TypewriterGirls tackle plight of public education

By Kayla Sweeney

“TypewriterGirls: Portrait of the Dadaist as a Public School Official”

Saturday,… “TypewriterGirls: Portrait of the Dadaist as a Public School Official”

Saturday, doors open at 7 p.m, show begins at 8 p.m.

Modern Formations, 4919 Penn Ave.

$7 cover/$5 with written letter to an elected official expressing concern about budget cuts in the public school system

These days, the world might rely on smart phones and social networking, but that doesn’t mean typewriters are out of style. Just ask poetry group the TypewriterGirls.

Crystal Hoffman and Margaret Bashaar, the two women who compose the TypewriterGirls, call themselves “purveyors of knowledge” to the world outside of their close-knit poetry cabarets. Now they’ve decided to center their knowledge on a fraught institution: the public school system.

The TypewriterGirls was originally a group of five young women who met during their sophomore year at Carlow University in 2004 in the creative writing department. There, they had a quirky professor who gave them each a typewriter as a present. From then on, they were known by their present name.

Soon, however, Hoffman and Bashaar were the only two who wanted to continue the group.

Together, they created a new sort of poetry reading: one filled with philosophy — sometimes their own — and inspired by surrealism and Dadaism, an anti-war and anti-bourgeois cultural movement founded in Zurich during World War I. This new kind of creative atmosphere became the poetry cabaret.

What exactly is a poetry cabaret? The term comes from the arts cabarets in Europe. “It’s essentially whatever we want to do there,” Hoffman said. In addition to co-conducting the poetry readings, Hoffman also writes a new and original comedy sketch that overarches the entire show.

“[It’s] almost like a large play,” Bashaar said.

Calling their new show “TypewriterGirls: Portrait of the Dadaist as a Public School Official,” the women aim to illuminate the recent budget cuts to education and arts programs in public schools.

Bashaar said she began to pay attention to the public school system when her 5-year-old son entered kindergarten this year. He is a lively and creative child, she said, and it was an interesting integration to watch.

But now the women are aware of the problems that face public school systems — problems that extend beyond budget cuts. Hoffman feels that many teachers are becoming “glorified babysitters.” Bashaar added that she doesn’t think teachers are doing enough, that they aren’t coming up with creative ways to help students and parents alike.

In addition to their Dadaism-themed drinking games, comedy, poetry and magic — all in support of public education — the TypewriterGirls will, according to Hoffman, “start [their] own alternative school” as part of the show.

Bashaar added that in their school, they refuse to have a “myopic, single-minded view about how things should be done.”

Along with the TypewriterGirls’ performances, the show plans to include additional performances by other artists, including poetry readings by Lynn Emanuel, a professor of English at Pitt, and private readings from the renowned poetry advocacy group Poetry Brothel from New York City.

Hoffman adds that she’s looking forward to how all of the acts interact as a combination of very nontraditional and somewhat risque pieces of performance art.

Both women stressed that this isn’t just any poetry reading, and that, as Bashaar teased, “sometimes, the audience becomes unwillingly a part of the show.” Although they wouldn’t say exactly what this show’s audience involvement would entail, past performances have included games and impromptu dance parties.

The TypewriterGirls have a passion for these types of performances. “Every act, every thing we bring in is like our baby,” Bashaar said. For their upcoming show, it looks like that baby is heading to school.