Lindsay McCaw and Adam Cook: The Dolly Wagglers
by John Bell

Lindsay McCaw and Adam Cook, together with “an assortment of co-conspirators,” as McCaw puts it, perform as The Dolly Wagglers, a group that uses traditional (and even old-fashioned) puppet forms in new ways to connect with audiences pondering the nature of progress in the twenty-first century. Now based in Viroqua, Wisconsin, they have been making shows together for six years and with others for longer.  Cook comes from Mystic, Connecticut and was half of the Insurrection Landscapers, a legendary DIY (do-it-yourself) puppet troupe that performed in alternative venues across the U.S. at the turn of the century.  Lindsay comes from Iowa and has ties to the art community of northern Wisconsin.  They met at the 2001 Puppetropolis Festival in Chicago, and have worked frequently in and around Vermont’s Bread and Puppet Theater, and Bedlam Theatre/Barebones Productions of Minneapolis.

As The Dolly Wagglers McCaw and Cook make and perform hand, rod and flat cardboard puppets for proscenium stages; cantastorias, crankies and occasionally ventriloquist dummies; and shadow puppets.  They describe their shows as “lowbrow and crude,” but their work can also be described as a twenty-first century return to classic puppetry and popular theater traditions like circus and vaudeville; which is to say that their performances are straightforward, entertaining, and incisive. Dolly Waggler shows, as McCaw puts it, “rely heavily on live, homemade music, cheap humor and old gags while addressing contemporary issues.”  Driven by “the delight and relief people seem to find in live, imperfect and unmediated performance,” McCaw says, The Dolly Wagglers “are committed to making puppet shows till we finally keel over.” 

McCaw and Cook are active participants in southwest Wisconsin’s live entertainment scene, and make a few shows every year to take on the road.  They supplement their dolly-waggling with music playing in the old time, polka, ragtime and vaudeville genre.  In the winter of 2007-2008 they constituted one-third of the popular Boxcutter Cabaret, a six-person six-week tour on a grease-powered bus that featured a brass band, a string band, and various “cardboard amusements.”  The Dolly Wagglers and their colleagues, as McCaw describes, it booked themselves in “a series of non-traditional puppet venues: coffee shops, punk houses, genuine theaters, taverns and festivals,” bringing puppet theater to new under-40 audiences. 

Last fall The Dolly Wagglers teamed up with a good friend and teamster to put together The Old Reliable Horse Drawn Spectacular, a horse-drawn tour that started in northern Vermont and finished in central Massachusetts. Two horses pulled a wagon carrying puppets, stages, musical instruments and three members of the touring company. The seven other performers rode bicycles. Although the company prepared for months beforehand, the many details and demands of horse travel proved to be challenging. The Horse Drawn Spectacular performed fifteen shows in New England farms, backyards, farmers’ markets and town squares.  Their variety show, often performed by lamplight, displayed "old reliable amusements and things that have gone out of style, but still get the job done and are entertaining,” as McCaw puts it.  The Horse Drawn Spectacular, she adds, “promoted the idea of seeing the countryside at a human pace, and with a healthy skepticism about whether newer is better.” The “meat of the show” according to McCaw, was contained in a cantastoria (or picture performance) entitled Where Are We Going?, that questioned contemporary definitions of progress while proclaiming four pillars of the horse drawn tour: "Don't Miss, No Hurry, Slow Down, Keep Moving!"