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All Puppet Players Bring "Pure Puppet Anarchy" to Phoenix This Fall

If you've seen Forgetting Sarah Marshall, in which Jason Segel's character lives out his dream of creating an all-puppet Dracula musical, then you might have a pretty good idea of what a puppet satire of 50 Shades of Grey would look like. Imagine people dressed in black acting out sexy scenes with Sesame Street-style puppets.

According to All Puppet Players owner and artistic director Shaun Michael McNamara, that's pretty much exactly what you can expect when his troupe premières 50 Shades of Felt at Phoenix Theater's Little Theater this fall.

See also: 10 Must-See Plays During the 2013-14 Valley Theater Season

The troupe comes to the Valley this month by way of southern California, where they had successful runs of shows including McNamara's original The Exorcist Has No Legs. McNamara writes and directs all the troupe's work. He started the group in 2010, when he used his savings to put on a four-show run of his original work "Hamlet Has No Legs." The parody of a classic Shakespeare play was a bigger success than he imagined it would be, and before he knew it he was using crowd funding to produce Frankenstein Has No Legs, and staging the regional premiere of Avenue Q.

McNamara says he started working with puppets in fifth grade, thanks to an after-school program. Since those days, he's worked at Universal Studios and Disney on projects such as donkey from Shrek and voice puppetry for Crush at Disneyland's Finding Nemo Experience ride. These days he and his troupe are about showing people that the high quality puppets are most definitely not just for kids.

"We want to show them what puppets can really do," he says.

The All Puppet Players' run in the Valley will kick off with The Exorcist Has No Legs at Theater Works in Peoria. The world première coincides with the movie's 40th anniversary and runs from October 11 through October 26. The show will open at 8 p.m. Friday, October 11.

"It was perfect for a parody," McNamara says. "I was asking to be ripped apart."

Expect the show to be a campy, comedic version of "supposedly the scariest movie ever made." There will be pea soup and puppets, and "It's definitely not for kids," he warns.

Next, the troupe will take to Phoenix Theatre's Little Theatre to debut 50 Shades of Felt, McNamara's spoof of the popular book series. He promises the show will be explicit -- never mind the fact that it will use only puppets. The performance includes audience interaction and "talking to the goddess," which fans of the book will know refers to Anastasia Steele's sexy inner goddess.

"It's probably the dirtiest show I've ever written," McNamara says, though it's not all about being raunchy. "It's funny to think about calling an audience member up to whip a puppet. That to me is ridiculous."

The show opens at 8 p.m. Saturday, November 16, and runs through November 30.

And lastly, they'll present Top Gun: Live, Abridged & Completely Underfunded, which unlike the other two works will be less of a satire and more of an homage to the action flick. It will be "lovingly rendered on stage with cheap effects," says McNamara, who plans to take creative license as he sees fit. For example, Goose will be played by a goose. You can catch it at Mesa Encore Theater Black Box starting on January 25.

This is the one show McNamara says will be kid-friendly with only mild language.

"Ultimately, it's really just fun," he says of the shows. "We're not trying to be edgy for edgy's sake. We're just trying to be, for lack of a better word, ground breaking."

Tickets for The Exorcist Has No Legs at Theater Works cost $13 each and can be purchased on the Theater Works website. Tickets for Fifty Shades of Felt at the Phoenix Theater Little Theater range from $19 to $24 and can be purchased on the Nearly Naked Theatre website. Tickets for Top Gun: Live, Abridged & Completely Underfunded are not available yet, but stay tuned to the Mesa Encore Theatre website for details.

For more information visit the All Puppet Players website, where you can also find information about ticket purchases.

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