Updated: Sep 13
Originally created as a way to draw attention to its efforts to improve awareness of air quality issues, GASP’s Dirty Gertie the Poor Polluted Birdie is back to educate (and dare we say entertain?) a new generation of difference-makers.
PITTSBURGH – This fall, designers are throwing it all the way back to the ‘70s, with fashion lines featuring bell-bottoms, platform shoes, overalls, and other trends made famous during the Me Decade. GASP decided it would do the same.
Because everything old is new again, the nonprofit decided to bring back one of its favorite relics from the age of disco: Our fine-feathered mascot, Dirty Gertie the Poor Polluted Birdie. With the help of a trio of local artists, Dirty Gertie will fly again on Oct. 18 as the host of GASP’s first-ever trivia night.
While our gal Gertie first appeared as a cartoon in our outreach videos way back when, the character morphed into GASP’s official mascot years later, when one of our members would don a bird costume to raise awareness of Pittsburgh’s air pollution problem.
Seriously. The 197os-era mascot costume was terrifying.
“No lie: We’ve been told that the Dirty Gertie Costume from the ‘70s was – and I’m quoting directly – ‘the stuff of nightmares,’” GASP Executive Director Rachel Filippini said. “We’re thankful to our new friends in the art and comedy communities for helping to bring to life a far less terrifying iteration of a Pittsburgh classic. Dave English was really the driving force behind the new-and-improved Gertie.”
English, a ‘Burgh-born comedian/artist/puppeteer, and host of Pittsburgh Puppet Radio said he was inspired to get more involved with GASP after Filippini appeared on his show earlier this year to talk about Allegheny County’s poor air quality.
“It was last Christmas when we had the toxic smog gagging us that I decided I might look into getting involved. By that I mean I got pretty pissed off that I couldn’t breathe and decided to do a live puppet show about air quality,” he said. “It was The Pittsburgh Puppet Radio Show and Rachel was one of my guests. She downplays it but she was the star of the show delivering some sobering news to my audience of adult puppet enthusiasts. In that interview, we looked back at Gertie’s era and existence and planted the seeds of her resurrection.”
In the months since English has connected GASP with two of his friends and colleagues to lend their skills to make that resurrection happen.
One of them is Pittsburgh-based mixed-media artist Leah Pecoraro-Eddy, who created the 2020 version of Dirty Gertie the Poor Polluted Birdie, crafting her into a bright red hand puppet.
She said the decision to get involved in the endeavor was a no-brainer.
“I met Rachel Filippini during Dave English’s puppet radio show in February at the Glitterbox Theater. I believe Dave and I actually spoke that night about working on something for GASP. It was almost an immediate response both Dave and I had, we just knew we wanted to get involved,” she said. “I am always interested in working with environmental groups as a way to benefit extremely useful efforts while doing something I’m good at: Making art.”
Over the past few months, Eddy has worked to give Dirty Gertie the Poor Polluted Birdie a glow-up.
The first iteration of our girl Dirty Gertie the Poor Polluted Birdie was a cartoon.
“I looked at all the old animations and pulled up stills. From there, I figured out the scale I wanted and created patterns to get as close to the original as possible,” she said, adding it took about five days to create. “I had a lot of fun building this puppet, as well as her little set and podium. The set was sort of inspired by those great old ‘70s game show sets.”
While Eddy was the mastermind behind the puppet, Pittsburgh actress and artist Tenley Scmida was tapped to play the Dirty Gertie character – a role she jumped at to play.
“I’ve known Dave from the Glitterbox Theater scene. We’ve done some stuff together and he knows I’m rather good at characters, voices, and improv so he asked me if I would put all three together and host this trivia night AS A BIRD CHARACTER…which is the sort of challenge I can really get behind,” she said.
Schmida said she can’t wait to see the reaction to her version of Dirty Gertie, and admits she’s still working out exactly what the poor polluted birdie’s voice will sound like just yet.
“I babble to my dog every morning while I make his breakfast and my coffee, always trying out new combos. I’m torn between ‘Foxy Ingenue Judy Garland,’ ‘Mid-Atlantic Exercise Guru,’ or a wildcard I’ll simply refer to as ‘Flirty Fargo,’” she said. “It will all come together once I get my hand inside that puppet. I cannot know it’s mind until we are joined as one.”
Those who want to get a first look at Gertie are cordially invited to attend GASP’s first-ever trivia night – an online event that will serve as one of the nonprofit’s fundraising events. All proceeds will go toward the fight for clean air in southwestern Pennsylvania.
“It’s going to be the most fun you’ve ever had talking about air pollution. It will be a mix of trivia from the host puppet, cut-aways to music and other puppets, maybe some special appearances, and important messages from GASP staff,” English said. “Activism is happening in many directions for many reasons but there are places where it all intersects. I think breathing is one of those intersections. If you like breathing, puppets, and want to help make a difference this is the show for you.”
Filippini agreed, adding that GASP intends to utilize the new Dirty Gertie puppet to help amplify its educational efforts at local schools and events.
“Air quality is an inherently complex and somewhat dry topic,” she said. “We hope the new-and-improved Dirty Gertie will allow us to help us educate folks about issues related to air pollution and its impacts in a way that’s a bit more palatable than something like a Powerpoint presentation.”
GASP’s trivia event featuring Dirty Gertie will kick off at 7 p.m. Oct. 18. You can register for the fundraising event online.
Group Against Smog and Pollution (GASP) is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit citizens’ group in Southwestern Pennsylvania working for a healthy, sustainable environment. Founded in 1969, GASP has been a diligent watchdog, educator, litigator, and policy-maker on many environmental issues, with a focus on air quality in the Pittsburgh region.
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