We created our first show in a Pittsburgh junkyard over 20 years ago, with choreographed cranes and roaring earthmovers and screaming machine shears. Composer Jackie Dempsey and artist Steve O’Hearn work with an ensemble of 10-20 artists to create post-industrial performances with original music, design, and staging, outside the rules of mass culture, fashion or academia.
We received our first major commission in 1995 to create Night of The Living Dead: The Opera, from Marc Masterson. During a NYC stint of Bigsmorgasbordwunderwerk in 2000, we were PS 122 critical darlings for 3 months when The New York Times critic Ben Brantley called it “ingenious, hallucinatory, hypnotic” and were painfully transferred to Broadway for 2 months where it received an American Theater Wing Award. Squonk Opera has since created eleven original productions and has performed in more than 250 venues across the United States. Squonkumentary, a film about our time in NYC, was produced by independent filmmaker Peggy Sutton in 2005.
We roll up our sleeves and develop work that attacks and celebrates the idiosyncrasies of our world. Squonk has played on 3 continents and in over 25 states, and we strive to create work that is accessible and transformative. The Buffalo News hailed us as “Rust Belt dada” and the Washington Post described us as “Debussy meets Godzilla,” although we suspect that last one may have been an insult. Often overblown, site-specific and participatory, our work was born from Middle America, places where people like their art boisterous and their food greasy. We created work too ambiguous for pop culture, and too easily appreciated for fashionistas to flaunt their sophistications. We were not haute cuisine…we were peasant food that used available ingredients in witty and shameless ways.
We have shared squid for breakfast in Korea, and “ham und kaas” every night in Flanders, and missed meals because we were changing flat tires in Scranton. We have been touring internationally since 2003 – to Scotland, Belgium, Germany and South Korea, where we opened the Busan International Performing Arts Festival. Over 300,000 people have seen us around the world, and reviews include “insane majesty” from The Scotsman, and “…surreal and poetic” from USA Today. We have been fortunate enough to receive 6 grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as support from Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Jim Henson Foundation. We gratefully receive support from the Heinz Endowments, Buhl Foundation, Grable Foundation, Pittsburgh Foundation, Anonymous and others.
In 2011 at the invitation of the producers, we competed in season six of the NBC reality show America’s Got Talent, making it to the top 48 and performing live for 14 million viewers.
We have taught workshops, directed collaborative creations, and done residencies at over sixty universities, middle schools and museums all over the United States, and have worked with dance groups whose styles have ranged from African gumboot to Dutch clogging to hip hop to modern.
We are currently touring Pneumatica, an outdoor event about air, made of air and powered by air. The Squonkers pump up the volume with live original music that permeates the air, while inflatables pump up and immerse the audience.
We also accept special event commissions.
We shall celebrate our curiosity, our doubt, our best and worst instincts. We will create work that is fast, funny, shameless and inclusive: an art that will include the cheap thrills of a monster truck show, as well as the fragile beauty of the hothouse flowers created in artist lofts. We will let art, high and low, battle for our souls. We will let music and design struggle for supremacy. Let science and art have at it. Mano a mano.