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Dumpster Duels: Where garbage becomes art

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If you just can’t wait for Barebones Puppets’ Halloween Extravaganza — the annual spectacle of puppetry, pyrotechnics, stilting, aerial arts, and theater that happens every fall — look no further than Dumpster Duels. The event happens this weekend, and is an engagement and fundraiser to whet your palate for what is to come later this year. 

Dumpster Duels is set up as a competition, where teams of puppeteers are each given a pile of garbage and have 30 hours to write a play, using puppets they’ve created from the assortment of found objects in the pile.

The trash is scavenged by a team of volunteers, and includes a hefty percentage of donated objects, such as pieces of furniture, helmets, bicycle wheels, fabric, and random doodads. Once all the garbage is collected, it's assembled into piles. A coin toss determines which team gets each pile, which they must then use to make theatrical magic.

While it doesn’t happen annually, Dumpster Duels took place last year and in 2013, after a five-year hiatus before that. Joel Swearingen, production manager for Barebones, says that the event is part of the company’s community outreach efforts, inviting puppet makers from other groups outside of Barebones to participate. Basically, it’s a way for puppetry and theater artists to make something out of nothing, challenging their creativity and ingenuity in a battle of junkyard artistry.

Among the puppeteers competing this years are a team from BareBones, the Big Kids Club, and Southside Trash, who won last years’ competition. If you come to watch, you might just join in the fun. “We encourage people to stop by any time; they can help teams build,” Swearingen says. The audience also eventually judges the best performances, voicing their votes through applause, heckling, bribery, or anything else.

Held at House of Balls, Allen Christian’s emporium of found object delights, the Dumpster Duels is a free event, though there is a requested $10 to $20 donation that goes toward funding the Barebones Halloween show.

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Build begins at noon on Saturday, August 1 at 1 p.m. Performances are at 6 p.m. Sunday, August 2. House of Balls is at 1504 South Seventh Street in Minneapolis.