Mike Smith Puppetry Journal Review_5
The Fourth Annual Black Sheep Puppet Festival
Pittsburgh PA, October 4-20, 2002

Puppetry Review and Critical Proclamation:

published in and courtesy of:
The Puppetry Journal (ISSN.0033-443X)
The Puppeteers of America Inc.
4923-37th Ave. S Minneapolis, MN 55417
Vol. xx - No. x - Fall 2002
pages xx-xx
Review written by Mike Smith, www.encroach.net (home)

The Black Sheep Puppet Festival started as a brainchild of a group of Pittsburgh sculptors to bring "cutting edge" puppetry to Pittsburgh four years ago. The festival has grown into an established city event and much anticipated meeting of national and "black sheep" puppeteers. The talent, the environment, the venue, the people, and every other element of this swarm combine to create a true festival atmosphere, as important for the artists, as the organizers, with powerful results. This is the fourth of four years I have been in attendance from Chicago, as I already greatly look forward to the Fifth Annual Festival in Fall 2003

National artists included Environmental Encroachment, Beth Nixon, Blair Thomas, Shoddy Puppet Company., Black Cherry Puppet Theater, Sarah Frechette, and Ken Berman. Local acts included Tom Sarver Puppet Express, Excelsior Royal Marionettes, Cheryl Capezzuti, Rotten Tooth Puppet Troupe and Joann Kielar. The Brew House Gallery featured an exhibitor Mark Fox of Cincinnati's Saw Theatre of puppets, set pieces, and drawings.

The festival is mostly contained within a Gothic Brewhaus on Pittsburgh "artist friendly" South-side. Children's workshops and matinee's were of course charming, and offered some of the most original interpretations. Adult performances featured a locals night, including four year local veteran Tom Sarver, who did a great reverse rod and marionette show called Big Fish eat Little Fish, hilariously animating feuding schools of fish. The two puppeteers were complemented by two excellent musicians and sound support. Tom was also a featured marionette with Gregory Knipling's Royal Excelsior Marionettes' rendition of Sir James M. Barrie's Peter Pan. Gregory also provided his wonderful historical demonstrations and puppet history discourse.

Philadelphia's Shoddy Puppet Company did a "cardboard caper" style show of highly charged political resonance. With his assistant and fellow showster, Beth Nixon, Shoddy's show (titled Un Avion) was an ingenious mix of elements, leaving a poignant message of antiwar. Rotten Tooth Puppet Troupe's tale of the 1917 Russian Revolution using rod and shadow puppets kept a political theme and was an intriguing show titled, The Landlord and the Witch, featuring Moscow's greatest poet, Mayakovsky, constructivist artists, revolutionaries, and Russia' most famous folkloric witch, Baba Yaga. The festival's shows ranged from more politically and socially charged shows, to other more abstract or folkloric shows as well, such as Black Cherry Theater, who came with three different performances, including an enchanting light-shape-show. There shows were extremely well done and entertaining. I always appreciate the diversity in puppets, sets, styles and concepts. Puppetry makes bold statements of "newness" and originality as an art form at such festivals. My point is that Black Sheep has something, and many things, for everyone.

I was entertained by all the shows, and watched all three days of the weekend of my attendance. The following two weekends were shows dedicated to Blair Thomas and the debut of, "The Poet, the Puppet, and the Prisoner", which will then travel to Chicago.

The festival often spawns unexpected creative bursts. Performers, resident artists, audience members, and festival organizers unite in artistic and puppetry exchange and collaboration. Important ideas, techniques, polotics, art, music, dance and festivity is shared in an environment created by the artists of the Industrial Arts Co-op(I.A.C.), in an art studio turned stage/magical setting in an old Brewhouse. Puppets, props, masks, costumes and "performance objects" are everywhere. This festival has become a gathering point specific to Western Pennsylvania for puppeteers and fans to exchange ideas, travel stories, and entertainment. The need for this has become more apparent and stronger every year of this festival. One short spontaneous show during the Intermission was about water conservation through better plumbing techniques and flushing methods. The "Black Sheep" moniker accurately reflects the ideals of many artists, and what better than a puppet festival to have them heard. The "Black Sheep" are still comin out.

Mike Smith

for more information about the festival:
Black Sheep Puppet Festival
Brew House
2100 Mary Street
Pittsburgh, PA
E-mail: tkaulen@hotmail.com

Visit photographs of the Black Sheep Festival on the EE website.


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