One might think that puppets are just for kids. Not so. Pointless Theatre Company, a D.C. company founded by UMD School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies (TDPS) alumni, blends puppetry, theatre, dance, live music and visual art to create unique onstage spectacles for adult audiences.
From October 9th to October 13th, Pointless Theatre is in residence at Joe’s Movement Emporium in Mt. Rainier to rehearse for and polish their performances for a showing this Saturday, October 11th at 7 pm. Pointless Theatre will perform two original twenty-minute pieces, Famous Birds and Nom-noms, followed by a conversation that will allow audience members to share their thoughts and feelings about the work.
“We have a very strong idea of what our aesthetic is and what we think our work is saying to the audience,” said TDPS alumnus Scott Whalen, a performer and co-director of communications for Pointless Theatre. “It will be really interesting to hear from our audiences what they’re getting out of the work . . . It will be the first time that we really have those conversations.”
For years, TDPS cultivated students’ interest in puppetry through the Jim Henson Artist in Residence Program, which brought in a nationally known puppet artist each year to work with students. Pointless Theatre is the brainchild of TDPS alumni Patti Kalil and Matt Reckeweg, who in spring 2009 began working on an adaptation of Harry Nilsson’s The Point. They spent the entire summer working with a group of classmates to build puppets for the show, only for it to be cancelled that fall due to copyright issues. Thus, the name “Pointless Theatre” was born.
Despite that setback, the company members continued working together even after most members graduated in spring 2010. Their first production, The Sleeping Beauty: A Puppet Ballet, premiered at the Capital Fringe Festival that summer, and by winter 2012, Pointless Theatre became an official nonprofit organization, Whalen said.
“It’s very rare that you find a group of 20 young people who all graduate from a university and decide that they want to stay together and create work in an ensemble-based way,” Whalen said. “It’s not only a group of friends; it’s a group of artistic colleagues.”
To develop the original pieces for their performance at Joe’s, Pointless Theatre broke into small teams that included a designer, a writer and a director, allowing company members to take on roles they haven’t held in the past, Whalen said.
“This residency has allowed us to reinvest in our company members, build skills they haven’t had before, and give them the opportunity to flex their directing muscles or design muscles in a low-risk environment,” Whalen said.
Famous Birds uses shadow puppetry to follow a group of scouts learning about the world of birds, while the high-energy Nom-noms tells of a “tyrannical overlord” and his loyal subjects trying to find the most delectable food imaginable, Whalen said. Company members will use the feedback from their Joe’s performance to further develop the two pieces into mainstage shows.
Whalen said that working with puppets can be a challenge, but it’s one that Pointless Theatre embraces.
“They’re never going to move exactly like a human, but that’s okay,” Whalen said. “It’s finding the subtleties and specifics of each object that allows someone to truly bring them to life.”
Pointless Theatre’s showing of Famous Birds and Nom-noms is Tomorrow, Saturday, October 11 at 7 p.m. at Joe’s Movement Emporium – 3309 Bunker Hill Road, in Mt. Rainier, MD 20712. The show is part of NextLOOK, a partnership between The Clarice and Joe’s. The performance is “Pay What You Want” and is followed by a moderated conversation with the artists.
Note: Emily Schweich is a junior broadcast journalism major at the University of Maryland