Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Squonk Lends A Hand- Or Two- At This Year’s Supercrawl

For Squonk, the sky’s the limit- sometimes literally.

Combining environmentalism, post-industrialism and creativity, Squonk has travelled the world since its founding in a Pittsburgh junkyard thirty-years ago, constantly looking for new ways to be bigger and bolder. Their Pneumatica show, for example, culminates with a forty-foot tall, air-powered female figurehead with outstretched inflatable arms. Squonk’s Cycle Sonic show features a human-powered stage and twenty-foot legs pumping with the rhythm of sustainable power.

For their stop in Hamilton this weekend, and as they tour in celebration of their thirtieth anniversary, Squonk has prepared something special. 

Hand to Hand is the ensemble’s latest offering, inspired by the idea of bringing people together again to be joyful- something that audiences can relate to after the past two years.

Giving it a signature Squonk-twist, the company has made their hands each twenty-feet tall. The two giant purple puppet hands are rigged like a sailing ship, allowing each hand to tilt and move, with each finger able to be controlled individually with ropes. During the show, the hands, which are mounted on wheels, will begin to interact with the audience, until such a time when the audience gets the opportunity to control the hands themselves. 

“As artists and musicians, hands represent the ability to do things, make things happen- as humans we are fortunate to have millenia of evolution that gave us fingers and opposable thumbs.” says Steve O’Hearn, co-founder of Squonk. “They are about empowerment, and the fact that they are gargantuan, compared to us Lilliputians, has to do with the comedy and tragedy of scale, being single people in a world with billions of other people.”

Audience members participate in controlling a set of inflatable hands in Hand to Hand, to be performed at this year’s Supercrawl.

Founded in a Pittsburgh junkyard by composer Jackie Dempsey and O’Hearn, who is an artist, one might think that these giant hands were built by the company themselves. 

Not true, says O’Hearn, noting that the hands were specially fabricated by Amsterdam-based Air Works Inflatables, which has also built items for Beyonce, the Rolling Stones and multiple Olympic ceremonies.

While impressive to look at and interact with, the site itself is not the only attraction of Hand to Hand. During each performance, the fully inflated hands will flank scaffolding which will support five musicians- called Squonkers, who will challenge each other by performing original rock-style musical compositions throughout the show.

If this all sounds a little surreal, that’s part of the point. Squonk shows are meant to be surreal, thought-provoking, but still maintain a sense of humour and give the audience a real spectacle. The two hands in Hand to Hand, for example, promise to give new meaning to the concept of “opposable thumbs.” 

And audiences and critics alike have loved every moment of Squonk’s performances. Over the last thirty years, Squonk has been seen on Broadway, where it was called “hypnotic” by the New York Times, winning an American Theatre Wing Award. The ensemble has also toured the world, had a documentary created on their work, and even been featured on America’s Got Talent.

“We have had wonderful, open audiences, of all ages and backgrounds, who embrace the joy of participating in watching, listening and pulling the fingers, audiences who bring energy and joy.” says O’Hearn.

At Supercrawl, audiences have four opportunities to attend Squonk performances. On Saturday, September 10, Hand to Hand will be performed at 2pm and 5pm. On Sunday, September 11, the show will take place at 2pm and 4pm. All four performances, like all of Supercrawl, are free of charge.

While Hand to Hand will mark Squonk’s first performances in Hamilton, O’Hearn hopes it won’t be the last, noting the similarities that Hamilton has to Squonk’s hometown of Pittsburgh, and that it’s also the ensemble’s first time at Supercrawl.

“We hear that Hamilton has a rich industrial background much like our home here in Pittsburgh – but mostly we are looking forward to hearing all of the other great bands and events at Supercrawl!”

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