Audience members are part of the act, hopping toward an animal doll on the floor as urged by mime Sneaky McFly in the monkey suit. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
By Pete Zamplas – The Wham Bam Puppet Slam! in Asheville Friday delighted a packed crowd with puppets gone wild and other visuals, as a post-Fringe bonus and pre-LEAF preview.
Keith Shubert hosted a combination of Asheville-based puppeteers with ones from Georgia who like the host often perform at LEAF, one from Charleston, S.C. and a headliner from Los Angeles.
The all-star, puppet and puppet-related acts were in The Mothlight, in West Asheville. Dozens showed up. Most looked to be in their twenties and thirties, signaling whacky puppetry is catching on with a young artsy crowd among others. Some bought puppets hand-crafted by several of the performers. Shubert promoter Jennifer Bennett had playing decks with Shubert’s personas as two jokers.
Many are regular followers of Shubert and other locals, such as the Fringe Festival a week earlier. Shubert’s “Total WTF” puppet play won the Fringe aware for most hilarious. His fluffy hibernated troll seeks to ascend to cause mischief as the galaxy’s premier “chaos wizard.” Last Friday, he had a ghoulish puppet and mostly did schtick in his gothic witch Toybox character.
Puppeteers perform in Asheville throughout the year at such puppet slams, and also vaudeville and burlesque acts. Next, on Tuesday, Feb. 13, Shubert hosts and does puppetry (via his Toybox Theatre) in the Blue Valentines Tom Waits Tribute and Burlesque in Sly Grog Lounge in Asheville. The Asheville Waits Band plays music.
About a dozen dancers are slated to perform classic and neo burlesque acts, poking fun at romance. The show is planned for 9 p.m. until up to 2 a.m. Tickets are $10 each, and are at the door.
Puppet Slam onlookers were very involved, vocally amplifying acts. Audience participation flourished in the act of Daniel “Sneaky” McFly. The Asheville-based clown, who trained in clown side shows and has performed at LEAF, mimed while in a monkey suit. He motioned to get more than a half-dozen people onto the small stage. He demonstrated various motions.
Participants caught on they were to mimic them, as in “monkey see, monkey do.” Two put on masks. One lady bent over butt out, as the mime did. Others gestured, and pranced across the stage.
Masked puppeteer Edwin Salas thrusts his puppets, with the one on his left hand flipping claws out of the eye sockets. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
Shubert noted the slams entice some onlookers to try puppetry at future slams. Charlotte Smith is such a newcomer, and debuted Friday. She sat and joyfully told a story of an angel. She introduced cut-outs as visuals, and triggered a smoky outburst as a special effect.
Some puppets were rather intricate. Edwin Acosta Salas operated one of a blonde lady that he made. He got its eyes to flip into claws, projecting out of the eye sockets as he thrust it forward with his left hand while propelling another puppet with his right hand.
Salas danced nimbly early in his routine, and flipped off his mask later in it to reveal his expressive face. He won a Fringe award for breaking boundaries, for puppet show “The Falling Love” about self-pity. He emigrated into the country three months ago from Mexico City, is married and is based in Asheville. He said he aims to take his acts to local streets, for “busking” for tips.
Headliner Matt Scott of L.A., a 22-year professional puppeteer, had two of his Rasputin’s Marionettes dance and disrobe as he manipulated their precise movements.
Also flexing precision was Carole D’Agostino. She got her female puppet to smoke. She swung a tiny cigarette to its mouth that sparked, as if lit. She, balloonist Qate (“Cate”) Bean of the Bean & Bear duo (of children’s shows) and Shubert are LEAF regulars, for puppet shows and workshops.
Rigel Pawlak used Muppet-like puppets he made, including Kermit, and also some provocative creations. Now based in Asheville, the western New York State native is among those who have “day jobs,” to go with puppetry. He does tricks for customers such as spinning plates, while a waiter at the Smoky Park Supper Club at 350 Riverside Dr.
Ben Brill simply used a rotting banana as his main character, driving a cut-out Uber car and angrily complaining. He also now lives in Asheville.
Lyon Hill, Columbia (S.C.) Marionette Theatre’s artistic director, was very ingenious in his craft. He depicted imagery for the story of Edgar Allan Poe’s “Annabelle Lee.” Hill had built wire figures, and had them stretched on a table as a setting. A projection screen was between that and the audience. Hill was behind the setting.
He shined a small flashlight onto one figure at a time, which projected it through the screen into view of the audience. Hill nimbly moved the light along to simulate motion and go to the next image. After the show, he let people try that out.
Since the event was on Groundhog Day, Bean had her groundhog puppet Beauregard Lee come out of hibernation. Lee supposedly saw his shadow — as famed groundhog Punxsutawney (Pa.) Phil did to make the news — which according to folklore dooms us to six more weeks of winter.
Headliner Matt Scott of L.A. manipulates a dancing marionette. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
Bean first used 3-D visuals to aid her explanation of where in Georgia she is from, and about nearby Stone Mountain with its extended granite and Confederate leader sculptures.
She mentioned in her act she was a high school acquaintance of former baseball player Jeff Franceour, in Lilburn, Ga. After the show she told The Tribune funny stories about the one-time top Atlanta Braves prospect — even in mere A ball, before joining Greenville (S.C.) Braves. He is now a Fox Sports color commentator for some Braves games. He was in Parkview High’s class of 2002, a year ahead of Bean.
The lanky 6-foot-4 athlete led the school to two state 5A titles in both football and baseball, and Clemson offered him a scholarship to play receiver. He instead opted for baseball, and was Atlanta’s first-round pick.
But he could be prickly in high school, Bean said. She said when she once wore a boxy outfit as a gag in school, he slammed into her as if making a football tackle. She thus later relished when her artsy friend beat him out the star jock as homecoming king, and got to dance with Franceour’s cheerleader girlfriend who was the queen as the athlete glumly watched.
Franceour, now 34, starred in the minors. But he batted merely .261 with minimal power in 12 MLB seasons through 2016, as he swung too often and wildly at bad pitches. He was good defensively in right field, in throwing out runners.
“Frenchy” never lived up to his immense hype in baseball as well as many Puppet Slam puppeteers lived up to their expectations.