A Shakespearean improv troupe, a nationally-acclaimed hip-hop singer, a Zydeco band, a renowned culinary artist and a puppet group.
Are these artists connected to each other?
Probably not, except for Seattle’s good fortune that they are all displaying their talents at Bumbershoot, the eclectic annual arts event that takes over Seattle Center on Labor Day weekend. With artists representing a diverse range of performing, visual and literary genres, the festival showcases the varied nature of the arts and culture scene in the Pacific Northwest and internationally.
Puppetry in motion
Capitol Hill-based puppet troupe Fussy Cloud Puppet Slam is produced by Reed Garber-Pearson, Rachel Jackson and Jenelle Weidlich. Garber-Pearson, who lives on the Hill, has acted at StrawShop’s Douglas Paasch Playhouse at the Lee Center, and helps manage burlesque shows at West Hall.
Jackson works at several Hill arts venues, including Hugo House and Balagan, while Weidlich has performed at Annex Theater and the Lee Center for the Arts. The group is currently adapting the group’s repertoire for its two festival performances.
“Normally the vibe of puppet slams is pretty experimental,” Weidlich said. “They feature short-form puppet and object theater for adult audiences, are often performed late night in small venues, and a fair number of the pieces tend to be brand new. For Bumbershoot, we felt we should curate a little differently. So we invited a selection of favorite acts and artists from our first two years of slams, but we stay true to the ‘slam’ model by having a wide variety of performers and types of puppetry: shadow, black light, Muppet-style, to name a few.”
The trio’s showcase will feature additional Pacific Northwest puppeteers. Local artist MC Rebecca Mmm Davis will also be on hand to host.
“We’re looking forward to spreading the gospel of puppetry arts to the Bumbershoot audience,” Weidlich said.
Singing from the Heart
Dan Niven is prominent in the Capitol Hill theater scene, where he performed his short one-man play Glimpsing the Mermaid, at Rik Deskin’s Eclectic Theater. Previous work on the Hill includes parts directed by David Hsieh of ReAct Theatre, which produces plays at Richard Hugo House. Niven’s busiest performing role at the moment, however, is singing with the Total Experience Gospel Choir (TEGC), led by Pastor Pat Wright.
“There are many things I like about singing in the Total Experience Gospel Choir,” Niven said. “First, there’s our founder Pat Wright’s generosity of spirit. She’s a consummate entertainer, committed to spreading love, joy, enthusiasm and humanity through song, principally in the ‘old school Gospel’ idiom. Another aspect I like is that it’s a true community organization, in that anyone who wants to join the Choir may.”
At the 2013 festival, the group provided accompaniment to the popular music group Heart, featuring longtime Capitol Hill resident Ann Wilson. The ensemble performed a tribute to legendary Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham. Wilson’s four-octave vocal range, a trademark of her group’s music, remains intact, as evidenced at the show.
“The TEGC first met Ann and Nancy last year,” Niven explained. “Last summer, Pastor Pat and our accompanist Lou Magor prepped Gospel choirs at every stop on the Heart tour. Performing with Heart was as big as thrill as I had hoped it would be. Lead vocalist Ann Wilson sounds as good as ever, and she nailed the Led Zeppelin covers. Singing with them was a highlight of my career, right down to our right down to our wearing the John Bonham tribute bowler hats!”
For Wilson, the artistic respect was mutual, as is her continued enjoyment of the festival.
“The times we have played at Bumbershoot–once with Heart and once with the Lovemongers– have been amazing experiences,” Wilson said. “Total Experience Gospel choir is a local treasure. We had a wonderful time! Bumbershoot is a high point in the year for the city, giving thousands a chance to witness the local art scene.”
The choir’s energetic sets have been a trademark throughout its local history. Niven believes that the ensemble’s joyful demeanor serves as a recruiting tool. His work with the chorus is an effort that addresses his artistic and altruistic interests. In addition to its musical contributions to the community, TEGC performs volunteer work.
“Several of our thirty-year-plus members have literally grown up in the choir,” Niven said. “Others have seen us in concert, and find themselves moving past ‘I want to listen to that’ to ‘I want to be part of that.’ We come from all walks and are a multi-generational, multi-ethnic, and multi-faith entity. We’re a Choir family, raising money for worthy domestic and international causes and, most recently, doing hands-on hurricane and tsunami relief work. In short, we endeavor to shrink the world, and that’s a pretty good gig.”
Diversity under one umbrella
Capitol Hill children’s fiction writer Jennifer Matthews plans to attend the event as a spectator. She particularly looks forward to attending the literary readings of her fellow neighborhood writers.
“I like Bumbershoot because it’s eclectic and there is always something surprising,” Matthews said.
“What better way to usher in the rainy season than a Labor Day arts festival named after an umbrella?”
Single-day tickets to Bumbershoot are $60 plus ticket fees, if purchased in advance. Single-day tickets for seniors 65 and over and patrons with permanent disabilities will be available for $45 at festival gates. Children ages 10 and under are admitted for free with an accompanying adult. For more ticket information, visit bumbershoot.org.