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'Slam' Promotes Puppetry In Pittsburgh

Courtesy of Bob Rumba
Bob Rumba dons Planet of the Apes makeup for his ventriloquism show

If the phrase “puppetry for adults” sounds either oxymoronic or potentially salacious, the Puppetry Guild of Pittsburgh has a show to prove otherwise.

PUPPET SLAM AND PICNIC 6-9:30 p.m. Fri., Aug. 17. Workingmen's Beneficial Union, 1958 Varley St., Spring Hill

The group’s third annual Puppet Slam and picnic is the local manifestation of a national subculture of puppetry that’s not just for kids, says Cheryl Capezutti, perhaps Pittsburgh’s best-known puppet artist and an organizer of the Slam.

The Aug. 17 Slam is a fast-paced showcase for local talent. Ten artists will perform for about five minutes each. Performers include Capezutti, Alison Babusci and Kellee Van Aken. One highlight is likely to be veteran ventriloquist Bob Rumba’s “Ventriloquist of the Apes,” a comic take-off on The Planet of the Apes. The show finds Rumba in full Planet of the Apes makeup, interacting with an ape-character’s ventriloquist dummy.

Other styles represented will include hand puppets, marionettes and shadow puppets.

The Puppetry Guild was founded in 2015.

“Its goal really is to celebrate puppetry in Pittsburgh, to bring attention to things that are happening in puppetry, and to get the community more involved in what’s going on with puppets,” Capezutti said. “Our city actually has a big puppet history, and we sort of enjoy celebrating that and sharing that with the world.”

Pittsburgh has a fairly active puppet scene. Two of its biggest exponents, Tom Sarver and Dave English, will host the Slam, which includes live music by Daniel “Kreepy Dollz” Baxter and his band Imaginary Friends.

While the show has adults in mind, kids are welcome, said Capezutti.

“So it’s family-friendly, my kids will be there,” she said. “But it’s not a show that is made for the 3- to 5-year-old set. It’s a show that’s made for all ages, especially grownups, to enjoy.”

The evening begins at 6 p.m. with an outdoor picnic at the Workingmen’s Beneficial Union, a former social hall recently converted into an event space and home to Spring Hill Brewing. Audiences are invited to bring picnic baskets and participate in a puppet workshop. Also featured will be Capezutti’s Giant Puppet Dance Club. “It invites people of all different kinds to come put on giant puppets [wearable figures] and do group dancing led by a dance instructor,” she said.

At 7:30, the program moves indoors for the performances. 

Tickets are $10 for adults, and $5 for children.

For tickets or more information, see here.