Harold is taking over our Instagram!

Something curious is coming our way! The cast of Center for Puppetry Arts' Harold and the Purple Crayon is taking over UNIMA-USA's Instagram this Saturday, 4/20. Don't miss this special behind-the-scenes look at this innovative adaptation.


Want to take over our feed for a day? Member companies can reach us at unimausa@gmail.com to pitch a one-day takeover idea.


A note from Andrew Periale, Editor of Puppetry International Magazine

Jesús Caballero (left) constructing a puppet for the  máquina real . Photo courtesy of Luis Caballero.

Jesús Caballero (left) constructing a puppet for the máquina real. Photo courtesy of Luis Caballero.

We’re very excited about our new issue of PI – “Our Intangible Cultural Heritage.” If the precise meaning of this theme eludes you, Annie Katsura Rollins’s intro to her article (below) on the effect of this designation on Chinese shadow puppetry may help pierce the fog. In our wide-ranging articles on the subject, I believe we broaden the definition in a number of ways – all to the good!  

“In 2003, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) added a new category to their previously established heritage distinctions: natural and tangible cultural heritage. UNESCO’s newest category, intangible cultural heritage (ICH), was created to fill a gap in categories to include ‘traditions or living expressions inherited from our ancestors and passed on to our descendants, such as oral traditionsperforming artssocial practices, rituals, festive eventsknowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe or the knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts’… Puppetry, as a performed traditional practice, qualifies best as an intangible cultural heritage within UNESCO’s three categories. However, puppetry, a performed practice with a decidedly tangible physical element––the puppet or performing object––exposes the limits of categorical safeguarding theories and methods and shows us new ways to consider safeguarding our intangible cultural heritage.” - Annie Katsura Rollins

            The magazine is being printed as I type, and should be out in mid to late April, along with lots of “bonus material” on the website: unima-usa.org/index – look for PI #45.

Attending the Living Objects: African American Puppetry Symposium and Conference

by Trudi Cohen

living objects exhibit.jpg

I had the pleasure of attending two of the four days of the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry’s Living Objects: African-American Puppetry Symposium and Conference, co-curated by Drs. Paulette Richards and John Bell (full disclosure—my husband). This gathering accompanied an exhibit which is currently on display at the Ballard Museum, University of Connecticut, through April 7th.

The Symposium portion of the gathering included three full days of panel discussions, addressing topics such as Minstrel Performance, Puppetry and Community and Afro-Diasporic Storytelling, featuring scholars, teachers and practitioners sharing their experiences, research, and ideas. The Festival portion included performances by African-American puppeteers with diverse styles and themes.

Edna Bland in  The Greatest Love Story Ever Told

Edna Bland in The Greatest Love Story Ever Told

The Festival and Exhibit span an eclectic range of puppet genres and performance styles – including shadow, marionette, rod, bunraku, over-life-size figures, an evening of ventriloquism, a Sunday morning of Gospel Puppetry, screenings of contemporary films, and a revival performance by the legendary Crowtations. The powerful thread linking the artists and scholars is their shared passion for identifying a common cultural heritage, one whose history is strongly rooted in African mask and object ritual, and was savagely severed by slavery. Both the exhibit and the Festival put a spotlight on the beauty and struggles they share. And I sensed joy among them, in the chance to come together, to discover both common histories and widely differing puppetry styles.

I was told that this is the first such exhibit since one produced by the Center for Puppetry Arts 25 years ago. As Brad Brewer said, let’s not have to wait another 25 years for similar recognition!

 Paulette Richards says that the Living Objects exhibition “cannot yield a definitive statement of what African American puppetry is,” but it can offer “a fresh perspective on African American experience…African-American puppetry is exultant even when it addresses painful themes such as the legacy of slavery or systemic violence against black men.” And, “gathering these prismatic, complex, and exultant perspectives together opens a space for reflection on how object performance nurtures the human spirit.”

I felt privileged to be in that space, and I believe that other participants felt the same – a space which nurtured my spirit and educated my understanding of the African diaspora.

If you can get to UConn before the exhibit closes on April 7th, I encourage you to go see it. If not, extensive documentation of the exhibit and (coming soon) symposium is posted on the exhibit website.

Participants from Baltimore. From left to right: Valeska Populoh, Dirk Joseph, Azaria Joseph, Sequoia Joseph, Sheila Gaskins, and Schroeder Cherry.

Participants from Baltimore. From left to right: Valeska Populoh, Dirk Joseph, Azaria Joseph, Sequoia Joseph, Sheila Gaskins, and Schroeder Cherry.

A Whimsical World: The Puppetry of Drew Allison at the McClellanville Arts Council Gallery in South Carolina

Drew Allison. Photo by Simon Hare.

Drew Allison. Photo by Simon Hare.

Join the McClellanville Arts Council in a celebration of World Puppetry Day which falls annually on March 21. 

The Arts Council will host an exhibit of puppet creations by long-time puppeteer Drew Allison.  Over 25 puppets will be exhibited from past performances, on-camera appearances and commissioned works. 

The story of each puppet and their role will accompany each piece.  Puppeteer Drew Allison will be on hand to chat at the Exhibit Opening on March 21, 2019 at 7:00pm at The McClellanville Arts Council Gallery. The exhibit will run from March 21, 2019- April 13, 2019.

For additional information about Drew Allison and his company called Grey Seal Puppets, see their website at www.greysealpuppets.com or check them out on social media. 

You can contact Drew for additional information as well at drew@greysealpuppets.com

Exciting New Blog Features Puppet Performance Reviews from 1999-2009

Puppets in Review.jpg

Donald Devet recently created a blog featuring puppet performance reviews he wrote while living in New York City from 1999-2009. During those 10 years he reviewed shows by Ralph Lee, Basil Twist, Gretchen Van Lente, Janie Geiser, Liz Joyce, Kevin Augustine, Lake Simons, Edward Einhorn and many more.

Donald’s intent in creating a blog of reviews is to provide a model for other reviewers, both in and out of the puppet world. As you are well aware, puppet performances are often given short shift by many commercial theater reviewers who are oftentimes unfamiliar with puppetry as a theatrical art form and sometimes don’t take the work seriously. 

Because of his extensive background in stage puppetry, Donald has treated the performances in his reviews with respect and has given an honest evaluation of the performers’ intents.

He believes it’s beneficial to puppeteers and the public at large to visit a blog site dedicated specifically to reviews of puppet shows. Donald’s goal in creating “Puppets In Review” (https://puppetsinreview.home.blog/) is to demonstrate that puppetry should be given as serious consideration as any other performing arts genre.

In addition to his own reviews, Donald invites others to contribute to the “Puppets in Review” blog. To begin the process of submitting a review: https://puppetsinreview.home.blog/submit-your-review/

Living Objects: African American Puppetry Festival and Symposium

The Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry at the University of Connecticut is pleased to present the Living Objects: African American Puppetry Festival and Symposium to celebrate the rich world of African American puppetry in the United States. This four-day series of performances, presentations, discussions, film screenings, and workshops will take place February 7 to 10, 2019 in Hartford and Storrs, Connecticut.

Activities for the Living Objects: African American Puppetry Festival and Symposium will occur in various venues on UConn’s Storrs campus February 8 to 10, with related festival events with UConn Hartford at the Hartford Public Library on Thursday, February 7, 2019 and at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art on Saturday, February 9, 2019.

living objects 2.jpg

Attendees have two options to participate in Living Objects Festival and Symposium events:

1.    Living Objects performances in Storrs and Hartford are open to the public. Individual tickets can be purchased at bimp.ticketleap.com.

2.    To attend all Living Objects Festival and Symposium events, including performances, panel discussions, film screenings, and more, registration is required. Registration can be completed at www.cvent.com/d/bbqbh7.

The festival will feature performances by Tarish "Jeghetto" Pipkins, Megan Piphus, David Liebe Hart, Dirk Joseph and String Theory Theater, Pandora Gastelum, Bruce Cannon, Nate Puppets, Yolanda Sampson, Edna Bland, and more!

living objects 3.jpg

These events are part of the current Ballard Institute exhibition Living Objects: African American Puppetry, on display through April 7, which for the first time brings together historical and contemporary puppets, masks, and performing objects by African American artists and puppeteers. Many of the exhibition's contributors, as well as scholars from around the United States, will come together at the festival and symposium to celebrate the past, present, and future of African American puppetry.

Living Objects Festival and Symposium registrants may purchase one-day, three-day, or student passes to attend all festival and symposium events. Registration will include breakfast and lunch. To register for a one-day or three-day pass to the festival and symposium, visit www.cvent.com/d/bbqbh7. To read more about the Living Objects exhibition and festival, visit bimp-exhibitions.org/livingobjects.

Applications Now Open for New Victory LabWorks

The New Victory Theater, New York City’s premier nonprofit performing arts theater devoted year-round to kids and their families and classmates, announces the call for applications to the 2019-20 New Victory LabWorks program.


New Victory LabWorks is seeking applications from New York City-based artists and companies interested in creating new work for family audiences in the areas of theater, dance, music, circus, puppetry arts and other performing arts.

For artists of all disciplines who desire an experience tailored to their specific needs and individual creative processes, New Victory LabWorks offers selected artists a stipend, ample dedicated rehearsal space in the New 42nd Street Studios and the possibility of holding Open Rehearsals for industry professionals, fellow artists and New Victory Member families. Facilitated by New Victory staff, these experiences provide the invaluable feedback of peers and target audiences alike.

Some current and previous New Victory LabWorks Artists include: Molly Powers Gallagher; Hit The Lights! Theater Co; Max Darwin and Alexander Dinelaris Jr.; Nambi E. Kelley; Preeti Vasudevan; Faye Chiao and Anton Dudley; Breton Tyner-Bryan; Bluelaces Theater Company; Aaron Jafferis; Spellbound Theatre; AchesonWalsh Studios; Kate Douglas; Kaneza Schaal and Christopher Myers, and Phantom Limb Company.

For more information, program requirements and the 2019-20 application, visit www.newvictory.org/labworks

For questions, email LabWorks@newvictory.org. Applications will be accepted through Friday, February 1, 2019.

3rd International Conference on Training in the Arts of Puppetry


May 15-20, 2019 in Florianópolis, Brazil

The Third International Meeting on Training in the Arts of Puppetry will address the theme:

Staging and diversity of contemporary theatrical creation processes.

Traditional puppet theater such as the Indonesian, Indian, and Chinese shadows, the Chinese hand puppet theater, the Bunraku, the Pulcinella family, the puppi Siciliani, the Czech rod marionettes - to mention only a part of this vast territory - presents strictly defined forms, adapted to the puppet genre, with a fixed dramaturgical structure and a definite gestural vocabulary. In the traditional repertoire, stories and characters change while aesthetics and impact on the audience remain the same. The type of puppets - their physiognomy, their color pallet and their dynamics - is in perfect harmony with the type of dramaturgy that has been created for them. The puppeteers are committed to achieving the performance virtuosity so much appreciated by the public and the differences between artists are expressed in fine performing nuances and in the fine art aspect of the puppets. The staging, even when it is innovative, follows the codes of each of the forms. With respect to traditional puppet theater training, knowledge is often transmitted through master-student learning.

Contemporary Puppet Theater is situated at the other pole of creation. Inspired by the potential of its new expressive means, artists from the fields of dance, mime and the visual arts turned to puppetry. This encounter has given birth to new and spectacular forms, which combine the puppet with the body of the actor, which invented the  “body masks” and the fictional or imaginary body, and which converge at the intersection of puppetry, acting and mime performance. The imaginary invades the plateau. The staging changes its status; it becomes a conceptual act and the director, a creator.

What dramaturgy must we invent for a theatre that is constantly seeking its form and is continually changing? What will be the markers along the way for the author, the playwright, and the director? Should we create rules and handbooks? Could it be even possible? We know that there is no definitive truth.

Contemporary theater seldom starts with a text written for the stage. Its sources are often a literary text, a musical piece, a theme, an idea, and a desire to question reality. The dramaturgical structure is created for the show; writing and staging must work in a relationship of complicity, evolving together until the end of the creative process.

After having discussed the definition of puppetry and puppet theater in 2015, the pedagogy and the links between traditional and contemporary theater in 2017, the Third International Conference on Training in the Arts of Puppetry 2019 organized by the UNIMA Training Commission in collaboration with the Universidade do Estado de Santa Catarina, in Florianópolis and with the participation of academics, practitioners and students will examine different aspects of the current notion of directing:

• How to define the director? Its functions differ according to the processes of creation and are not definitive.

• How to teach directing? What directing? For what theater?

• What could be the pedagogy for a puppet theater in constant transformation? We should consider that today “the puppet” is born of a profusion of contemporary forms, produced with an overflowing inventiveness: how to approach directing and be able to teach it in this perspective of a theatre in permanent evolution?

We intend:

- To explore what is directing today, in relation to the diversity of the creative processes and the diversity of the dramaturgical forms.

- To explore the pedagogy (s) of directing. How does pedagogy meet the requirements of a theatre, which presents a broad diversity forms?

- To explore the history of the staging to show the various historical periods and the directors thinkers who, seeking to give substance to their shows, had deep reflections with respect to the aesthetics of the show, to the relationship between show and spectator and the impact that the show will have on it.

- To explore the importance (extension) occupied by the visual image in the contemporary theatre, question its functions in the dramaturgy of the show, and the relation with the current technologies.

For this purpose we propose work topics such as:

1. Conference on the evolution of the staging, its goals, its challenges, and the relationship between staging and dramaturgy.

2. The presentation of unique creative processes, linked to artistic personalities.

3. Practical workshops that show various pedagogical approaches to the teaching of staging.

4. Debates and round tables with the guests in the presence and with the participation of students and teaching artists.

The Universidade do Estado Santa Catarina), Florianópolis, will host the conference.

You can find more information on the UNIMA website.

World Cultural Heritage in America

provided by Ayhan Hulagu



Ayhan Hulagu, who established Karagoz Theatre Company in America, has been performing the traditional Turkish shadow puppet theater all over. Taking the stage in America’s various states, especially in Washington DC, Hulagu says that Karagoz attracts more attention abroad.

Since its naming to the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2009, Karagoz has started to draw attention all over the world. Lots of panels, workshops and festivals regarding Karagoz have been arranged. Turkish performer Ayhan Hulagu has organized a group of theatre makers with the aim of traveling around America to introduce Karagoz to more people. Hulagu’s first performance was in Washington DC, the capital of the United States. After that he made special shows in Virginia and Iowa. Ayhan’s performance recently served as the opening show of Great Plains Puppet Festival, which is one of the most well-known puppet festivals in the USA. Hulagu opened the festival with his two shows named Swing and Magic Tree, adapted from Turkish veteran Karagoz performer Muhittin Sevilen’s plays. In general, Hulagu prefers to perform Karagoz using both Turkish and English during the shows. Performing under the same roof of Karagoz Theatre Company, Hulagu underlines that the American people are very interested in Karagoz shows.



Ayhan Hulagu started a project named Karagoz Triplet two years ago in İstanbul. He has taken the stage abroad as part of this project’s second section. He summarizes his project like this: “I started Karagoz Triplet in İstanbul. I performed a Karagoz show in İstanbul’s streets. My second project is Karagoz on the way. Within this framework, I have taken the stage in various countries, especially in America. After I complete my shows in America, I am planning to take stage in Europe. Last part of Karagoz Triplet will be in Turkey, named Karagoz at home. Lastly, I am planning to meet Turkish audiences with Karagoz. In Turkey, I want to express my experiences performing Karagoz shows as I travel all over the world. My time touring in America has been an extraordinary experience for me. Also, it is a big pleasure to have a chance to introduce our traditional Karagoz show all over the world.”

DEADLINE EXTENDED! Build a Sauropod Marionette for the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County


Submit your proposal by by 4:00 pm on January 14th, 2018 to be considered for this project. NHMLA plans to select an experienced artist to develop and fabricate a new puppet to be used in regular programming at the museum.

Project Goals and Technical Requirements:

The selected contractor will work with NHMLA paleontological staff to develop and create a marionette interpretation of a sauropod dinosaur, the precise species will be determined at the beginning of the development process. Core requirements include:

  • The total budget for the puppet must not exceed $10,000.

  • The puppet must match those visual characteristics outlined during development with paleontology staff.

  • Puppet is capable of interacting regularly with guests of all ages.

  • Puppet should coexist aesthetically with other Dinosaur Encounters puppets.

  • Puppet control design must be ergonomic and practical for repeated use during 30 minute performances.

  • Puppet weight should fall under 15 pounds.

  • Puppet must be delivered, meeting all aforementioned requirements, to NHMLA by March 1st, 2018

Bidding Procedure:

All proposals are due by 4:00 pm on January 14th, 2018.. No faxed proposals will be accepted. Emailed proposals are preferred, but hard copies are accepted. All proposals should be sent to The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County C/0 Ilana Gustafson at the following address: 900 Exposition Boulevard, Los Angeles, California, 90007. All questions or comments concerning the Request for Proposals should be addressed to Ilana Gustafson, Manager of Performing Arts at igustafson@nhm.org.

Material Performance at a Dutch Festival

Pikz Palace company’s   Boucherie Bacul     .   Photo by Colette Searls.

Pikz Palace company’s Boucherie Bacul. Photo by Colette Searls.

by Colette Searls

I recently returned from the 2018 Puppet International Festival in Meppel, Netherlands, which hosted companies from across Europe the week of October 10th – 14th. One of the most exciting performances was the one-night celebration of puppet royalty, Masters@Work, with breathtaking acts by Jordi Bertran, Tristan Vogt (Thalias Kompagnons), Neville Tranter (Stuffed Puppet), and Meppel’s own Henk Boerwinkel. In addition to these standard-bearing stars, the festival offered a balance of outstanding established and up-and-coming companies working in a wide range of puppetry styles. Yet interestingly, some of the most moving shows involved little or no direct human animation – what we might strictly define as puppeteering – but seemed to celebrate the expanding art of puppetry/material performance by other novel means.

The Dutch group BOT offered a particularly touching and mind-bending performance called LEK (Leak/Leaky), a kind of object concert featuring a menagerie of invented (as well as wildly modified) tools and instruments playing with a quartet of musicians. At various points, one of these strange kinetic objects would suddenly jolt to life and move itself autonomously across the stage (particularly eerie was a self-playing cello in a wheelchair). BOT is primarily a site-specific touring company, and one of the performers explained to me that their reputation lies more along the lines of “object performance” (as he put it in English) than puppetry. But after appearing at the World Puppet Festival in Charleville-Mézières, they started hearing from other puppet festivals like this one.

The Meppel festival also proudly hosted the Architects of Air (Alan Parkinson)’s Luminarium, which is not a puppet show, but rather an enormous sculpture you get to walk inside. This beautiful installation looked from the outside like an artsy circus tent, and from the inside like the stomach of some benevolent alien whale. Visitors were invited to enter the colorful curved hallways and rooms, lie down, take pictures, meditate – most folks seemed happy to just find a spot to relax in awe. There were no moving objects and no performers. But the experience was still dynamic – a masterfully designed animation-interaction of hard materials with intangible elements of light and air.

Pikz Palace company’s   Boucherie Bacul     .   Photo by Colette Searls.

Pikz Palace company’s Boucherie Bacul. Photo by Colette Searls.

My weirdest object-performance experience was with Pikz Palace company’s Boucherie Bacul  in Meppel’s town square. I caught this funny, imaginative show during the “Hapas Rout,” where the audience walked to puppet performances staged at local eateries. As we followed our leader through the town square, we came upon this small, blood-splattered butchery with a mix of delight and horror as – upon closer inspection – we realized that this middle-aged couple was serving the flesh of dolls and stuffed animals. Treated as customers, we were quickly ushered into a comically grotesque hands-on toy butchery demo. No Barbies were puppeteered, but many were harmed. Badly. The butchers assured us that they were all well-used, and no longer able to fulfill their toy duties. But that didn’t stop us from cringing while they skinned a Burt doll, or placed a Pikachu in the meat slicer. I don’t know how much irony was intended, or if there was a vegetarian agenda here, but the resonant power of performing objects was as much on display as the pickled Barbie heads.

Perhaps all of this is a sign that puppet festivals today are looking to present an increasingly wide range of performing object work. If so, it may bring more attention to the aesthetic potency – and interdisciplinary reach – of puppetry/material performance as a whole. 

If you’d like more details on the Puppet International Festival in Meppel, please read my upcoming review in the next issue of Puppetry International.

Scholarship Application Deadline Extended to December 15th!

Apply now for the 2019 UNIMA-USA Scholarship to Study Abroad!


All candidates for scholarships must: 

• Be citizens or permanent residents of the United States

• Be a current member of UNIMA-USA

• Be over the age of 18

• Have some experience in puppetry or/and a university degree showing an interest in puppetry

• Applying for aid to study with a recognized puppetry professional or professional program outside of the United States, or to attend an international puppetry workshop. Independent study plans are also eligible.


In addition to the application form, please send the following materials to scholarship@unima-usa.org:

• 3 letters of recommendation from master puppeteers or professors in puppet theatre with whom you have worked or who know your work

• 5 images of your work

Questions? Contact Scholarship Representative Honey Goodenough atscholarship@unima-usa.org.

Tribute to Margareta Niculescu, UNIMA President of Honor

December 15th, 2019, at 7 PM  | Charleville-Mézières

For this well-deserved tribute, we join the International Puppetry Institute, the World Festival of Puppetry Arts of Charleville-Mézières, THEMAA and Latitude Marionnette to honor the memory of this great woman for her huge contribution to the Puppetry Arts throughout her life. The world of Puppet Theater will always be in mourning.


This evening will offer the opportunity to go through the main stages of her career and her visionary thought.

We invite you to join us for this tribute to be held on December 15 2019, at 7PM at the Theater of the National Superior School of Puppetry Art (16 avenue Jean Jaurès, Charleville-Mézières - France).

Reservation required at the International Puppet Institute: +33 (0) 3 24 33 72 50

2018 UNIMA-USA Scholarship Recipient: Liz Oakley

A report by Liz Oakley

Hello from Paris!

It is hard to believe that almost a year ago I was working on my application for UNIMA-USA’s annual scholarship to study abroad. Thanks to the committee’s generosity, I am here in Paris participating in the 5-month Annual Training for actor-puppeteers at the Théâtre Aux Mains Nues. Having spent the years during and after college exploring my love of puppetry in many forms, mostly in my free time, I decided it was time to make a choice to commit myself more seriously to the craft. I felt that the time was right for a more sustained training program. Inspired by the prospect of the UNIMA-USA scholarship, and eager to experience puppetry outside the United States, I did some research, found this very unique program, and applied. And here we are!

Liz and her completed  marionnette à gaine

Liz and her completed marionnette à gaine

We just finished the sixth week of our training here, which is four full days per week. The program is very small, with only seven students; four from France and three from abroad. The coursework includes a rotation of core classes, which include voice, body, acting, principles of animation, and glove puppet manipulation (in French, marionnette à gaine). This particular technique is completely new to me and has been fascinating to dive into. The style of puppet has a long history in France, famously in the form of Guignol. In our other classes we work with and without glove puppets, and have more recently begun exploring object manipulation. We will encounter many more styles and forms in the weeks to come, drawing from the theater’s supply of many different styles of exercise puppets. Soon we will also be moving into a phase of the training where each week a different guest artist comes to do a mini-unit with us on a particular style of puppetry. I am particularly looking forward to two full days that we will spend at a giant puppetry studio. In the last phase of the training, we will be creating a collective final piece for public presentation with a guest director, Claire Heggen, and designer, Pascale Blaison.

Just last week, we all finished making our own "Gaine Lyonnaise" from start to finish. We followed a specific traditional pattern from Lyon to make the glove/body, and each constructed our own unique heads out of clay, which we then finished with paper-maché. We'll be using these puppets going forward in our courses as exercise puppets.

Clay heads in progress.

Clay heads in progress.

 Not only has the training itself been incredibly rich, the team of instructors, resident puppetry companies, and theater staff at TMN have made this experience especially unique. I have already been able to see several excellent puppet theater performances, at the Théâtre Aux Mains Nues and the Théâtre Mouffetard, another theater in Paris that exclusively programs puppetry. There are several other upcoming puppetry performances and festivals in town that I am really looking forward to. It has also been a wonderful treat (and challenge) that the program is entirely in French. Many people have been delighted that news of the theater has made it to the United States, and are surprised that I have come to France just for the training. I always credit UNIMA-USA for getting me here; both for providing the scholarship itself, and for maintaining an excellent listing of programs, workshops, and festivals abroad. I would not have taken this step without their support, and it has already opened me as an artist to be here in ways I could not have imagined. And we aren’t even halfway through! Here’s to seeing what the next three and a half months bring.

2018 UNIMA-USA Scholarship Recipient: Valerie Meiss

A report by Valerie Meiss

I received the 2018 UNIMA-USA Scholarship to Study Abroad, and it seems cheap to call it “life-changing”. I will say that any attempt to explain my experiences, studies, the friends I made, any of it, will fall short.

In 2017, I attended a masterclass at The Center of Puppetry Arts with Hachioji Kuruma Ningyō, a puppetry troop from Japan, led by Koryu Nishikawa V. Kuruma Ningyō incorporates all the beauty and fluidity of movement of Ningyō Jōruri (bunraku) style, but performed by a single puppeteer, on a small cart. I told Nishikawa-san I wish I’d known to seek it out when I was in Japan (months earlier). He told me the next time I was in Japan he could teach me this style and more.

I applied for the scholarship to do just that, and attend the Iida Puppet Festa, an international festival in Iida, Nagano. I was also invited to teach my own workshop at a small craft cafe in Tokyo.

Practicing with Japanese traditional puppets in Iida.

Practicing with Japanese traditional puppets in Iida.

My time in Hachioji was brief but incredible. I dropped in on a summer program and stayed after to watch the troop rehearse. My Japanese is limited (but functional), so most of my learning was movement-based. My notes consist of sketches, designs, and shorthand directions. My last evening there, during a typhoon, we lost power. We spent a few hours in the dark theatre, playing Japanese pop songs (of which I know exactly one, but it was played) on a guitar. It was one of many unexpected moments of “cultural exchange” that I treasure most.

The following days were spent in Iida, which, on its surface, seems entirely devoted to apples and puppetry. The city is full of public art on these themes, including a “Puppetry Clock” which every hour, invites passers-by to see an animatronic puppet show, with an appearance by “Poh”, the yellow-clad, apple-hatted mascot of Iida Puppet Festa. I saw shows and met puppeteers from all over. Highlights included the following: speaking Japanese to a man who translated to Russian for new Russian friends; trading phrases with puppeteers from the Basque country, as they taught Japanese kids “The Macarena” in giant parade puppets; unexpectedly finding a new best friend with limited English, and falling in with his troop, Divadlo Alfa, from the Czech Republic (who I’ll visit soon, after this chance run-in); and being taken to lunch by a Japanese grandmother and grandson, to whom I gave some of my workshop eyeballs (“te-me”, meaning “hand-eyes”).

In Iida, I continued studying Kuruma Ningyō, as they were also there. Before leaving, I said goodbye to my sensei, who I’d not see for the rest of my trip. I tried to explain in Japanese how grateful I was for this opportunity, but that I didn’t have words in Japanese, nor in English. “It’s overwhelming!” I said in English, because I don’t know that word in Japanese. “Ah! Overwhelming!” Nishikawa-san exclaimed, understanding.

I still don’t have words, in either language. Only “overwhelming.”

I adjusted a few days of my trip to visit my new Czech friends in the tiny town of Higashi-kagawa. Divadlo Alfa was performing their Three Musketeers show at Toramaru Puppet Land, a set of plain buildings on a hill in the middle of nowhere. Inside is like a Japanese version of the Center for Puppetry Arts. It has an incredible theatre and museum, complete with hands-on learning, a monitor set-up, and one of the densest puppet-populated rooms I’ve ever seen. I was only there for a day, but it was one of my favourites from that trip. Plenty of this trip I knew would blow my mind, but it was the unexpected detours that stick with me the most.

Workshop at Sheena to Ippei, photo by Shota Kaneko

Workshop at Sheena to Ippei, photo by Shota Kaneko

Back in Tokyo, I had a workshop. I had some puppets with me, and a tanuki hand-and-rod style puppet I made just for this trip (and used throughout, to the delight of children and several adults). We used sets of te-me I made, and worked on characterization through movement. Before long we were sticking the eyes on inanimate objects and creating new characters. It was a true test of my Japanese (one of many) and a perfect day with new friends.

Toward the end of my trip I no longer felt sad if I missed something,“I’ll be back,” I realized. This scholarship was an introduction to so much: Kuruma Ningyō, Japanese (which I studied nonstop since accepting the scholarship), Czech puppetry (I’m set to do more with my friends over there), and has become fodder (both in content and design) for my work in progress.

If anyone is interested in this scholarship, apply for it. You’ll learn so much: what you intended to learn, and so much more, if you’re willing to work for it and wander off-course a bit.
I recommend it.

P.S. Learn the language.

Tanuki-chan (puppet) and friends. From Soh’s (center) Instagram.

Tanuki-chan (puppet) and friends. From Soh’s (center) Instagram.

Build a Sauropod Marionette for the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

Realistic  T. rex  and  Triceratops  large-scale puppets capture the imaginations of audiences in performances each week at  NMHLA

Realistic T. rex and Triceratops large-scale puppets capture the imaginations of audiences in performances each week at NMHLA

The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (NMHLA) is inviting you to respond to this Request for Proposals. NHMLA plans to select an experienced artist to develop and fabricate a new puppet to be used in regular programming at the museum.

The Performing Arts program is dedicated to providing the communities of Los Angeles County with performances that explore and interpret the intersection of history, art, and science using puppetry and its associated arts. The program currently produces the popular Dinosaur Encounters and Ice Age Encounters performances alongside a wide variety of other museum theater offerings based on events and exhibits. The program strives to exemplify and iterate upon the museum’s vision in all of its endeavors— to inspire wonder, discovery, and responsibility for our natural and cultural worlds.

Project Goals and Technical Requirements:

The selected contractor will work with NHMLA paleontological staff to develop and create a marionette interpretation of a sauropod dinosaur, the precise species will be determined at the beginning of the development process. Core requirements include:

  • The total budget for the puppet must not exceed $10,000.

  • The puppet must match those visual characteristics outlined during development with paleontology staff.

  • Puppet is capable of interacting regularly with guests of all ages.

  • Puppet should coexist aesthetically with other Dinosaur Encounters puppets.

  • Puppet control design must be ergonomic and practical for repeated use during 30 minute performances.

  • Puppet weight should fall under 15 pounds.

  • Puppet must be delivered, meeting all aforementioned requirements, to NHMLA by March 1st, 2018

Bidding Procedure:

All proposals are due by 4:00pm on December 15, 2018. No faxed proposals will be accepted. Emailed proposals are preferred, but hard copies are accepted. All proposals should be sent to The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County C/0 Ilana Gustafson at the following address: 900 Exposition Boulevard, Los Angeles, California, 90007. All questions or comments concerning the Request for Proposals should be addressed to Ilana Gustafson, Manager of Performing Arts at igustafson@nhm.org.

Long Range Planning: Puppets for Peace

A Tarumba - Teatro de Marioneta   from their production  This is not Gogol’s Nose . A Tarumba performed and taught toy theater workshops at pop-up puppets in stockholm, sweden.

A Tarumba - Teatro de Marioneta from their production This is not Gogol’s Nose. A Tarumba performed and taught toy theater workshops at pop-up puppets in stockholm, sweden.

by Kathy Foley

Geoffrey Cormier asked me to blog on Long Range Planning for UNIMA-USA.  I went for a walk in the meadow and thought, "Okay, what is the plan?"  And then I thought, "World Peace."  I thought about this especially because of the world we live in now. With the distance between manipulator and the manipulated on the Internet, we are seeing an increased space between crafter and the creation, which is sometimes ugly.

Of course non-puppet people think that is what puppetry is about—hiding behind and pulling strings. But anyone who has been above or under an actual puppet knows that what you can do with the figure is already implicit in its make-up. We are attached to our object and in it—one thing with it. One of the beauties of puppetry is that it can range from very small (think toy theatre) to very big (think King Kong on Broadway). What is great about UNIMA is it puts us, through festivals, commissions, and publications, in contact with others who understand that connection of made environment and self and, like us, use objects to explore important stories. We are puppet people.

We live in a world which needs more empathy and hearing across national and international divides. UNIMA-International next spring will hold its 90th anniversary with performances of stories of friendships through puppetry that crossed "enemy lines" in WWII. These are stories about peace with others and our world. 

I spent my summer seeing our common concerns first in Asia and then in Europe. I was invited to speak at first the International Conference on Islamic Thought and Culture in Perak, Malaysia. I reminded the speakers gathered from across the Muslim world as we talked about curbing terrorism, using religion as a force for good, and creating a just social order that puppetry is one of the deep historical arts of the Islamic world from Karagoz (created we are told by the dervish Seh Kusteri) to the Indonesian saint and puppet master Sunan Kalijaga. Object theatre is to share visions of goodness and justice.

Soon thereafter, I was speaking in Sweden for a seminar at Pop-up Puppets at the Marionetteatern's 60th anniversary in Stockholm where Punch, Pulchinella, Pochinelle, and Dom Gil performers had gathered from across Europe to perform alongside troupes that were creating new work to respond to the migrations and rise of xenophobia in Europe from the immigrations due to the crisis in the Middle East. I reminded the seminar that the comic clown associated with traditional European puppetry has iconography and that swazzle voice that may trace back to north India and the interrelationship of "gypsies" (i.e. migrating groups) and those puppet traditions can be pointed out historically. Most of our great puppet clowns are at least cousins. We may not have DNA kits for figures—but we can trace the path of first mentions (often in police records complaining of the puppeteer-acrobats-dancers-musicians-tooth pullers that pull into town).

Among the artists who were co-presenting were NY puppeteer Roman Paska who I had first met on a puppet stage one night in Indonesia. Also there was the head of UNIMA-International Dadi Pudumjee whose Ishara Puppet Trust welcomes puppeteers from all over the world to perform each spring. Dadi had studied in Sweden in the 1970s with  Michael Meschke who founded the Marionetteatern in 1958 (Meschke was himself a Jewish refugee from Nazi anti-semitism). Meschke long had collaboration with Asia and he helped popularize Bunraku style manipulation now so popular in the west. Meschke's early Ubu Roi which mixed puppets, body puppets, and avant-garde imagery was part of the display we saw in the newly opened performing arts museum—his reaction to the propaganda of WWII and the early Cold War. Meschke made peace with puppets--doing workshops in India, Thailand and beyond. He was one of the ones who put UNIMA back together again after WWII. Helena Nilsson, current head of the company, and Margareta Sorenson, who put together the seminar, were carrying on Meschke's vision: peace via puppets. Use art to talk about connections, to greet refugees, and to help solve misunderstandings.

When Jim Henson went for a walk on a British heath while brainstorming about an internationally syndication-potential TV show with puppets, he had a brainstorm: "World Peace," he suggested, should be the nub of the show. It became Fraggle Rock. Henson who was founding president of UNIMA-USA was also propelling us toward peace in founding our organization. We make puppets, not war.

We recently sent our greetings to UNIMA-Russia on their 60th year (see Kurt Hunter’s video of congratulations). We look forward to our Prague Spring in 2019 when UNIMA-International will toast its 90th year. We are an organization that crosses time-zones, borders, oceans. The marionettists and the Robotics nerds are friends. Our long-range plan is a just, equitable, and peaceful world where we and the material world—our puppets—are in sync. The puppeteer and the object must always be one for the show to go successfully on.   

Puppetry International Online: A Note for Members from Andrew Periale


If Issue #44 of Puppetry International has not arrived in your mailbox yet, it will soon. As an UNIMA-USA Member, though, you can enjoy it right now on your laptop, tablet, smartphone or any other device you use to link to the internet. Just go to the Current Member Portal. Once you log in with your current Member password, you can read the entire magazine. This is the "Puppetry and Social Justice" issue and it is full of compelling stories about people who are working to make a difference, and, of course, lots of amazing puppets! Happy reading!

--Andrew Periale, Editor of Puppetry International Magazine

Read more about issue #44 in our Puppetry International Index. You can purchase copies in our online store.

Speaking Spoof to Power

by Donald Devet  

Donald Devet

Donald Devet

For the past year and a half Bob Nathanson of Puppets To Go and I have produced movie posters satirizing the current political climate here in the USA. His comedic sense and my computer skills have proven a fruitful combination. We’ve produced over 450 posters and continue to feature a new poster five days a week. Bob is an active touring puppeteer whereas I morphed my puppetry skills into video and graphic production in 1999. Our method of speaking truth to power is meant to evoke a reaction: a laugh, a knowing nod, or sometimes, disgust.

Our puppetry experiences have paid off for Bob and me in the creation of our posters. Years of writing and performing shows have honed our abilities to zero in on a topic and deliver a powerful message. Even though we are no experts in political puppetry, we are motivated by the shifts in political ideology to put our skills to work in calling out political perversity. We follow in a great tradition, for wherever there is political disorder puppets have been drafted into service as voices of dissent. For a detailed overview of puppets used in time of oppression, read K. Ruby and Morgan Andrews’ “History of Radical Puppetry.” Another good political puppetry resource is the website Puppetry Films. Six short videos demonstrate puppets used in protest in South Africa, Kenya, and the USA.

Maybe you are toying with the idea of using your puppetry skills for political purposes. We encourage you to do so. You don’t have to take to the streets with oversized caricatures to communicate. Political messages can be weaved into your current repertoire. For instance, when I was performing with Drew Allison of Grey Seal Puppets, we satirized Richard Nixon in our adaptation of The Emperor’s New Clothes. The emperor’s line, “There are no bugs in the palace,” drew knowing chuckles from adults in the audience. We also produced an adaptation of Orwell’s Animal Farm, an allegorical novella written in 1941, reflecting events leading from revolution to tyranny that rings even truer today.

More recently, I produced a 53-episode web series satirizing the 2016 election. A puppet “Harold” discovers the rough and tumble world of American politics as he runs for President. My experiences producing the “Harold and Me” series is featured in the 2016 fall issue of Puppetry Journal.

Whether your political puppetry takes the form of a live show, a video or even a poster, you’ll be joining a long line of puppeteers using puppets to challenge authority.

Other Links:

The Puppet and the Power

Trumped Up Flicks