On Stage: A Puppy of a Puppet Performance — Perhaps

Photo: Frank Walsh

Corning will readily admit that she is a control freak. So what could be more satisfying than manipulating puppets?

But things aren’t always that simple with Beth. In addition to controlling the movements of her own puppets in The Life & Death of Little Finn, she is producing, collaborating with the movement and performing in this production for The Glue Factory. It is still the first time Beth isn’t the central artistic figure in 7 such projects involving artists over 40 or 50. But then, who’s counting?

Actually, this is good friend Marina Harris’ “puppy,” according to Beth. Folks around here might remember Marina’s contributions to Beth’s tenure at Dance Alloy. There was choreography, costume design and, yes, puppets — most memorably the faceless, armless, legless large fabric doll that Michael Walsh brought to life in Once There Was a House.

In fact, this is “Marina on steroids.” Beth swears that the Nova Scotia artist outdoes her in details. “Everything here is made,” Beth says. The handmade prints are scanned onto the fabric. A pad of paper is not what it seems. Even a pencil.

Marina’s husband, Kip Harris, built the theater, the kind that you acclimate with medieval traveling puppet shows or Punch and Judy or maybe Mr. Rogers.

Except that this will be an adults-only show in a children’s-only setting, Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh — after hours, of course.

It took Marina two years, working every day, to stitch together the story of Little Finn who was “born on angel wings (at least that’s what he was told.” His mother abandoned him at an early age because she was seduced by an unscrupulous lover.” So the story follows his life cycle — school, a job as a bean counter, disastrous dates with women, happiness with a Russian mail order bride…and the end to it all.

Marina, Beth and Melinda Harris toy with a cast including Little Finn (soft puppet), Sharky the Dog (hand puppet), two marionettes, three stick puppets and a whole host of disgruntled co-workers and children strung together. “It’s a huge cast and they’re terribly unruly,” Beth wrily notes.

Marina and Beth had met a long time ago at the Sundance Festival, sharing a love of puppetry and a sharp intelligence. The creative process involved exchanging videos for the far-flung human cast (Melinda danced with Utah Repertory Theater), then assembled at Marina and Kip’s home in Nova Scotia. Beth pauses to wax rhapsodic at the thought of “70 of the most gorgeous acres you’ve ever seen in your life.”

Melinda and Beth stayed in an 1840’s farm house with vista views that stretched down the hill and out to the water and islands beyond. They used to think, “Yay — dance camp!”

It resulted in an intimate production (about 30 audience members at each performance here) that is lovingly constructed and designed to tour.

Like most Glue Factory projects, it promises to surprise. Here Beth cautions that there won’t be a lot of structured dance. But it’s still a cohesive cast — the puppets are all glued together.

See Listings for ticket information. Wed. and Thurs. plus Fri. and Sat. at 8 p.m. are sold out for the hour-long show. Still available: Fri. – Sat. at 8 p.m., Sun. at 6 and 8 p.m.. For audiences 18 and older. Tickets: $30; $25 seniors and students, 8 p.m. Sunday is pay-what-you-can. http://www.showclix.com. 


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