By Pete Zamplas
A distinctive string section will perform next week — as puppets of various sizes, shapes and personalities take the stage locally.
The Wham, Bam! Puppet Slam is Saturday, Feb. 15 at 8 p.m. in Sly Grog Lounge in Asheville. Grog is at 271 Haywood St., just north of Patton Avenue.
The show is the after-party for the Assembly Required: Asheville Designer Toy Expo. It is also open to the general public, for $15 per person at the door. Seating is limited.
Puppeteer Keith Shubert of Asheville organizes many puppet and variety shows, including this mostly adult-themed collection of brief puppet plays. He is curator for the Southeast Regional Puppeteers of America Festival, June 4-7 at Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa.
Shubert has won at the National Puppetry Festival for best performance and also fan favorite. Next up, Shubert shares the macabre-tinged bill with major touring act Handsome Devils Puppets. That is this Sunday, Feb. 9 at 9 p.m. in The Odditorium in Asheville. Admission is $10-12.
Shubert typically brings to puppet slams a blend of local puppeteers and noted acts from across the country. Who performs will be clearer closer to the show night, he said.
Tim March has pledged to perform. He is based in Greenville, S.C. He vows that he and his fiancee MiiMii Beaulieu will each have “bizarre puppets doing hilarious things.”
Locally-based Ben Brill and Rigel Pawlak and regional acts such as Lyon Hill, Qate Bean, and Carole D’Agostino are among performers in recent puppet slams in Asheville.
Edwin Acosta Salas often is in these slams. His puppet act in the recent Asheville Fringe Arts Festival was Dracula Killed My Mom. Salas said when he was age three, his mother was murdered. He reasons “only a monster” such as Dracula could do such a fiendish deed.
His puppet show was voted by Fringe patrons as fringiest (most bizarre), and also most surprising. Asheville resident has performed in Shubert’s local puppet slams, and very possibly may be in the upcoming one.
Fringe two weeks ago showcased variety of eccentric and creative acts including puppetry, including Salas’ own act and another one that he directed.
The Mexican native directed masked dancing of La Gaviota Teatro (“Seagull Theater”), a trio from central Mexico. “This is the kind of (international and unusual) performance we wouldn’t normally see here in Asheville,” Fringe co-coordinator Jim Julien said. This was the trio’s first performance in the United States. They headed to New York and will not be in the slam. But their artistry is worth noting, in using masks and costumes to act as life-sized puppets.
“We feel the love” of Fringe, La Gaviota spokesman Jorge Smythe told the crowd after the show. He called the festival “amazing” for encouraging daringly unconventional performances.
The trio won the award for pushing boundaries of art forms, for their multi-sensory act entitled Urikubu: Language Without Frontiers. Urikubu is an imaginary location and guttural language they created for the show. Loud music also accented conflicts, in the show in the Magnetic Theater.
The Mexico trio is Smythe, Raul Angeles, and Coy Galinda. Angeles wrote this drama about forces of good versus evil. He portrayed the main villain, a menacing big bad dragon he calls the “angry witch” Boba Roda.
Boba tries to stop a prophecy beneficial to humans, in the main storyline. Angeles did high-pitched voices of a baby human puppet and cute baby dragon as well.
Serpents are part of Mexican folklore. Angeles created the large dragon puppet in 2010, then added other characters a few months ago when first doing the show in Mexico. In one scene, he swirled about in a majestic gold-winged outfit.
Slender Galinda played a “good witch”, who tries to stop her diabolical sister portrayed by Angeles. Galinda softened when kissed by the baby. But later, she acted as a warrior trying to slay the big dragon. There was much competition between characters, including to get the baby dragon.
Troupe spokesman Smythe was inventive with characters. He wore a suit with a large face on his backside, and wiggled to make it seem to talk. Other times, he wore a mask of an old man’s face on his head. He tipped his head back to show it to the audience, as ancient God of Time.
Toybox Unleashes Charlie
Shubert, as his witchy character Toybox, are familiar to Fringe fans. He was voted most fringy in 2019, and having the funniest act that year and in ’18.
This time, he did a new child-friendly show called The Miraculously Inventive Machine of Charlie Mean. He got to perform it Jan. 25-26 for Fringe, in the Wortham Center’s spacious new secondary theater. Shubert felt honored to see his stage name up on the marquee.
He was impressed with the venue’s sound and lighting. It “meets our technical needs,” Julien said.
Puppet star Charlie gets picked on relentlessly. The lad is determined to impress his schoolmates with an ingenious invention. He goes to the Amazon River, and brings back a monkey. He devises a way for the monkey’s gaseous explosions to propel a plane. Ultimately, Charlie invents another interesting creation.
Shubert hopes to get to perform the Charlie show in a local theater this year. He plans a more risque skit for the slam.
Julien is also a veteran puppeteer. He put on an impromptu show on Grog’s porch during the festival.