Category Archives: Puppets

Puppets at Percolate

Tom Sarver Puppets

I created a collection of five wooden rod puppets (The Larryville Hipster Collection), for a group show at my friend Moshe Sherman’s new project space, Percolate, in Wilkinsburg, PA.  The show opened in December of 2013.  The closing reception is tonight.

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More New Puppets

Tom Sarver Puppets

Tom Sarver Puppets

Bluu and Ragu were stitched together just in time for their debut appearance at the 2013 Carnegie International Family Day on January 20th.  The two made appearances in the Wade Guyton coat room installation, the Hall of Architecture and the Heinz Galleries at the Carnegie Museum of Art.

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Flight Out of Time / Puppet Show at Carnegie Museum of Art

Tom Sarver Puppets

Hugo Ball & Emmy Hennings traverse the battlefields of the Great War.

On January 16th, I presented a new show with collaborator Michael Cuccaro at the Carnegie Museum of Art, as part of their Culture Club programming for the 2013 Carnegie International.  The fifteen-minute, Dada-inspired show was performed toy theatre-style in the Museum Café with a cast of newly crafted puppet characters including Hugo Ball, Emmy Hennings, Tristan Tzara and a drone.  Sets for the production included a battlefield scene, the interior of the Cabaret Voltaire, Zurich, Switzerland, 1916 and Hugo Ball’s bedroom.  The Carnegie Café was transformed into an installation for the International, making it an interesting venue for the event.  Also performed that evening was Museum Piece: For Margo Lovelace, a puppetry performance by Paulina Olowska, performed by Kristen Barca and Joann Kielar.

Emmy Hennings performing a dance at the Cabaret Voltaire.

Emmy Hennings performing a dance at the Cabaret Voltaire.

In the fall of 2012, I met Polish artist Paulina Olowska.  She was visiting to plan her 2013 Carnegie International installation for the Carnegie Café.  We talked about the beginnings of the Dada movement at the Cabaret Voltaire and her plans to transform the museum café into a cabaret atmosphere.  When Olowska later invited me to work on the performance piece for her project (and exhibit a collection of my puppets), I began thinking about creating a show about the ideals of early Dada artists.

Dada founders Tristan Tzara and Hugo Ball at the Cabaret Voltaire.

Dada founders Tristan Tzara and Hugo Ball at the Cabaret Voltaire.

It’s difficult to think about the trauma experienced by European artists living during World War I.  What were artists to do at a time when humanity was pushed to the edge?  The reality of war and suffering permeated everyday life.  New, more efficient weapons, tanks and gasses were implemented.  What were artists to do in this time of trauma?  The Cabaret Voltaire was an outlet for artists and intellectuals to express their disgust, their needs and their aim to redefine art.

Tristan Tzara delivering his Dada Manifesto at the Cabaret Voltaire.

Tristan Tzara delivering his Dada Manifesto at the Cabaret Voltaire.

Today, wars are often managed by drones controlled from locations far from the battlefield.  We watch football, go to the movies and get into arguments at the supermarket as wars are being waged halfway around the world.  In developing this new puppet show, I thought about the iconic figure Hugo Ball, dressed in a shiny cone-shaped bishop’s outfit.  I wondered what Ball, his wife Emmy Hennings and other Zurich Dadaists of 1916 would think about the world and warfare today.

Bedroom scene, as Ball is about to be visited by an errant drone from 2016.

Bedroom scene, as Ball is about to be visited by an errant drone from 2016.

The puppet show, Flight Out of Time (after Ball’s diaries), recreates the scene of The Cabaret Voltaire.  A fantastical ending suggests a prophetic element in Ball’s prose.  The show includes an adaptation of Tristan Tzara’s Dada Manifesto as well as a reenactment of Hugo Ball’s sound poetry.

A drone "flies out of time" from 2016.

A drone “flies out of time” from 2016.

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Puppet Collection at 2013 Carnegie International

A collection of thirty puppets and puppet show props that I made and used in performance from 1997 though 2013 is currently on display as part of Paulina Olowska’s cabaret installation Puppetry in America in Truly a Lonely Craft in the 2013 Carnegie International.  I met Olowska and co-curator Daniel Baumann in November of 2013, when the artist visited the Carnegie Museum of Art to plan the transformation of the museum’s Carnegie Cafe into a cabaret installation inspired by puppetry and the legendary Pittsburgh puppeteer Margo Lovelace.  I shared my collection of puppets, props and posters, and was later invited to participate in the project.  

Aside from the collection, I also organized a performance for the opening day of the International with Pittsburgh puppeteers Kristen Barca and Joann Kielar.  Based on Olowska’s cabaret concept, the performance titled Museum Piece: For Margo Lovelace involved Barca and Kielar manipulating marionettes on a sculptural stage to a piano and accordion score.  The piece, which is now on view as a video recording, played to a packed crowd on opening day.

Yawny

Yawny

Puppets made from fabric, wood, paint, hardware and found objects.

Puppets made from fabric, wood, paint, hardware and found objects.

Monster Burger looks out at diners in the Carnegie Cafe.

Monster Burger looks out at diners in the Carnegie Cafe.

Puppetry in America is Truly a Lonely Craft  

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Puppets do Aristophanes

I’m working with Mike Cuccaro on a puppet show performance of the ancient Greek comedy Peace.  We played a few scenes of the show at Modern Formations Gallery on April 12th and at the Carnegie Museum of Art on  April 27th.  We hope to have a complete production ready by the end of the year.

Tom Sarver and Mike Cuccaro performing in the Hall of Architecture at the Carnegie Museum of Art

Tom Sarver and Mike Cuccaro performing in the Hall of Architecture at the Carnegie Museum of Art.  Photo by Stacy Hoffman.

CMApuppet1

Trygaeus flying on his beetle in the Hall of Architecture at The Carnegie.

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Luck of the Puppets

On March 3rd, Puppet Happening celebrated one year of activity and its third big production, Luck of the Puppets.  The event took Puppet Happening in a new direction, breaking away from the familiar sit-down puppet cabaret show.  After a January brainstorming session, a new path was set, something close to the historic “art happening.”  Puppeteers agreed on a more interactive show, an event that invited guests – and their puppets – to become active participants.   A Vegas-themed, carnival-style festival was in the works.

Luck of the Puppets at Future Tenant Art Space. Image Copyright Larry Rippel.

The hands-on approach began with a puppet making area run by Rose Clancy called Make Your Mate.  Rose, along with artists Kara Skylling and Brandi Welle, assisted guests in creating approximately sixty puppets out of craft supplies and repurposed materials.  Puppet creators were encouraged to complete profiles for their puppets.  The spectator-turned-puppeteer experiment made for a lively evening.  Some participants later took to the stage, taking part in Puppet Dating Game and Puppet Weddings.

Mike Cuccaro hosting the "Puppet Dating Game."

Visitors with their puppet creations. Image Copyright Larry Rippel.

A guest works her new puppet. Image Copyright Larry Rippel.

Aside from the participatory, the happening had plenty of purely experiential performances and moments of spectacle.  Performance artists Scott Andrew and Erin Womack presented Liquid Escort 5000, a futuristic spin on the sex industry. Over a five-minute performance, Andrew danced in elaborate costume while Womack canvassed his movements with psychedelic projections using overhead projectors and an array of colored liquids (Think Matthew Barney + Gaga + mad scientist).

Scott Andrew performing "Liquid Escort 5000." Image Copyright Larry Rippel.

Body Language: A Puppet Seduction explored themes of fantasy and desire.  The performance happened twice during the evening featuring a cast of Megan Morrison, Jeremy Frazier, Brittany Thurman, with set work by Sophie Hood.  Gabe Felice brought his portable studio to the happening.  Throughout the course of the night, guests lined up for his psychic noisemakers and paintings.

"Body Language: A Puppet Seduction." Image Copyright Larry Rippel.

Gabe Felice. Image Copyright Larry Rippel.

One of the highlights of the night was Mime Share by Kristen Barca.  Guests were encouraged to sign up for “time with the mime.”  Located in a 4-foot by six-foot square and dramatically framed by floor to ceiling black velvet, visitors could step into the world of the mime to experience a number of intricate routines.   Kristen stayed in character throughout the night, refusing to speak a word.

Kristen Barca performing "Mime Share." Image Copyright Larry Rippel.

On the opposite side of the gallery, near the entrance was Puppet Peep Show, a project performed by Kate Mickere & Megan Morrison.  As visitors entered a ten-foot by ten-foot black curtained room, they were asked to choose a show.  I only got to see one peep show.  It was pretty hilarious.  It involved a dancing bottle of Thousand Island salad dressing and its affair with a Reuben sandwich.

Operating close to the peep show was another performance duo, Murphi Cook and Zach Dorn with the debut performance of Puppet Photo Booth.  A project of The Society for the Advancement of Miniature Curiosa, the duo performed an epic adventure (Honey I Shrunk Las Vegas) thirty times during the evening.  The photo booth was pretty close to the real thing (aside from the fog machine, water feature and human operators).  I don’t want to spoil the show.  It is due to tour Pittsburgh over the next year.

Late in the evening, Dave English and Paul O’Brien announced the winner of Big N’ Scratchy, an enormous lottery scratch-off ticket.  Puppeteer Cheryl Capezzuti picked the winning ticket and was awarded the task of scratching, and scratching, and scratching with a giant quarter.

Cheryl tries her luck on the big ticket. Image Copyright Larry Rippel.

A late-night puppet wedding. Image Copyright Larry Rippel.

Rounding out the night were performances by Mr. & Mr$. Funky Vegas performing The Puppetmaster of Vegas and Mike Cuccaro with puppet dating game.  I joined up with Mike for a hand puppet show and I ended the night performing puppet weddings for all interested participants.   Luck of the Puppets was the produced as part of the Trespass performance residency series at Future Tenant Art Space.  Drinks were provided by Straub and Woodchuck Cider.

Mr. Funky added some lively keyboard tunes to the evening. Image Copyright Larry Rippel.

Tom Sarver & Mike Cuccaro perform a Vegas puppet satire. Image Copyright Larry Rippel.

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the day after

The Lascaux to Garfield event at Irma Freeman Center for Imagination was a huge success.  Hundreds of visitors stopped in for the gallery show and we had a capacity crowd for the Puppet Cabaret.  Thank you to everyone who stopped out.  A special thanks goes out to all of the participating artists, the performers, those who donated food & drink for the reception, Brett & Sheila at IFC and everyone who purchased art!

Proceeds from the event will go towards the next Puppet Happening event, scheduled for the first weekend of March, 2012 at Future Tenant Gallery, Downtown Pittsburgh.  I’m looking for volunteers and performers for that event.  Please contact me if you are interested.  tomsarver@gmail.com

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