From engineering to the stage

A University graduate who started off as a mechanical engineering student is giving a puppet show this weekend.

Jackie Renzetti

As a mechanical engineering freshman at the University of Minnesota, Davey Steinman wandered into the Rarig Center and found a spiral staircase, beckoning him to explore his first catwalk.

When he was a sophomore, free food attracted Steinman to a former art professor’s lecture, where he saw a professor work with moving art, helping him realize engineering and art can mix.

By the time he graduated in 2010, Steinman was leaving the University with a degree in theatre arts.

Though engineering and theater may seem a far cry from each other, Steinman sees links between the two.

“It’s always been my curiosity for how things worked. That’s what led me into the engineering world, but that’s also what led me into theatre,” he said.

Beginning Thursday, he’ll showcase how he combines both fields when he performs his original rock opera titled “Basement Creatures” as part of the Puppet Lab series at Minneapolis’ In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre.

Steinman’s work focuses on image- and music-driven theater, also known as figure theater. The three terms describe the same thing: nontraditional storytelling.

“It’s really hard to categorize,” Steinman said. “It’s funny how the theater community latches on to the word puppetry and those in the community know there still maybe stilting or aerialists involved. I remember going to a puppetry cabaret, and there were no hand puppets in the whole thing.”

Steinman said other forms of puppetry include masks and heavy makeup.

“A lot of people describe it as bringing to life something that’s not alive,” Steinman said.

Aside from writing, directing and performing in his own shows, Steinman freelances as a video-projection artist. He’s done video and stagehand work for various local theaters, taught puppetry and video projection youth workshops at Pillsbury House Theatre and held a residency at Seward Montessori School.

But before that, two University teachers — former art professor Ali Momeni and theatre professor Michael Sommers — influenced Steinman’s decision to switch majors, he said.