City of Hamburgers is on the Menu in the Big Apple

9781592993468_inkImagine a plateful of hamburgers and hot dogs springing to life, dancing and cavorting to the tunes of a live “oom-pa-pa” band.

The creators of a new Brooklyn arts organization did.

Using rod puppets of hamburgers and hot dogs, the nonprofit poetry and theater group Alphabet Arts has adapted the Inkwater Press children’s book City of Hamburgers into a puppet show, which will debut Sept. 12 and 13 in two Brooklyn neighborhoods.

City of Hamburgers, written by Simpsons writer Mike Reiss and illustrated by Xeth Feinberg, tells the story of an imaginative boy named Jeffrey, who asks his German grandmother to describe what it was like growing up in the city of Hamburg. She recalls her youth as a Hamburger and her eventual marriage to a Frankfurter.

Photo by Kirsten Kammermeyer
Photo by Kirsten Kammermeyer

“The characters in City of Hamburgers are begging to be puppets,” said Kirsten Kammermeyer, a puppeteer, arts educator and co-founder of Alphabet Arts. “You want to see that little girl burger jump up and down and see her insides separate into the different burger toppings. You want to see the burger lady on the beach take her ‘top’ off.”

The show came about after a chance conversation with Rutgers professor Pheroze Wadia, who suggested Kammermeyer and her friends create a puppet show based on a book his grandkids loved. With a generous donation from Wadia, they formed Alphabet Arts and delved into the book with relish.

“A story as good as City of Hamburgers deserves to be brought to life through an art form as rich as puppetry,” said Amber West, a playwright, teaching artist and co-founder of Alphabet Arts. “We’ve adapted the story into a script but have left some room for improvisation and experimentation during the rehearsal process to develop the characters and bring out some of the important themes of the story, such as acceptance of differences, ‘interracial’ relationships, and what it means to become an American.”

The book, with its laugh-out-loud illustrations and clever wordplay, recently won ForeWord magazine’s bronze “Book of the Year” award.

“Probably 90 percent of everything for this show is made from scratch, including our ten-foot, two-panel wooden puppet stage,” West said. “We’re hoping to tour City of Hamburgers to other kid-friendly venues in and beyond New York in the future and to develop a post-show hands-on workshop in which our young audience members will create ‘puppet poems’ connecting their own stories, words and designs to themes in the play.”