Attending tonight's opening of the Arts Series at Washington & Jefferson College will cost you only $12.
But there are strings attached.
It's Joseph Cashore and The Cashore Marionettes performing "Life In Motion," a collection of some of the artist's best vignettes.
"I made my first marionette more than 50 years ago, but I didn't get into it seriously until the early 1970s," said Mr. Cashore, who is from Conshohocken, Pa., near Philadelphia. "I've been doing it full-time for maybe 24 years. It's been a lifelong passion."
The artist and his wife, Wilma, dress in black and are on stage with the puppets, working against a black backdrop with a pool of light in which the marionettes perform.
"When it's working right, the audience only sees the marionettes," Mr. Cashore said.
"It's not like the old Punch and Judy shows," said Arlene Shaw, house manager of the Olin Fine Arts Center, where the show will be presented. "It's much more poignant. The marionettes look much more lifelike than anything you've ever seen.
"He's a master marionette performer. It's unbelievable how he gets these marionettes to move. They really do come to life in a way that you have never seen before. A homeless man's little toe comes out through the bottom of a worn shoe. A horse with ears that move. Little things like that, the subtle movements that you don't expect, and when you see them you think, 'Wow, how does he do that?'"
The performance is a series of scenes taken from everyday life and set to music by composers such as Beethoven, Vivaldi, Strauss, and Copland.
"I tell you, you become emotionally invested in papier mache," said Dan Shaw, Ms. Shaw's husband, who has been a W&J faculty member and technical director of the arts center for 27 years.
"It's so strange to see how expressive they are. Where you forget about the puppeteer and you really relate to the puppet. They achieve character."
Tonight's performance kicks off the college's annual Arts Series, which later will open the door to Shakespeare, Broadway and a Celtic Christmas show.
"We always pay very close attention to how the show will affect the students," Ms. Shaw said. "We have students on our Arts Series board, and we work with the teachers and try to bring in things that will benefit them this year.
"The marionettes, for example, we had a class in the theater department about art in everyday life. The students get to meet the artists, go backstage and even participate in workshops."
Mr. Cashore creates everything that is seen. The production involves artistic elements ranging from sculpting and painting to dancing, lighting and costuming.
And he welcomes the chance to share his art with students.
"There are not many people doing marionettes," he said. "I attribute that to the difficulty of it. There are other easier forms of puppetry. But I, myself, feel it hasn't really been fully explored. The potential for expression of the marionette hasn't all been looked at. There's a great opportunity with the marionette, and we're trying to take advantage of that."
But don't make the mistake of thinking these marionettes live on Sesame Street.
"It's still not for toddlers," Mr. Cashore said of the show. "Sometimes when you say the word 'puppet' or 'marionette,' and people think it's going to be a kiddie show. And that's really not what we're doing. The material is not aimed at them, and they can create a distraction in the audience that can destroy the moment.
"It's definitely for adults. People in the audience need that life experience so that they can feel the emotions that the characters are portraying."
Although the show is tightly choreographed to music, there are moments that are not scripted. It causes Mr. Cashore to wonder sometimes who exactly is pulling the strings.
"It's like they're calling all the shots," he said. "They do take on lives of their own. I'm following them."
The performance begins at 7:30 p.m. at the Olin Fine Arts Center, 285 E. Wheeling St. in Washington.
Get a preview of tonight's event!
If you have a suggestion for something to do some evening, let us know about it and we'll see if we can get some of our friends to join you. Contact Dan Majors at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1456.
This story originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Press. To log in or subscribe, go to: http://press.post-gazette.com/