Adelaide Windsome is a Philadelphia based multimedia fabulist, artist, and organizer, who performs under the moniker, Geppetta. Her puppet shows and film, which she describes as “dark and whimsical”, have been featured nationally with Fresh Meat Productions, Heels on Wheels Glitter Roadshow, and Painted Bride Art Center's Lets Make a Ruckus Festival. She has led workshops on gender studies, multimedia art, and social activism at James Madison and Harvard Law.
The Light Bearer's Nightmare, Puppet Slamwich #Baltimore, Photo: Bill Haas 2011
Marsian: You are a performance enigma! Is it Adelaide? A(dee)laide? or Geppetta?
AW: Ha! I think my name situation makes more sense in my head then to anyone else. My name is Adelaide though most know me as simply ‘dee’ - thus A(dee)laide. I do enjoy Adelaide as is though, it sounds very proper and charming.
M: What was the genesis of Geppetta? Is it like an alter ego for you?
AW: I started using Geppetta a few years ago when I was touring the Southeast with my friend Evan Greer, who is a musician. I wanted to make it clear that I was a puppeteer (and a badass queer feminist puppeteer at that). Since then, Geppetta has sort of become her own puppet. She doesn’t act like I do when I’m off stage - I just crawl inside her skin once in awhile. Its probably for the best, she is high maintenance.
M: Tell us about your art practice and how you ended up performing at Puppet Slams.
AW: I would say multimedia storytelling is the foundation of what I do. I work with stories and experimental memoir that utilize fairy tale and fable motifs and occult symbolism. Most often my work has themes of complex emotions, such as depression, trauma, and grief, and the surreal effects that can have on the body and mind. I like there to be laughter and tears.
M: From magic to melancholy, it sounds like an emo rollercoaster!
AW: I think that’s reflective of why fairy tales and fables are written to begin with, to process hard and complex realities with whimsy and fantasy. My background is in visual arts though and I spend the most time sewing together puppets and painting on tiny faces. As far as performance, I produce short form theater that features puppetry, narrative, and live music. That model works well for Puppet Slams.
M: Can you recall your very first slam experience?
AW: I first heard about Slams while living in Boston years ago. I was interested but didn’t quite have the nerve yet, so I stuck to performing in living rooms and street corners for a while.
M: Um, it takes more nerve to be a street performer, but back to that first puppet cabaret…
AW: The first puppet cabaret I did was right when I moved to Philadelphia with Puppet Uprising at the Rotunda. I had to park the U-Haul and head straight there - it was a scramble. I did a little cardboard piece about two gay lovers lost at sea with my friend playing harmonica. One lover had his limbs bitten off by a shark. I think that was the only time I did that piece. Since then, Puppet Uprising Cabarets have a special place in my heart because I have grown a lot as a performer there and had the opportunity to curate a couple shows.
M: I hope it wasn’t autobiographical… Which Puppet Slams have you performed at?
AW: I have performed at Puppet Slams around the Northeast including Brookline Puppet Showplace’s Slam, PuppetSlamwich at Black Cherry in Baltimore, and Blood From a Turnip in Providence plus a couple others. Most of these in the last year or so.
M: I used to host Blood from a Turnip with Vanessa!
AW: Last fall I had the opportunity to be a featured artist with Blood from a Turnip on one of their solo artist nights. I must say. David and Vanessa are probably the most accommodating people I have worked with. It was a great experience to perform a bunch of work and hold the spotlight. I did miss the diversity and hectic nature of Slams and group performances.
M: I love when you get to see short glimpses of different artists’ visions in the same evening and when you are performing in a slam how you never really know who you will be performing with.
AW: My parents came to a puppet Slam in Boston. It was the same night as War Sheep, a parody on War Horse by Broderick Jones, which involves a sheep getting blown up and made out with. That was a bit freaky/interesting for them.
M: I’ve heard that you tour a lot in odd places.
AW: I have booked tours with performers and musicians where we perform at bars and cafes and basements and spaces generally not accustomed to puppetry. While I like subverting those kinds of spaces in favor of performance art, it is also very nurturing to perform at Puppet Slams that are better equipped for puppetry and just get it a bit more. Though bars probably provide more juicy details on account of the free drinks. You’d be amazed at the number of people who have never seen a buzzed puppeteer on stage before. It's astounding… I would love to do cross country Puppet Slam jaunt. It sounds dreamy for both my sick organizational fetish and as a performer who has wanderlust in her blood.
M: Tell us about a fabulous failure at a slam and what you've learned from it.
AW: I think I count on failure or at least making mistakes to some degree. A lot of my stories are very wordy, more poetic than funny, and I often forget my lines, though if I can quip with the audience its okay. A lot of mistakes graduate into being essential parts of the show. Recently, I lit my hair on fire during a performance at a crowded loft. That wasn’t at a Slam, though I think it would have gone over better if it had been.
M: I love it! That’s so Michael Jackson of you and educational at the same time!
AW: Maybe? Its probably best if I keep that part cut out of the show.
M: How have you evolved through Puppet Slams?
AW: In the past I have mostly performed with other queer artists and musicians or through LGBTQ organizations, which I love to do and will always do, but I wanted to begin performing in settings that pertained to my craft more than my identity. I don’t feel as though I have a wide grasp of the world of contemporary puppetry. Slams have been most of my exposure to that world. This felt rather intimidating at first though Puppet Slams have been so accessible and open to a wide range of styles and backgrounds. I have performed alongside seasoned puppeteers and with people who just felt like making a show that weekend. If I feel weird or different I am in good company.
"Slams are like magnets for innovative weirdness."
M: Why do you think Puppet Slams are important?
AW: It’s been a great place to experiment and network. Maintaining a space in puppetry for the adult imagination is really important as well. Though anytime I use adult and puppetry in the same sentence people just think sexy puppets. Of course its sexy puppets! (though mostly not). Mostly I want grown-ups or anyone who feels they are too old for puppets to get excited about a cardboard box versus a Hollywood film, which does all the work for you.
M: Which performers on the slam circuits are you inspired by?
AW: To some extent, I get inspired by most everyone at Puppet Slams - if not by their performance then by their puppets. Most often I want to get dorky about how a puppet moves since my technical skills are limited.
Some folks I have seen or have performed with a few times are RPM Puppet Conspiracy, who are a Vermont-based troupe. One time I was caught up in some puppet-related woe about metaphor and movement and stupid things and then went to a show by RPM about a space sanitation worker and a talking telephone and a cat with a mustache. It was brilliantly silly and still conveyed a message about over consumption and American consumerism. It was a great reminder not to over-think things, which is a debilitating problem I have.
I recently performed Das Wunderkammer Kabaret at the Cosmic Bicycle Puppet Theater in New York and shared the bill with the Ragdoll Engine, who I also performed with in Philly once before. The group features clown and puppeteer, Aly Perry with accompaniment by banjo player, Cody Fosbrook, and master looper, Karl Scholz. They had sexy puppets! and also sad puppets and puppets you couldn’t quite understand. I enjoy performances where afterwards you feel captivated though also a bit confused.
Beth Nixon is a Philly favorite who is as much a character actor as puppeteer. Her and Sarah Lowry of Missoula Oblongata recently performed Below and Beyond, a cheeky and fantastical response to the fracking debate in Pennsylvania. They will be touring around in May.
M: What slam pieces do you have in circulation?
AW: I have been performing segments from BEWARE DISEMBODIED PHENOMENAS!, which is comprised of three darker fables. One is about the queen of a thrift store who finds Medusa’s brass hands. The other is about a narcissistic dandy haunted by a girlish ghost, and the last is a murder mystery that involves a train hopper and giant dead squid. The stories are allusions to classic myths in contemporary fable settings and have a lot to do with fear and xenophobia. Also I think they are pretty funny.
M: Anything in development?
AW: A shorter version of a longer piece entitled, Three Daemon Serenade, which is a collaboration with experimental folk musician, Elliott Harvey. It's about tea and owls and out-of-body experiences. That’s the piece where I lit my hair on fire. Its under control now. I promise.
M: And when you are not lighting your hair on fire, where can people contact you to perform?
AW: I can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also join my e-mail list here: http://www.stitchingtentacles.com/socialnets.html
M: What advice do you have for up and coming slam performers who are just starting out?
AW: The best advice I was given was from writer/performer Ryka Aoki, while I was on the Tranny Roadshow. She said something along the lines of if you are nervous you need to channel that energy into the performance. The best performances I have done are when I want to pee my pants a little.
M: What’s coming up for you?
AW: This April I will be touring with the Heels on Wheels Glitter Roadshow across the Northeast. Heels on Wheels is a group of queer performance artists that features a raucous, thought-provoking line-up of multi-media, literary and performing arts, music, puppetry, participatory art. Its not only puppets but its a very animated show for sure!