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Let’s sock it out

Bring-your-own puppet party offers creative catharsis

It is difficult to define the crowd gathered in the backroom of Mile End’s La Cagibi last Sunday night. Some of them had horns, button eyes, and pink glitter smiles. Others boasted fur and felt faces, ribbons, and feathers cascading down their backs, not to mention golden capes, braids of yarn – even rhinestone teeth! They exhibited anger, frustration, lust, sarcasm, and good will. They engaged in friendly interaction, in heated drama, and in moments of scandalous confession. For one night I had to forget my inhibitions, forget my “old” age, and forget I was interacting with sock puppets.

Instead, Sherwin Tjia, founder of Perpetual Emotion Machine Productions and creator of the sock-puppet event, asked his guests to embrace the bizarre nature of the event and use their sock puppets as mouthpieces for their subconscious voices, allowing them to “say things that people don’t normally say.” If you thought sock-puppeteering was a game of role-play…Ha! You were wrong.

I entered the room with paper in one hand and my rudimentary, red sock puppet clutching a pen in the other. I was immediately scolded for a) not giving my puppet open eyes (I had used a Sharpie to create two messy X’s) and b) for cramping the puppet’s face by forcing it to hold the pen in its mouth. Once I redistributed my items and explained that my sock puppet was just…drunk?…I made friends with a puppet named Homer, who was struggling with a masculinity crisis after losing his pipe cleaner horns due to ruddy Scotch Tape. Homer introduced me to his friend, Rosie O’Donnell. Rosie, a puppet made from fishnets and neon Fun Fur, was affectionately named for her ability to be both burlesque and K-Mart chic at the same time. I caught the two amidst a shrill conversation regarding the possibilities of sock puppet speed-dating.

Inspiration for the endearingly bizarre event came to Sherwin from the Batman comics – specifically from the villainous character Scarface, the evil dummy who defies the odds usually facing inanimate objects and controls the actions of his owner, a meek, quiet ventriloquist.

Fascinated with this idea and curious to experiment with it, Sherwin planned the event in the hopes that these sock puppets would also take on unique personalities – hopefully not treacherous ones.

Sherwin’s events tend to have a childlike twist. Having heard of his Slow Dance Nights, Hipster Spelling Bees, and Love Letter Readings, I wondered if this was intentional. Sherwin, beer in one hand and oversized oven-mitt sock puppet on the other, seemed to be performing a balancing act between childhood and adulthood.

Sherwin believes that these two realms really aren’t so divorced from each other after all. Through his events, he hopes to loosen those oppressive bonds of adulthood, to help people “re-experience a panoply of past [and] childhood experiences as adults. Having felt pain, having developed wit and the power of innuendo….It’s that kind of shit I’m into!” Sherwin exclaimed, wide-eyed.

His experiment certainly provided interesting results. While most children use their sock puppets to punch each other in the stomach, as an adult, to let one’s sock puppet articulate was a new kind of freedom. The “socks” discussed politics, porn and…Walt Whitman. No matter how outlandish the conversation, there was always a glimmer of the person behind the sock. The sock has not changed, but our own fabric has, and through exercises like Sherwin’s, we are able to discover – or rediscover – aspects of ourselves.

Are you a perpetually emotional person interested in reexperiencing old childhood traumas in a safe environment? Come to the Halloween edition of Sherwin’s Slow Dance Night this Friday, at La Sala Rossa. Check it out on Facebook!