At Puppetry Slam, it’s kids genre with adult edge
By Amy Orndorff
Friday, Oct. 7, 2011
The Puppet Co. Playhouse at Glen Echo Park is usually a children's haven. Intricate puppets prance about onstage, entertaining the youngsters with fantastic fairy tales and positive lessons.
But on Saturday night, you'll want to leave the kids at home.
That's when the Puppet Co. hosts its fifth Playhouse Puppetry Slam, which gathers puppeteers from around the region for an adults-only evening of sketches. Many of the puppeteers are professionals whose bread and butter are children's shows, and the slams, while not quite like the irreverent puppet musical "Avenue Q," give them a chance to let loose. Past slams have included such characters as drunken flowers, a bitter Rumplestiltskin and a bell with a foul mouth.
"A lot of stuff will not be seen anywhere else," says Jill Kyle-Keith, who was the emcee at the last slam in February.
Slams were already popular in New York and Europe when the Puppet Co. staff discussed hosting its first one. In 2009, Eric Brooks, who has a degree in puppetry from the University of Connecticut, took the helm, and now the theater hosts two slams a year.
"Puppetry is here to stay, and it is a powerful form of storytelling," Brooks says.
That's evident in the number of sketches that deal with more serious topics, including hoarding, hope and faith. The puppets also don't necessarily have to have googly eyes and a moving mouth. Through the magic of theater, they can simply be inanimate objects given life by a puppeteer. During February's show, Emma Jaster movingly tackled loss and loneliness in a thoughtful dance with a cloak in "Solo for Two."
"I was trying to give a tangible sense of absence, so how do you do that right?" Jaster says. "It wasn't meant to be a puppet piece, [but] there are things you can do with a puppet that you can't do with a person."
Heavy topics are explored, but the slams end on a happy note - the puppeteers (and their puppets) sing along to Terry Snyder's "The Puppeteer's Song":
I wanna be just like ol' Jim Henson
Without a worry or a care
If I could be a puppeteer
Then I could be a millionaire!