Puppeteers have long known that puppets aren't just for kids. Throughout their long history, puppets have been the perfect medium to speak to both child AND adult audiences -- puppets can say and do the outrageous and unthinkable in the name of entertainment (and sometimes, an underlying message). It's an art form that refuses to die for just that reason, and recent years have seen an explosion of puppet shows aimed squarely at an adult audience, namely in the form of "Puppet Slams." Slams are a collection of short pieces by a variety of performers, and subject matter and tone can range from shockingly bawdy to thought-provoking and moving, as well as everything in between (and beyond!).
The phenomenon of Puppet Slams started somewhere in the mid-90's, and the Great Arizona Puppet Theater was on the forefront of the phenomenon. As GAPT director Nancy Smith recalls,
"At that time, Great Arizona Puppet Theater was renting space from Playwrights' Workshop Theater in an old church complex in central Phoenix. I was inspired by the poets who were performing across the hall from us with Poetry Slams. Having puppets always on my mind, I said something like 'We should have Puppet Slams!' and people responded to the name. I'm horrible at keeping track of times but I think our first evening of short-form puppetry occurred at our present theater in the evening of a National Day of Puppetry (1999?). I think we called it something like 'Sex, Drugs and Puppets." It was well-attended but we were co-producing the whole National Day of Puppetry with the Phoenix Guild of Puppetry and some of them were horrified by the name and some even that puppetry would be adult entertainment."
After the success of "Sex, Drugs and Puppets" GAPT never looked back, establishing a semi-regular series of Slams (and other adult-oriented shows), and has gone from being one of a small handful of Slams to part of a rapidly expanding Slam network. There are now over 70 Puppet Slams in North America (including the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico), Europe and Australia.
One aspect that makes Slams so appealing is that "you never know what you're going to get." By nature they feature an assortment of performers (both seasoned professionals and newcomers to the field), a variety of styles (hand puppets, rod puppets, shadow puppets, mask work, ventriloquism, found objects and so much more), an array of subject matters. Every Slam is different, and as more than one participant has noted "If you don't like one piece just wait; there'll be plenty more to choose from." Ideally the Slam can offer something for everyone...though it helps if the audience members aren't easily offended. GAPT doesn't censor their performers, so anything goes!
Great Arizona Puppet Theater will be jumping right into 2013 with a "New Year's Puppet Slam" on Friday, January 4 and Saturday, January 5 at 8pm. Featured performers will include long-time GAPT favorites Rude Rabbit Productions (their motto: "Monkeys is funny!"), Keep It Short Theater (whose works tend toward the thought-provoking and introspective) and Die Puppet Die (adorable puppets doing outrageous things); puppetry newbie Puppet Stuff; and, all the way from New York City, GAPT alumnus Doug Strich with an new marionette vignette created just for this Slam. And more!
The Slam is for adults only, ages 18+. Tickets are $10 if paid at least 24 hours in advance or $12 day-of-show and reservations/payment can be made by calling the theater at 602-262-2050. The Great Arizona Puppet Theater is located at 302 W. Latham St. in Phoenix, just north of Roosevelt Row/downtown, and has its lot with free parking. Call for directions and more information and visit the theater online at www.azpuppets.org.