Puppets, weird poets to the rescue

Written by Diana Nelson Jones on .

by Diana Nelson Jones/Nov24

Keep selling that hot chocolate, Beechview - a $600,000 allocation to the Carnegie library system is merely a life jacket.

The city's allocation of about half of what the system needs to close a budget gap is welcome news that may keep the branches in Hazelwood, Beechview, Lawrenceville, West End, Knoxville and Carrick open for another year.

In today's Post-Gazette article by Rich Lord and Anya Sostek, a library board spokesman pointed out what this infusion means to the patient:

Lou Testoni, the library board's finance chair, said that $600,000 from the city, along with measures the library system is taking internally and the hoped-for additional allocation in the city's 2010 budget, would "barely get us through the year," possibly with reduced hours at some of the branches.

So... the shows must go on.Flora Shepherd manipulating a bird puppet as a kid


Puppeteer Flora Shepherd and a troupe of volunteer puppeteers have been performing and giving workshops at all the libraries on the to-close list since Halloween. The project, Puppets for Pages, is not to raise money but to raise interest.

They were in Lawrenceville last Saturday; this Saturday, from noon to 3 p.m., they will be at the Carrick branch, 1811 Brownsville Road, and on Dec. 5, same time, at the Knoxville branch, 400 Brownsville Road.

The finale to the Puppets for Pages run will be a family-oriented pageant from noon to 3 p.m. Dec. 6 at the Union Project, 801 N. Negley Ave., Highland Park. Puppeteers Angela Tuulaupua, Yilan Xu and Cheryl Capezzuti, the maker of giant puppets for First Night, will be performing, and children’s puppets from library workshops will be on display.

The Puppets for Pages project is Flora's brainchild. She grew up, literally from age 4, touring libraries in Louisiana with her mother's troupe, Calliope Puppets, performing for children in summer reading programs. (That's Flora, a bunch of years ago, in the photo on the right.)

Libraries and puppets are her double passions. "Since puppetry is what I know, this is the way I felt I could help," she said. "Being from New Orleans, where there's a lot of missing infrastructure, it's hard to see a city that has so much let it go."

Katrina Struloeff, a print-maker and activist for several community development nonprofits helped organize the Puppets for Pages series. “People are so grateful there is support outside their neighborhoods,” she said.

Jim Carney, the children’s librarian at the West End and Sheraden branches, said the puppet event at the West End branch was “wonderful. Whatever happens with the libraries, it is nice that Flora and the rest of the Puppets for Pages volunteers are fighting so hard on our behalf. The library is one of the last places where people in the West End can go. There aren’t many businesses left.”

Ms. Shepherd is chronicling the Puppets for Pages events on her blog, For more information about her puppetry - which includes cabaret and underwater puppeteering - visit


The Typewriter Girls bring an absurdist literary bent to their act, which they describe as Pittsburgh's first and only poetry cabaret.

They are performing at 6 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 6 at the Carnegie Library Lecture Hall, 4400 Forbes Ave., for a minimum of $7 so that their regular fan base can afford to attend. People who can afford more should be shamed into doing so.

"We were thinking about picketing rich people's houses to get them to contribute," said Crystal Hoffman, the more talkative of the duo that graduated from Carlow College in 2006 and get their name from their love of old typewriters and a reference by Rudyard Kipling about women who work and are capable of shooting one-liners back at men.

Her cabaret partner is fellow creative writing major Margaret Bashaar.

Crystal was the one on the bicycle who yelled "Whose streets?" during the G-20 police crackdown in Oakland and people yelled back, "Our streets!"

Margaret Bashaar (left) and Crystal Hoffman perform as the Typewriter Girls

These woman want to change the world by changing your view of it, integrating high and low art, taking poetry out of the box of academia and into places where people hoot and laugh uncontrollably, or tilt their heads and frown in puzzlement.

"We want people to sit up a little bit," said Margaret.

"We like to be interesting, weird and shocking," said Crystal.

Their fan base include poets, artists, Goth kids, metal heads, belly dancers, "my parents," said Margaret...

 Monkeys and pygmy goats populate their cast of characters, real or otherwise. THey range from the weird funny to the intellectual symbolic.

At the fund-raiser, they plan to tailor the material so that a mainstream audience won't get too terribly perturbed. You can catch their raunchier stuff by following their schedule on line at and see their skits at

The fund-raiser includes readers Sandra Beasley, and Nancy Krygowski; music by Phat Man Dee; stunts by Dave Doyle; dance by NAKA; performance art by Christiane D.; comedy by Sean Collier; and musical accompaniment by upright bassist Spat Cannon and guitarist Chad Hammitt.

Two other library fund-raisers are planned:

The Shadow Lounge, 126 S. Highland Ave., East Liberty, is holding a dance party Dec. 5, from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. during which you can toss whatever donations you want into a pot.

The Thunderbird Cafe, 4023 Butler St., Lawrenceville, is donating proceeds from a $10 live-music event with drink specials and free appetizers starting at 7 p.m. Dec. 9.

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