Puppetry & Poetry Remixed at The Bushwick Starr
At an audition for a found puppetry troupe, Kirsten Kammermeyer was given a bag, a suitcase, and a roll of duct tape. The director gave her a simple, yet daunting prompt: “make something.”
“There’s this idea that in order to do puppetry you need a puppet, or something made, but you don’t,” Kirsten Kammermeyer tells me over tacos. Kirsten is a co-founder of Alphabet Arts, an interdisciplinary collective which creates new work using two of the world’s oldest storytelling forms: puppetry and poetry.
To illustrate Kirsten’s point, Ren Carrillo, a puppeteer and member of Alphabet Arts, picks up his beer and animates it as “Super Tecate” by adding a napkin to its rim and whizzing it around the table (pictured at left).
Ren captures the governing principle of found object puppetry: you can bring any object to life through movement and interpretation.
This December 4-7, playwrights, musicians, poets, puppeteers and other artists will present short, hybrid works in the 4th Annual Puppets & Poets Festival, a collaboration between The Bushwick Starr and Alphabet Arts. Some artists are meeting puppetry for the first time, and some, like Kirsten and Ren, are veterans.
Alphabet Arts was founded in 2009 by Kirsten and her friends Sarah Engelman and Dr. Amber West. While working on her master’s dissertation, Amber sought a way to blend her two loves: poetry, often considered high art, and puppetry, sometimes thought of as child’s play, or low art. Amber wondered how the two forms could compliment each other to breed possibility and imagination in adults and children alike.
Alphabet Arts was born. Their first production, City of Hamburgers, was presented in Amber’s front porch for a summer block party in Prospect Lefferts Gardens, Brooklyn. Kirsten explains that Alphabet Arts’s goal is to provide ”an art form that is completely and totally accessible.
City of Hamburgers is based on Mike Reiss’s quirky children’s book and will reprise in this year’s Puppets & Poets festival. Pictured: the cast and band of City of Hamburgers: (top row, L to R): Kirsten Kammermeyer, John Dyer, John Foti, (bottom row, L to R): Lake Simons, Jamie Moore, Ren Carrillo, Lindsay MacNaughton.
In keeping with Alphabet Arts’s mission to “inspire the next generation of creative thinkers and doers”, Puppets & Poets partners with Bushwick’s P.S. 123 each year to send teaching artists Ren Carrillo and Modesto Flako Jimenez to lead free poetry and puppetry workshops to fifth graders. Over the course of the four week workshop, students compose and develop their poetry. They then make puppets, often from found objects. A selection of poems will be presented during the matinee for all ages on December 6th and 7th at 3pm at The Bushwick Starr alongside material from the festival’s adult participants.
Ren and Kirsten tell me that the most common misconception about puppetry is that it’s just for kids. They passionately disagree. Kirsten didn’t get involved with puppetry until she was 22. “You’re never too old or too cool to get started,” she says.
Puppetry speaks to any age range. Kirsten has worked on projects with topics that range from molestation to dementia to immigration to yes—hamburgers.
Puppets & Poets issues a call for submissions every year to gather a multitalented group of poets, puppeteers, musicians, designers, dancers, playwrights, actors and artists of all disciplines for the annual jam. Letters of interest from audience members who want to participate are embraced with the characteristic warmth of Alphabet Arts. ”They want to explore their own creativity, and why not?” Kirsten says.
This year’s festival gathers over 30 artists. Some entered the process with a clear idea of what they wanted to create, while others arrived open to be inspired. The festival producers played matchmaker at orientation in late September, connecting single collaborators to form ensembles. Since then, artists have had access to Materials for the Arts and the New York Puppet Library.
“The poets are really excited about seeing their words come to life. How is someone going to interpret abstract language? Will that be a shadow?” Kirsten says. “You don’t have to stick with your marionettes, you don’t have to stick with your sock. Look around! It could be anything! You create your own limitations.”
In a way, Kammermeyer is recreating the provocation of that initial audition by empowering adults and children alike to “make something!” They are encouraged to imagine a hybrid beyond the traditional restrictions of form in order to access a new way of looking at the everyday.
Puppets & Poets
December 4-7 at The Bushwick Starr
Cabaret for Mature Audiences: 8pm Thurs-Sat, 7pm Sun, $18, Tickets here
Matinee for All Ages: 3pm Sat & Sun. FREE!
Production Team: Dr. Amber West, Kirsten Kammermeyer, Neelam Vaswani, Carmen Torres
Featured artists include: Jessica Abrego, Teresa Bayer, Ren Carrillo, Ugo Chukwu, John Dyer, Zach Dorn, Jonathan Ellers, Cassidy Elms, John Foti, Charlotte Gaspard, Matthew Groff, Kevin Hale, Kirsten Kammermeyer, Matt Leabo, Lindsay MacNaughton, Brett Macias, Christine Malvasi, Jamie Moore, Megan Murtha, Tyler Rivenbark, Lavinia Roberts, Maggie Robinson, Sarah Sala, Rachel Schapira, Lake Simons, Shayna Strype, Storm Thomas, BooLynn Walsh, Zeb West, Christina Quintana, Alex Young
Lily Padilla is a playwright, producer and actor. Lily studies playwriting at The New School for Drama. She is a graduate of NYU Tisch: Playwrights Horizons and the Experimental Theater Wing. Her work has been performed or developed with INTAR Theatre, The 24 Hr Play Company, The Lark Play Development Center, RAW Theatrical, PLG Arts, and Structure 13. Lily co-founded American Nightcap, a late-night play series gathering artists from diverse communities for condensed, energetic collaborations. She is also co-founder of ARTwerkNYC, a grassroots grant-giving organization.