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Living room, playroom… or showroom?

by Lenise Willis

Sitting in a colorfully cluttered corner room, Marianne and Debby play amongst their dozens of puppets. There are stacks of plastic containers filled with puppets, clothes and accessories. Glittering bling and other arts and crafts are scattered across the table. At first glance, the room looks like a child’s playroom, until Debby pulls her puppet’s string for a great reveal of dangling genitals….

The two women playing with their adult — and sometimes dirty — puppets are Marianne Gingher and Debby Seabrooke, two Greensboro women who threw caution and adulthood to the wind and founded Jabberbox Puppet Theatre.

“It’s a chance for adults to be silly and laugh — even as corny as it can get,” Seabrooke says. “We feel adults don’t have enough opportunities in life to be silly.”

The two-women, one-intern operation performs salon-style puppet shows in private homes and select venues. Mostly performing out of their own living rooms, Seabrooke and Gingher began writing original adult comedies in 2009. Now in their third season, the two have sold out more than 30 shows, mostly by word of mouth.

The seed for Jabberbox Puppet Theatre was planted on a flight to visit Gingher’s son, a Peace Corps volunteer, in Zambia. Were it not for the imagined personas of Beej and Fuzzy, two high-society women who headed to Africa with preconceived notions, the 22-hour flight would have been a painstaking one.

“To entertain ourselves we made up the personas of Beej and Fuzzy and just tried to crack each other up during the flight,” Gingher says.

“We didn’t think about puppets; we were just play-acting,” Seabrooke explains.

After returning home, Seabrooke brought up the idea of writing a play about their Africa experience and using Beej and Fuzzy as characters. Thus, African Queens, Jabberbox Puppet Theatre’s first play, was born.

“We both wrote and still write, and I just found this a great outlet for later in life, just to let it all hang out sort of, and just be cornier and sillier and much less serious about my writing career,” Seabrooke says.

“It’s a way to be creative other than just the two-dimensional way of writing,” Gingher adds. “My favorite part, actually, is making the puppets and outfitting them and painting the backdrops.”

The two have made about 45 puppets in all. Some puppets, already built, are merely waiting for a role.

Their new comedy, Rumpus in Rome, is a “transcontinental comedy” in which Fuzzy, the newly appointed American Ambassador in Rome, is charged with giving a lavish ball for a queen who has suddenly vanished. Fuzzy summons her long-time buddy Beej from Africa to help her cope with her crazy life.

The duo has performed shows at Mack and Mack in Greensboro, and most recently at the Garage in Winston-Salem. “We really felt like we’d hit the big times,” Gingher says.

As for opening their homes to strangers, Seabrooke says so far they haven’t had any problems since their advertising is mostly by word of mouth. “We have to trust in the goodness of people, too,” Seabrooke says.

Of course, playing in their living rooms isn’t the only thing that fills their days — although they’d most likely be glad to spend all day swimming amongst their crafts. The women are also teachers — Seabrooke a part-time literature and writing teacher at UNCG and Gingher a full-time English professor at UNC-Chapel Hill.

The long-time friends met in the graduate writing program at UNCG in the mid ’70s.

“There’s a wavelength there that I think we channel when we do this,” Gingher says. “Friendship is a part of it, but you’ve got to be a little bit crazy too,” she adds with a laugh.

With their playful imaginations, skills in writing and a small background in high school theatre, puppet theatre wasn’t too far of a stretch for the ladies, especially not for Seabrooke who used to play with puppets as a child.

In fact, an observable link to Seabrooke’s long-gone days of playing in her basement is a chef puppet holding a bright, shiny spoon — a childhood remnant — that still has a place in her shows.

WANNA go?

Rumpus in Rome performances are June 8-9 in Chapel Hill and at Marianne Gingher’s house on Hendrix Street June 22-24; 29-30; July 1. Doors open a half-hour before the show. Tickets are $15 for Friday and Saturday performances and include popcorn, homemade dessert and a glass of wine. Tickets for Sunday matinees are $10. For reservations and location details call 336.273.7292 or email jabberboxpuppets@gmail.com. 20 percent of ticket proceeds go to support educational opportunities at Lumpampa Basic School in Zambia.

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