The Lady of the House treated me to a Puppet Slam at the Great Arizona Puppet Theater. The Puppet Slams are for ages 18 and up. No kids! The Lady had been to four of the slams herself, and she really wanted me to see one too. She’s been talking about the slams for years, and they sounded like fun. (One of the puppet skits she told me about featured Pinocchio, but it wasn’t his nose that grew!)
Here’s what the website of The Great Arizona Puppet Theater (http://www.azpuppets.org/Adultslam.php) has to say about the Puppet Slam: “Arizona’s best, quirkiest, edgiest slammers from across the country come together for some adult fun! Independent performers do short pieces which are funny and are sometimes poignant all geared to an adult audience.” The Lady also used the word “raunchy” to describe some to the pieces she’s seen at the Puppet Slams. I was in! There’s something about puppets in adult situations that cracks me up. (Consider Wonder Showzen. Think of the sex scene in the all-puppet cast Team America.)
The building the Theater is housed in is awesome. It is the former Phoenix LDS 2nd Ward Church, built in 1929. I thought it was funny that we’d see raunchy puppet shows in a former Mormon church
In the lobby, visitors can view puppets from previous shows. In the puppet theater, the ceiling is amazing. It looked like inlaid wood, very decorative.
The theme for the Puppet Slam was Shriveled Heart (in honor of Valentine’s Day, I guess), and was hosted by Daisy the Kitten, a sweet but foul-mouthed black cat in a pink tutu. Perhaps my humor level is that of a twelve year old boy, but I thought it was pretty funny every time Daisy let loose with an F-bomb. Daisy was sometimes joined onstage by Jingles, a large wild-furred and wild-eyed disembodied cat head reported to be forced to live at the back of the theater basement. Jingles seemed to be a little perverse and a little mentally off-kilter.
The first skit of the evening, “The Super Bowl Commercials You Didn’t See” (by Stacey Gordon and Mack Duncan of Die Puppet Die) was funny and mildly risque. It consisted of ten 15 to 30 second spots that would never make it on TV during the Super Bowl. The risque bits included two beer bottles getting it on, two puppets making out while a cutout of the Michelin Man was superimposed over them (yes, I thought it was kind of a stretch too), one puppet enthusiastically eating the other’s (held at crotch level) Snickers bar, and the Snickers bar eater offering to let her friend eat her Eskimo Pie. The piece ended with a little puppet with wings telling the audience all the things s/he would never get to do because s/he died of measles because his/her parents were “too fucking stupid” to have him/her vaccinated. (If too much time has passed since the Super Bowl by the time you read this post, I’ll tell you that this skit was a joke on both the insurance ad about the kid who never grew up because he died in an accident https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dKUy-tfrIHY and the outbreak of measles that was rocking Phoenix in the same time period.)
The second skit, “Love My Way” (by Dain Gore of The Catechumen) was neither funny nor risque. In this one, a Jesus puppet rambled about agápe, éros, philía, and storgē, the ancient Greek ideas about love. The whole piece needed more work.
The final act of the first half of the show, “All I Do Is Dream of You” (by Gwen Bonar of Rude Rabbit Productions), was lovely, but technically no puppets were involved. The action was a sweet sort of hand dance. The “puppeteer” acted out a love affair, using only her two hands, a scarf, and ring. Wikipedia says “a puppet is an inanimate object or representational figure animated or manipulated by a puppeteer,” so I guess if we can agree that Gwen’s hands were “representational figures” that she animated, we can make the case that this act did belong in a puppet show.
Intermission afforded me the opportunity to go outside, through a sort of courtyard, and into another part of the building to visit the cramped but clean restroom. Intermission afforded others in the crowd the opportunity to buy beer and wine, as well as water and soda, at the concession stand. (By the way, as many folks in the audience were laughing at some not very funny jokes, I think plenty of them were drunk. Or maybe my sense of humor is just different.)
The highlight of the second half of the show was Dan Dan the Puppet Man (Dan Dold). The Lady of the House was so happy when she saw his name on the program that she clapped her hands and bounced in her seat. He certainly deserved this enthusiasm. He made marionettes of Alice (of Wonderland fame) and Tina Turner (of Tina Turner fame) dance, sing, strut, and shimmy. Oh, it was fantastic! Mere words cannot adequately describe this performance. Music was playing, and Dan Dan the Puppet Man made his marionettes lip sync the lyrics. It looked like the puppets were singing! And they were certainly dancing! It was amazing! (And the funny part was that sweet little Alice was singing a dirty ditty about showing her snatch to the animals.)
The final act of the show was a very creepy (and perfectly executed) “Rumpelstiltskin Revisited” by visiting artist Drew Allison of Grey Seal Puppets. Rumpelstiltskin told his side of the story from the Maricopa County jail. It was a somber end to the night.
What came between Dan Dan the Puppet Man and Rumpelstiltskin was the lowlight of the show. Scott Gesser performed his “Songs of Wuv.” THERE WAS NO PUPPET!!!! Scott Gesser is a real live guy. He is not a puppet. He is also not a puppeteer. He’s not a ventriloquist. He didn’t even put a sock on his hand and pretend it was a puppet. I will repeat: Scott Gesser got on stage and there was no puppet present. Scott Gesser performed sans puppet. How can a performer without a puppet be allowed to perform during a puppet slam? It makes no sense!
Scott Gesser’s songs were fairly humorous. He might have been ok performing at a comedy club or even at an open mic. At a puppet slam, considering that THERE IS NO PUPPET in his act, he is a complete and dismal failure. The Lady of the House and I were both extremely disappointed by this guy and wondered who he’d had to fuck to get this gig. (The Lady has seen him perform without a puppet at the Puppet Slam twice before.) This act really tainted the whole show for me. I wish the show had been shorter and this guy left out.
Puppet Slams don’t happen on a regularly scheduled basis, so if you hope to see one someday, go to the Theater’s website to sign up for the slam mailing list. The slam I attended lasted about an hour and half–including intermission–and cost $12 at the door, $10 in advance.