The show's creators and puppeteers, Dave English and Will Schutze began working on the show three years ago, and first performed a version of it at Glitter Box Theater. The March 2020 performance of The Dragon of Polish Hill was planned as part of the New Hazlett Theater's CSA program for up-and-coming performers. Now, the New Hazlett will screen the taped version of the show on Sept. 24 and 25.
For English and Schutze, it made sense to create a film version of the show — instead of performing it live virtually — because The Dragon of Polish Hill already incorporated video segments. They shot the film over three days, with help from local production team Orionvega. English describes the process as "8-10 hour days of doing the physical stuff, the puppetry, being hunched over with stringed puppets."
The Dragon of Polish Hill centers on two characters, Stanley Onion, a 115-year old man living in an assisted living facility in Polish Hill, and Willy James, a nationally acclaimed artist who recently moved to Pittsburgh. Some of the conflict between the characters comes from their generational differences, and what that means in the context of the neighborhood.
"It reflects some of what's actually happening as this neighborhood changes and becomes up-and-coming, whatever that might mean," says English, who lives in Polish Hill. "It touches on issues like displacement, gentrification, and some of those traditional inequalities, but it's not a super heavy hand on those subjects. The show is more about the relationship between two characters who are living within that framework."
Fitting for a show that features an artist and a changing neighborhood, The Dragon of Polish Hill even features a fictional Pittsburgh City Paper writer who interviews Willy James about his work (Willy botches the interview by being rude and aloof).
Schutze and English enjoyed working on their puppet film so much, as did their crew, that they're entertaining the possibility of making another feature-thing project.
"We were never planning to make a full-length, hour and a half puppet feature movie, but we've done it and it's pretty decent," says English. "I think we're all feeling pretty good."
The Dragon of Polish Hill will be available Thu., Sept. 24 at 8 p.m. and Fri., Sept. 25 at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. Registration is free, and English and Schutze plan to make the film available online at some point after it airs.