Uncumber Theatrics guarantees to please with disease-themed shadow puppet show

A shadow play about "fleas, disease, and a girl named Louise" is sure to please audiences with Uncumber Theatrics’ expertise. The theater company, dedicated to “creating innovative theatrical playgrounds,” is bringing the whimsical Wee Beasties to the Strip District's Bitz Opera Factory starting on Fri., Aug. 18.

Creative Director Ayne Terceira says she’s thrilled to start the performances.

Dark silhouettes of flea-shaped puppets wearing graduation hats
A panel of academic fleas create hubbub at a colloquium in Uncumber Theatrics' "Wee Beasties" // Photo by Stephanie Trainer

“I like Uncumber Theatrics because they do every single show absolutely different and this show is something that has not ever been seen in Pittsburgh before,” Terceira says. “It’s been a long while since I’ve seen shadow theater in Pittsburgh, and certainly not this way so we’re excited to do this.”

Wee Beasties is set roughly around 1882, a time period often described as “the Golden Age of Microbiology,” when disease treatment was needed.

“So essentially, this is the period of history where we’re making this switch into viewing disease in one way, into seeing disease as a function of a microbe,” Terceira says. “At this point, there are collegiate doctors and itinerant doctors and there’s a disconnect between these two bodies of who gets treated. Does the individual person get treated for this disease or does the society get treated?”

Wee Beasties tells this story through shadow puppets displayed on four screens surrounding the in-person audience. Characters include Louise (Jalina McClarin), Mother (Bayley Brown), Doctor (Liam Gannon), and Monster (Christine Starkey). All four cast members and three crew puppeteers (Jon Hartwell, Kate Hagerty, and John Wooliscroft) do foley and create vocal additions.

A dark silhouette of a human wearing a hat holding a dead flea
A scene from Uncumber Theatrics' "Wee Beasties" // Photo by Stephanie Trainer

A film trailer for the performance, showcasing a variety of silhouetted flea puppets framed inside theatrical curtains, includes a spooky soundtrack and a playful but dramatic voiceover. “All great fleas have greater fleas; their flesh, they sup and gnaw on,” says the narrator, “and greater fleas have greater fleas and greater fleas and so on.” As she speaks, the puppeteers transition from showcasing silhouettes of insects to showing puppets of a human girl, an angry mother-like figure, and an even larger menacing male figure.

Patrons can expect to be both entertained and gain new knowledge about how diseases were treated in the 19th century.

Before the show, there will be a twenty-minute “flea circus” pre-show where children and adults alike can get a behind-the-scenes look at how the puppets work. Terceira says it’s “a great way to get the audience warmed up.”

“It’s a way of introducing the audience early on what a shadow show is and what it kind of looks like behind the scenes,” Terceira adds. “It allows them to laugh a little and let them know what the show might actually look like and how wonderful it looks in shadow.”

Performances start on Aug. 18 at 7 p.m. and go through Aug. 27. Be sure to check out the fleas that cause disease this Friday eve!

Uncumber Theatrics presents Wee Beasties. Aug. 18-27. Bitz Opera Factory, 2425 Liberty Ave., Strip District.