Not everyone would be inspired by a basement – a real basement with creepy creatures, stacks of old newspapers, darkness … you know the kind I mean. But Davey Steinman was and, with his collaborators, created a show that springs from the strangely apt metaphors he accessed living in … a basement. “The nonhuman creatures come from real life,” he says, illuminating themes and topics such as relationships, future employment, and the transformation from adolescence to adulthood.
All of which comes to life in “Basement Creatures,” a show created by Steinman and Company that opens March 11 at Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theater’s space, the Avalon Theater, and runs through March 26.
In this case, The Basement is filled with things you’d find in a basement, some of which he didn’t want to give away. But I can tell you that there’s a centipede, a sweet, charming, lonely bedbug, a stack of newspapers that comes to life, and a professor and his chalkboard. (Not every basement comes with one of those.)
“And there’s awesome rock ‘n roll songs,” he says. Steinman wrote the lyrics and the music, in part, but turned it over to musician friends and collaborators to complete the live music in the show. There are three chorus singers in addition to the cast who all sing, guitar, drums, bass and piano.
The show’s “band of creatures” are regular collaborators. “I’ve worked with these artists either in different shows or in bands,” he says, which adds an element of trust that is obviously important to Steinman. He may have written the script and is also producer, director and a performer, but he leans heavily on the talents of others. “I like bringing in collaborators who are experts in their discipline, where I can give possibilities and options and see what they give in return. The script is by me. The performance is by all of us.”
Steinman started his artistic journey as a mechanical engineering student at the U. of M. “I thought that would be a career,” he says, with music as more of a hobby. He soon found the art world more fulfilling, he says, and spent the last two years as a theater student. Not that far afield, he thinks. “My curiosity to see how engines work translates to how theater works.” And from there it’s not such a stretch to use forms of puppetry, which figure large – and small – into this production.
“Puppetry allows for things that a human actor cannot do, from infusing political and subversive ideas, to commentary on systems that exist in the world, to how people manipulate each other,” he says. “Sometimes it’s just about the uncanniness of it, distilling an image. Puppetry is a more modular form, where you can go into other realities. It’s juicy territory.”
But this is not a puppet show. It’s a show with puppets, actors, rock music, video – and aerialists. “Two of the cast members have studied aerial and circus arts, so they’re incorporating that into the show,” he says, rounding out the cast of 13.
There’s also a “pre-show” with an art exhibit and refreshments, which takes up the house floor where the audience usually sits in this theater. Steinman chose to seat the audience on stage in order to put the audience “in the basement,” which he felt was necessary to create an immersive experience.
“Basement Creatures” premiered in a shorter version at HOBT last year as part of its artist development fellowship program, Puppet Lab. Steinman assures the show’s fans that the current version is much expanded and not the “bare bones” production from last year. But there’s still something for everyone—circus lovers, rockers, puppeteers, storytelling—all different ages and backgrounds, and it’s “packed with action,” he says.
Recommended for ages 10 and over; running time is about an hour.