In a time of catastrophe fatigue, PuppetPalooza, a two-week extravaganza celebrating the wild and wondrous world of mechanical artwork, offers our weary population a vibrant distraction of the imagination. With a variety of puppetry pop-ups and performances throughout the downtown area, this festival offers opportunities to learn and create through workshops, events, and a 1st Thursday parade. PuppetPalooza also brings world-class talent, such as master puppeteer Tarish “Jeghetto” Pipkins, to Santa Barbara stages. Pipkins’s show Time Machine, about a robot boy’s adventures through time, gives audiences a look at his extraordinary creations in action.
A lifelong artist with roots in spoken-word poetry and rap, Pipkins began focusing on puppetry 15 years ago, when he built his first puppet to host a poetry night. “I was inspired by the puppetry on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” Pipkins said. “And when I saw the puppetry in Being John Malkovich, I said, ‘This is what I’m talking about!’”
Pipkins’s puppet was a hit with audiences, inspiring him to design and construct a collection of characters in a variety of styles, including rod puppets, hand puppets, and marionettes. These puppets are the stars — and centerpieces — of a series of narrative performances Pipkins presents across the country as Jeghetto the puppeteer. “Jeghetto” is a play on notable (fictional) puppet maker Geppetto, with the indication of a more modern sensibility — a stylistic aesthetic Pipkins calls “homemade abstract.” The puppets are fashioned from wire and fleshed out with layers of detail work crafted from upcycled materials like PVC pipe and scraps of wood. With an emphasis on both the artistry and engineering aspects of his moving sculptures, Pipkins builds his pieces so the beauty of their mechanical systems is visible to the audience.
Beyond the visual distinctiveness of his performances, Pipkins strives to tell a great story with his puppet actors. Time Machine, for instance, is an interactive show intended to appeal to audiences of all ages, with a family-friendly adventure featuring animals, robots, and an impressive, five-foot-long T. rex puppet that roams the aisles. “There’re puppets for the adults, too,” Pipkins said. “They break the fourth wall; they’re roving and busking in the aisles.”
Pipkins’s presentations reflect the diversity of his performance experience, all of which has informed his work. “I was working a hospice production,” Pipkins said of his early days in puppetry. “I was pressed for time, so the puppet had no face … it became a question of telling the story by putting personality and emotion into the performance.” His breadth of experience ranges from street shows to theatrical productions to puppetry designed for commercials and music videos, including the Missy Elliott and Pharrell music video “WTF.” Time Machine features several types of Jeghetto’s puppets, giving audiences a broad view of this master puppeteer’s creative vision.
Tarish “Jeghetto” Pipkins performs Saturday, March 3, noon, at the Community Arts Workshop (631 Garden St.). See puppetpaloozasb.com.