evening of puppet activities, toasts, songs, improvisational performances, giveaways, and a fantastic original performance by puppeteer Davey T Steinman who had just gotten back to Pittsburgh fresh off a Bread n Puppet tour. He blew our minds with a show crafted just for that event. Then he let us see how it was all built and answered a bunch of puppet questions. It was a great first Pittsburgh Day of Puppetry. We met new friends and hung out with old ones. We got a golden seal from the mayor. We were in all the papers. We gained new members. There were puppets all over Pittsburgh.

You might think that coordinating the Pittsburgh Day of Puppetry event would be enough puppet work for one month – and I can say that it was- However that same week the word went out that Tarish “Jeghetto” Pipkins was coming to town and looking for a place to do a puppet gig. So when the guy who just got two Henson grants back to back, worked marionettes in the Missy Elliot video, appeared on Steve Harvey show talking about puppets, and who is a puppet engineering badass, announces he is coming to his hometown for a visit -you have to come through! I would not want it on my puppet president transcripts that I was the guy who didn’t help Tarish find a puppet venue. So with super short notice and nifty cross promoting The Puppetry Guild of Pittsburgh, Boom Concepts, Black Unicorn Library, and Glitterbox Theater supported “A Night With Jeghetto- mini tour” on Friday March 30th. Both performances were packed with audiences entranced by Tarish’s almost biological puppet engineering and real-movement creations. Just like Davey at the Brillobox Tarish was giving and patient with his Q & As and let the audience explore his puppets hands-on after each show. Of enormous significance and something that makes me feel terrific is the diversity of both of those audiences. I think it is a big step forward for our guild. Toddlers and seniors, black and white, people who are at every art thing, people you haven’t seen in years, people you’ve never seen all squeezed together to share a magical puppet experience. The power of puppets had them all sitting elbow to elbow giggling like kids.

It feels validating and rare to see an idea through it’s completion A-Z. We were able to pull it off because we have a terrific team of complementary skill sets. Tom and Kristen Sarver, Cheryl Capezzuti, Al Pantone, Felicia Cooper, Alison Babusci, Mandee Williams, Kirsten Ervin, Larry Rippel, Davey, Tarish, Mr. Funky, Lou at the Brillobox, Mayor Peduto- the whole gang. I really appreciate everyone playing their parts to make March’s puppet events a big success.

I am headed to New Orleans for the New Orleans Giant Puppet Festival April 17-25 where I will perform in a new puppet production called “Edmond’s Great Adventure”. When I get back to Pittsburgh we are going to have a guild meeting to figure out what comes next. Imagine something you want to do and come share it with us.

Stay Tuned,

Dave T. English

Upcoming shows & news

Tarish Pipkins a.k.a. Jeghetto presents: JEGHETTO’S WORKSHOP. A unique blend of PUPPETRY and HIP HOP. Friday, March 30th – 2 LOCATIONS, $7, Free for 12&under.

5 PM – 7 PM at Glitter Box Theater, 460 Melwood Ave. Pittsburgh PA 15213

9 PM at Black Unicorn: Library and Archives Project, 732 E. Warrington Ave. Pittsburgh, PA 15210

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Puppetry Guild of Pittsburgh, Glitter Box Theater and Black Unicorn: Library and Archives Project are partnering to present two performances by puppeteer Tarish Pipkins. Originally from the Greater Pittsburgh area, Pipkins returns from his current home in North Carolina. Often made out of reclaimed materials, his complex puppets have been used in everything from street performance to children’s education to music videos with internationally recognized recording artists.


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Puppetry in Performance presents: Bounder the Rescue Dog at Pittsburgh Fringe,

$8 General Admission. See Pittsburgh Fringe Website for more information. 

DATES AND TIMES:
Friday, April 6 at 4:50pm
Saturday, April 7 at 2:10 pm
Sunday, April 8 at 3:00 pm

VENUE:
Allegheny Unitarian Universalist Church, Upstairs,
416 W North Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15212

Check out the latest production by founder (and former president) of the Puppetry Guild of Pittsburgh, Darlene Fedele Thompson. This light-hearten comedy is suitable for all ages.


Congratulations to Cheryl Capezzuti for the article in Puppetry Journal, How Monsters Can Create Community by Michael J. Vetere III and Samatha Anne Maggio! The piece describes Capezzuti’s visiting artist project at Illinois State University and her focus in puppetry as a “community-building experience.”


Puppetry Guild of Pittsburgh is planning to take part in Millvale Community Day festivities at the Millvale Community Library. Please contact Tom Sarver (tomsarver@gmail.com) if you would like to volunteer for a shift staffing a puppet making area & puppetry information table.

 

Puppetry enthusiasts brave the storm for intimate Brillobox happy hour.

Pittsburgh Day of Puppetry wrapped up with a gathering of puppeteers, friends and curious thrill seekers. Toasts, cheers and songs – combined with the warm, eclectic decor of the Brillobox upstairs – inspired attendees to take part in short improvised skits. The event culminated with a performance by Davey T Steinman. Photography by Larry Rippel.

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Puppet improv exploring the theme: science!

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Dave English sings Puppet Day theme song.

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Felicia Cooper and friends doing puppet situation improv.

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Guests selected puppets and props from a puppet “buffet table.”

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Unfinished Symphonies provided music and sound effects on keyboard.

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Featured presentation by Davey T Steinman.

Mayor Declares: Pittsburgh Day of Puppetry

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Photo by Larry Rippel

At just around 11:30 AM on Wednesday, March 21st, Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto declared the day Pittsburgh Day of Puppetry. The festive buildup of puppeteers in the Grand Lobby of the City-County building was a surprise to many strolling the thoroughfare on business. A delegation of marionettes, hand puppets, and giant wearable puppets (and their puppeteers) danced, jittered and made small talk as they anticipated the Mayor’s arrival. Mayor Peduto praised the efforts of the Puppetry Guild of Pittsburgh in making Pittsburgh a more vibrant and creative place. Dave English followed with some comments from the Guild and a gift for the Mayor, a hand crafted set of puppets representing members of Pittsburgh City Council (Created by Pittsburgh artist Kirsten Ervin). Stay tuned for a recap of all Pittsburgh Day of Puppetry events.

Puppet Day in the ‘Burgh’ – March 21st!

Mayor Peduto proclaims Pittsburgh Day of Puppetry on March 21 as the Puppetry Guild of Pittsburgh celebrates World Day of Puppetry

March 9, 2018–It’s not every day that Mayor Peduto proclaims that it’s Puppet Day in Pittsburgh, in fact, it’s only one day: Wednesday, March 21. For the first time the City of Pittsburgh will celebrate World Day of Puppetry with an official proclamation and plenty of puppet events sponsored by the Puppetry Guild of Pittsburgh.

“You’ll see puppets in city hall.

You’ll see puppets up on Polish Hill.

Puppets on the North side, South Side, West End.

Puppets in Lawrenceville.

It’s a day to raise puppets all over Pittsburgh.

Puppet paupers and puppet kings.

From the puppets who patch our potholes-

To Puppets who pull the strings!”

                                –  Dave English, President, Puppetry Guild of Pittsburgh

Guild members have all kinds of events planned to celebrate the day. Our celebration begins with an official proclamation from Mayor Peduto at 11:00 am where the Giant Puppet Dance Club from Falk Lab School will perform. Here is a list of some of the events:

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Shadow Puppetry by Felicia Cooper

Do you have a little one? Puppetry Day activities will be happening at the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum. Big Mouth Puppets with Light Bright Beautiful Puppetry will take place from 10:30 am to 11:30 am (details here). Guild Member Felicia Cooper will perform her show Porto Domo in the Make Shop at the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum at 2 pm. **She will also perform an outdoor show at Friendship Park at 5:30 pm. FRIENDSHIP PARK SHOW CANCELLED DUE TO SNOW STORM!**

Ready to get fit puppet-style? California Cyclepath, a fitness studio located in Brighton Heights, will host a puppet-themed spin class featuring the giant puppets made by studio regular Cheryl Capezzuti.

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Image courtesy of Alison Babusci of Light Bright Beautiful Puppetry.

Interested in Shadows? The Sharpsburg Community Library will host shadow puppet demonstrations in the library lobby and a drop-in hands-on puppetmaking activity for all ages at 6:00 pm featuring guild member and Library STEAM program coordinator Alison Babusci.

Living a little north of the city? Drums and More, a music store in Natrona Heights, will exhibit a pirate puppet made by Guild member Darlene Fedele Thompson.

Want to make your OWN celebration of World Puppetry Day? Using just a library card YOU can check a giant puppet out of the Braddock Carnegie Library and go celebrate as you see fit. Don’t forget to tag your puppet fun with #puppets4pgh.

There will also be a number of puppetry experiences happening at local schools. Guild Member Siggi Erlingsson will be performing his show “Alphabet X Peditions” at St. Thomas Moor School and Guild Member Gwen Bowman will be teaching about a variety of Eastern Puppetry traditions at Propel Montour.

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Image courtesy of Davey T Steinman

The Grand Finale to Pittsburgh Day of Puppetry will be a puppet happy hour at Brillobox.  This event will open with puppet fun and games hosted by guild members Dave English and Tom Sarver, with music by Unfinished Symphonies. Warm-up shenanigans will be followed by a featured presentation by Davey T Steinman. Steinman is a theater artist, puppeteer, and educator working at the crossroads of art, technology, and performance. For Pittsburgh Puppetry Day, he will share a unique solo puppetry performance and behind-the-scenes presentation featuring his recent shadow puppetry and video projection work as co-founder of Paradox Teatro. The performance will draw upon the repertoire of puppetry work “Migraciones” created recently while on tour in Europe and Mexico. After the performance segment, the public will be invited to participate in a hands-on demo of the suitcase shadow theater, and have a Q&A conversation with the artist. This 21 and over event is free and open to the public in the Brillobox upstairs space (6:30 pm – 9:00 pm). The Brillobox is located at 4104 Penn Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15224.

What is World Day of Puppetry? Here is a little information from our national organization, Puppeteers of America: Puppetry in America is older than the country itself, but until the beginning of the 20th century, puppet shows were rare. Puppeteers kept their art a closely guarded secret, certainly not shared with the public. In the first half of the 20th century, some puppeteers (most notably Tony Sarg) helped to lift the veil of secrecy, sharing information about their work, which led to the formation of the Puppeteers of America in 1937. In an effort to strengthen recognition of puppetry as a global art form and to align activities with UNIMA-USA, Puppeteers of America has officially merged the National Day of Puppetry with the World Day of Puppetry, each March 21. Today, almost three quarters of a century onward, puppets hold a place in the public’s heart that is rivaled by few other arts. They appear on stage, in movies, on television, and now, on the Internet. The Puppeteers of America is proud to present this National Day of Puppetry taking place all over North America and brought to you by the local Puppeteers of America guild in your area.

The Puppetry Guild of Pittsburgh unites puppeteers, puppet makers and people that love puppets by supporting and celebrating the art of puppetry in the greater Pittsburgh region. This organization formed in the fall of 2015 and is working to produce more puppetry-related events in the region. The Puppetry Guild of Pittsburgh is a program of New Sun Rising and is affiliated with the national organization Puppeteers of America. Anyone who loves and supports puppetry in the region is welcome to join the guild for an annual membership fee of $15.00.

What will you do for World Puppetry Day?

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Since 2003, March 21st has been celebrated as World Puppetry Day. The day was originally selected by UNIMA (UNION INTERNATIONALE DE LA MARIONNETTE). In the United States, The National Day of Puppetry (historically celebrated by the Puppeteers of America) is now merged with World Puppetry day to create a worldwide, unifying puppetry celebration. This year the City of Pittsburgh and the Puppetry Guild of Pittsburgh are working to also declare March 21st Pittsburgh Day of Puppetry. Guild activities, including a public Puppet Happy Hour open to adults 21 and over, will soon be announced.

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Puppetry is an art form that is accessible to all. This year, consider doing something a bit different, maybe a bit weird or unexpected on March 21st. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Post a selfie, video or tweet with a puppet. Get a puppet at the store, make a puppet, or glue some google eyes on a can of tomato soup. A puppet can be anything that you animate with your hands before an audience.
  2. Help a child make a puppet or put on a puppet show. You only need some paper lunch bags, some construction paper, scissors, marker or crayons and a glue stick. Or get fancy and use your old socks. Fire up the hot glue gun and attach things.  Don’t let the kids use the hot glue!
  3. Take a puppet to a public place. Take a marionette, ventriloquist doll or hand puppet to the park, diner, food court at the mall, etc. Just practice movement and voices. Don’t ask for donations (unless you have a permit). If anyone asks what you are doing, tell them that it’s World Puppetry Day.
  4. Do some research into the history of puppetry. Wikipedia claims that puppetry has been around for 4000 years. But can we trust Wikipedia? Do some exploration to see how puppetry has evolved over time, how it is still used widely in the theater world and how traditions differ from country to country. Call your local librarian!
  5. If you go to a museum or other cultural activity, ask where the puppets are. If they don’t have a puppet activity, ask them if they will have one next year on World Puppetry Day.
  6. Try to use puppets to explore a difficult topic. Have a debate with puppets. Use the puppet to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Think about their point of view. Don’t get mad at the puppeteer. It’s the puppet who’s talking!