Dave grew up in a family that lived on top of a funeral home just outside of Pittsburgh, PA. The son of an embalmer dad and an elementary school teacher/quilt maker mom, Dave logically grew up to become a puppeteer. Dave received a BFA in Theater and Puppetry from West Virginia University’s College of Creative Arts in 2001. He attended the National Puppetry Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Center as a young puppeteer gaining inspiration from some of the masters in the field. He moved around the world always learning more about puppets, masks, creature and costume making from Prague to New Orleans to Middle-Of-Nowhere's-Ville. Dave helped to establish and served as an officer with two different puppet guilds; The Charleston Guild of Puppeteers and The Puppetry Guild of Pittsburgh. He also co-founded The Schmutz Company which put a decade of children and adults in the driver’s seat as puppeteers and storytellers. Dave currently lives in low-key happening Pittsburgh, PA, performs with puppets around the country, and works to promote puppetry as an accessible and relevant art form.
I make a lot of different types of puppets using many different types of materials. I see puppets in everything. I believe that our minds understand puppets because puppets are a part of being human. For some reason our brains evolved to be able to recognize that a bit of cloth and a wooden ball with two dots on it represents a satire of the human condition. Effigies and stand-ins, puppets, allow us to safely examine ourselves and the world we live in. I tend to tell stories inspired by the industrial American histories and gritty characters who have always surrounded me.
The themes of 'place' and 'character' are more important in my work as I crest middle age. The places I have lived over the years have all changed a lot. It is a common story in which artists feature heavily around cities in America; renaissance, revival, gentrification, development, displacement. I am a history nerd as well so I’m a little sentimental about the whole thing. I like to street perform under the eaves of closed iconic neighborhood businesses like ABMAYR COSTUME SERVICE on Liberty Afternoon in Pittsburgh. It is a print shop now. This photo was snapped during the Bloomfield Halloween Parade that was almost cancelled but was then saved due to community outrage.
Every puppeteer is an expert or at least passionate about character and character development. I am no different. My style of character often mixes very relatable blue collar personality traits with absurd and fantastic circumstances.
Building The Show!
More than anything Dave loves the production of puppet shows. He loves building little creatures, writing stories, songs, dialogue, making the set, promoting the whole thing, and piecing it all together. Dave throws his back into building frivolously detailed little cardboard fantasy puppet shows hugging the line of what would be a sane return on investment.
A Teaching Artist
Dave is very much a hands-on student participation style teacher. In addition to performing for children he thinks that it is important that children get to make puppets and perform. Storytelling, creative writing, puppet making, stage building, engineering and gadgetry in the name of tiny theater. Puppetry provides endless curriculum connections. Dave has scads of experience developing and leading educational programs in formal and informal spaces.
Puppet Workshops and Guest Teaching
Dave has had a lot of fun working with kids, families, adults, and whoever making puppets and being creative. School visits, after school programs, fancy art parties, senior living, incarcerated youths, punk bars he can create a cool puppet activity for any event- and they’ll love it.
Make time to play!
If you aren't having fun you're doing it wrong. Dave quit this job right after playing a song on these tubes. Haha! Dave has worked as an educator in schools and in informal spaces for nearly twenty years. He started The Schmutz Company, a puppetry and animation experience that put kids in the position of creator. He has received many grants, artist assistance stipends, professional development opportunities and attended multiple artist residencies such as The Fine Residency at Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, The Flight School Fellowship, The Distillery Residency.
Dave writes copy, web content, speeches, grant applications., proposals. He has a lot of experience writing in a persuasive professional style for non-profits, grant cycles, and start up tech businesses- but most enjoys and excels at creative writing. Dave has a knack for absurd comedy, dramatic and comedic dialogue, historical fiction, fantasy, sci-fi, and pure fiction. Dave is experienced with supporting other people’s concepts and helping works-in-progress fill in the gaps. He works fast too.
President, Puppetry Guild of Pittsburgh
Dave is the President of the Puppetry Guild of Pittsburgh, a program of New Sun Rising. The guild is affiliated with Puppeteers of America. Dave became the fill-in president in January of 2017 and went to work creating new events, gaining new members, and building a brand for the guild. The guild has held two successful puppet slam events, established the Pittsburgh Day of Puppetry with the Mayor’s office, did an advertisement for ‘Facebook Groups’, raised the profile of the medium in our region, and has supported performances by several visiting artists.
Always A Discerning Eye
When Dave was a kid he had a root beer floating eye. Luckily the doctors at the children’s asylum fitted him with a prescription rabbit hat and he went on to live a productive life.