Walt Whitman, gay social media, and puppetry are all part of Bart Buch's intriguing work


We are in the post-9/11 age. It’s been 14 years, but the fabric of our lives as Americans has changed dramatically since that day. The attacks set in motion the Patriot Act, massive spying measures from the NSA and other agencies, and a new thrust of xenophobia that persists as we near 2016.

Perhaps that’s why works created in the wake of 9/11 still resonate so much. This weekend, you'll have a chance to see a unique show that relates to this New World. Bart Buch’s Ode to Walt Whitman is a silent puppetry performance featuring the music of Martin Dosh. Buch, who developed the work in the early 2000s, took the production to New York City, where it received high praise. Now he’s back in Minnesota, presenting it in conjunction with a visual arts exhibit, which adds another dimension to the show, reflecting on how queer people connect through identity, intimacy, and community.

Buch was sitting in Caffetto on Lyndale Avenue and 22nd Street when he first heard Dosh's music, which spurred his imagination. “I heard this music and I asked the barista what it was,” he says. “I said, 'Do you think he’d be interested in doing a puppet show?'”

The answer was yes. Dosh and Buch went on to collaborate on the Whitman show and other projects. The production is expressed through different styles of puppetry, from hand puppets to bunraku-inspired puppets, as well as toy theater and mask work.


Buch developed the show in response to what was happening in the U.S. after 9/11. Unhappy with some reactions to the events, and pondering the idea of being an American, Buch started to think about what this country could be. He turned to the work of poet Walt Whitman, who, in the 19th century, was occupied with similar questions. “He’s a queer poet ancestor of mine,” Buch explains.


In addition to reading text by Whitman, Buch also read responses to Whitman’s work, and was intrigued particularly by the writing of Federico Garcia Lorca, who penned a poetic tribute to his predecessor, titled, Ode to Walt Whitman. Buch saw a sort of dialogue between the two queer poets, even though they weren't alive at the same time. “I found a strong undercurrent going on,” he says. 

In Buch's show, the two poets don’t actually speak. Instead, their dialogue is poetry spliced together and presented as an online chat projected on a screen. Sometimes the audience reads text for up to three and a half minutes in between the puppets' interaction.

The two poets “sign on” to chat with each other on a gay social-media platform called Scruff, which, like the actual app, Grindr, is used for hookups and meeting people.

Since developing the piece, the technology used in the show has changed slightly. Interestingly, more change has occurred with the music, which has evolved “to fit the scenes and to help the emotional content,” Buch says.

Ode to Walt Whitman opens Tonight. Click here for more info.