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

• 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

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

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

Visiting Asia

by Kathy Foley 

In June and July, I traveled through Korea, Malaysia, and Indonesia. While I was there, I had the chance to interact with various groups of puppeteers and theatre people. In Korea with Matthew Cohen (Royal Holloway University of London) and Song Jungmin, we went to the Asian Cultural Center in Kwanju where we learned of the artistic residencies and research opportunities that the center provides for anyone doing research on the Asia-Pacific region. We saw the artist studios and learned of the residencies they offer. Anyone doing research or creative work that has to do with Asia should consider it. Cohen presented on his work on wayang and I presented on how one can approach exhibiting puppetry by trying to recreate the liveness of puppetry in the still environment of a museum, citing the recent exhibit Indian Puppets: The Great Stories and Dancing Dolls at the Center for Puppetry Arts.

 Asian Cultural Center facilities for residencies and research in Kwanju (photo via  ACC website )

Asian Cultural Center facilities for residencies and research in Kwanju (photo via ACC website)

In Seoul, I was able to meet with members of UNIMA-Korea and explore the idea of doing an exhibit that might include Korean Masks and puppets.   Artstage San which brought Dallae's Story, about a young Korean Girl caught in the Korean war, is one of the largest companies and has a repertoire that ranges from Western fairy tales, to Shakespeare, to tales of orphan David Misang McKenzie, a Canadian-Korean adoptee who goes to South Korea looking for his roots. The latter was a co-production with a Canadian company and based on a true story. Theatre Ro Gi Narae, led by Bae Geunyong, did a lovely production at Jongno Children's Theatre about the michevious Korean dokkaebi trickster spirits of Korean folklore who interacted with a contemporary Korean boy.

A small puppet festival in Seoul ranged from solo avant-garde pieces to an elaborate children's show with live pungmul (Korean drumming). From Theatre Company SaniNeomeo, I learned of their production of Park Chumji Returns which reprises traditional puppetry (with Punch-and-Judy-like action) using larger puppets and more manipulators, while interpreting the work for contemporary audiences. A new president of UNIMA-Korea received me as the last president had just been elected mayor of Chuncheon, which appropriately holds the country's largest puppet festival every Fall and always welcomes foreign companies to its lineup.

Sunan Kalijaga.jpg

In Ipoh, Malaysia, I was a speaker at the Fifth World Conference on Islamic Thought and Culture, presenting on the intertwined history of puppetry and Islam in Southeast Asia. I told the stories of the fifteenth century Islamic Saints who converted Java to Islam using puppet shows, music, and female performance.

The image to the left is Sunan Kalijaga - the most famous of these fifteenth century saints - and who is credited with inventing the shadow show (wayang kulit purwa) among many other artistic endeavors.  I remarked on the irony that puppeteers who consider themselves as the descendants or students of such saints are being banned from performing in their home state of Kelantan in Malaysia and discussed the plight of puppeteers in Southern Thailand who find that the current strife between the state police and Islamic fundamentalist is making it hard for nang talung, the puppet art of Southern Thailand, to persist, even as it is being converted into a dance drama form at the local school of performing arts in Nakorn Sri Thammarat.

 Students rehearse the opening of a dance drama based on nang talung shadow puppets in Nakorn Sri Thammarat. (Photo: Kathy Foley)

Students rehearse the opening of a dance drama based on nang talung shadow puppets in Nakorn Sri Thammarat. (Photo: Kathy Foley)

In Indonesia, I had the honor of seeing the final projects of the dalang puppeteers class at Institut Seni Indonesia (Indonesian Institute of the Arts) led by I Nyoman Sedana who has written on his own cross cultural adaptations for  Issue #38 of Puppetry International. Student work ranged from marionette adaptations to pop-up book scenery to traditional shadow work. Young energy and creativity were rampant as young dalangs took on issues of land grabs for resort or business that disenfranchises villagers. Their teachers encouraged them to know tradition but explore the new.

It was cremation season so I also saw a performance of the story of how Bima goes to release his parents' souls from hell (a necessary part of any cremation ritual), performed by a young puppeteer mourning his own father in the rites. Understanding the context and personal engagement gave the viewing additional meaning as the Burly Bima opened the gates of hell.

The puppeteers in Denpasar spoke with anticipation of the April 2020 World Puppetry Festival that will be held in Gianyar. They invited UNIMA-USA members to come and learn of the deep cultural meanings and the modern permutations they are taking with wayang.

The Citations of Excellence in the Art of Puppetry

 UNIMA-USA Citations of excellence certificate artwork by Brad Williams

UNIMA-USA Citations of excellence certificate artwork by Brad Williams


By Steven Widerman 

The Citations of Excellence in the Art of Puppetry (nicknamed the “UNI”) are precisely what their name states, a work that has been cited as excellent. Perhaps more importantly, it is not a competitive award, there are no categories other than live and recorded media, and there is no requirement that there be a recipient in any award-year. There is also no cap on the number of recipients in any award-year. This structure has proven both equitable and durable, and we have to thank Jim Henson for proposing his idea for the awards in 1973. In a letter written to Allelu Kurten, who was General Secretary of UNIMA-USA at the time, Henson wrote:

  . . . when you sit around talking with someone who knows Puppetry, and someone whose opinion you trust, and that person says ‘I just saw a terrific show that I strongly recommend,’ then you sit up and listen. And if three people you trust all recommend a particular show, then you definitely try and see it. In other words, you have a ‘cited’ show . . . Citations should be given when three people, in their best, private judgment, believe in a particular show.

Awards are often controversial, especially regarding something as subjective as Art, and Henson’s proposal was not universally received without some protest at the time; but the Citations have endured. It is worth noting that special Citations are sometimes awarded to individuals in recognition of exceptional service to UNIMA-USA.  The actual award is an impressive certificate created by the late designer and puppeteer, Brad Williams, which is imprinted with the name of the producer and title of the production being cited. Specifics about the process and criteria can be found on the Citations section of the UNIMA-USA website, but essentially the Chair of the Citations Committee retains an anonymous panel of experts who may cite a show for an award. Review panelists are recommended to the Chair by members of the Board of the organization, but the actual panelists are known only to the Chair, who tracks the votes and has no vote of their own.  A production that receives three votes during a span of three years, commencing from the initial vote, is awarded a Citation.

Review panelists are encouraged to cite shows “ . . . that touch their audiences deeply; that totally engage, enchant and enthrall. In meeting the criteria for excellent Puppetry, Citation-worthy shows must also stand as prime examples of excellent theatre.” Panelists are also asked to observe the audience reaction to a live performance and support their choices with short quotes regarding a production. These are traditionally read upon presentation of the award and they often offer interesting insight into what moves a panelist to cite a production.

Since the inception of the Citations in 1975, the world has changed quite a bit. In the age of the internet and social media, it is important that the awards adjust in order to remain relevant and respond to changes that influence our perceptions.  At the same time, UNIMA-USA strives to retain the integrity of the awards, respecting the achievement of all the past recipients by preserving the core criteria. The selection process is validated by the exemplary collection of excellent Puppetry represented by the recipients.

Call for Participation in Free International UNIMA Workshop: Paper, Puppet, People


UNIMA calls for participants for a free international workshop from September 18-22, 2018 in Charleville-Mézières, France. 

Led by Alain Lecucq and Narguess Majd, this workshop provides an introduction to paper theater and the opportunity to work with a group of artists to make selected texts from UNIMA's Young Authors Contest come to life. 

Visit UNIMA's website to learn more about the workshop and how to apply. An English version of the information sheet can be found here. Applications are due August 8, 2018

Apply for a Performing Arts Japan Touring or Collaboration Grant

The Japan Foundation is now accepting project proposals for Performing Arts JAPAN (PAJ) touring and collaboration grants for the 2019 - 2020 fiscal year. This program is designed to provide financial assistance to nonprofit organizations in the U.S. and Canada with an aim to introduce Japanese performing arts to local audiences.

Deadline for applications is October 31, 2018. 

The touring Grants assists with the presentation of Japanese performing arts at multiple locations in the United States and/or Canada, with emphasis on locations outside major metropolitan areas where there is little exposure to Japanese performing arts.

The collaboration Grants facilitates the collaboration of Japanese and American/Canadian artists so that they may create a new work through research, residencies, artists' discussions etc. with the potential to develop into a touring project and further an appreciation of Japanese culture when presented to audiences in the United States and Canada.

To be eligible for an award, project must be to present Japanese performing arts and/or to conduct performing arts collaboration between Japanese and American/Canadian artists.  Grants are awarded only to U.S.-based or Canada-based nonprofit organizations. The proposed project must commence between July 1, 2019 and June 30, 2020.  For tours, the project must tour to at least two locations outside New York and Los Angeles.  For collaborations, the project must be a new work jointly explored and created by Japanese artists and American/Canadian artists.

For information on eligibility, grant coverage, review criteria and the application form, please visit:

UNIMA-USA Membership Meeting at the International Puppet Fringe Festival in NYC

August 10, 2018 from 4pm-5pm

Join us in NYC for the 2018 Membership Meeting on August 10 at 4pm ET.

Open to all current Members of UNIMA-USA and anyone interested in joining, this meeting will explain what UNIMA-USA has been up to this last year. Our Board of Directors will be there to greet you and answer any questions you might have.

The International Puppet Fringe Festival is graciously hosting us in theAbrazo Interno Gallery at The Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural and Educational Center located on the lower east side in NYC.

Be sure to check out the schedule for the festival and buy your tickets if you haven't already!

Can't make it to NYC? Head over to our Facebook page to watch a live stream of the meeting. A recording of the meeting will be available afterwards if you can't join us live.

See you there!

Call for Proposals: Jim Henson Foundation Puppetry Residency at the O'Neill

Don't miss the opportunity to submit your proposal for a puppetry project geared towards adults.

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The Jim Henson Foundation Puppetry Residency at the famous Eugene O'Neill Theater Center in Connecticut offers space and support to a deserving artist/company as they work towards the completion of a new work of puppet theater. Residents receive 2-4 weeks of full room and board on-site at the O'Neill, dramaturgical support from the O'Neill literary office, and a $5,000 grant to cover expenses, 

Interested artists must submit letters of intent by Monday, July 16, 2018. Materials are accepted only via online submission. 

To learn more about submission materials and the details of the residency, visit The O'Neil's website. 

Puppets Take Over The Big Apple: UNIMA-USA at the International Puppet Fringe Festival


The Big Apple will host the 1st International Puppet Fringe Festival (IPFFNYC) August 9-12 at The Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural and Educational Center on the Lower East Side. The festival will feature performances, exhibits, and symposiums. Ticket and VIP access passes are on sale now. For more information, please visit or call 212 529-1545 for more information! 

Festival Producer Manuel Moran, who served as President of UNIMA-USA in 2016 and 2017 and who continues to serve as a Vice President of UNIMA International, is the moving force behind the event that adds to the puppet "must-do" calendar for summer of 2018  (along with the Puppeteers of America regional festivals: Pacific Northwest in Calgary, Alberta June 1-3 and Southeast Regional in Asheville, NC June 28-July 1). This  IPFFNYC offering is planned to create an ongoing tradition and, for those spending summer in the city (or traveling to join), this event promises to beat the heat with puppetry. 

UNIMA-USA will be holding its annual Membership meeting (and streaming it live on our Facebook) at the venue on Friday, August 10 at 4pm (more information will be forthcoming). At noon on Saturday, August 11 (see final schedule), Members of the current UNIMA-USA Board will be presenting a panel discussing how puppetry and UNIMA-USA linkages can open a world of art, friendship, and collaboration. Karen Smith will discuss the World Encyclopedia of Puppetry Arts (WEPA) showing how it can alert you to the who, what, why, and where of puppets in places you might be heading. Kurt Hunter (Concordia University) will note how recent participation in UNIMA Festivals in France and Germany has fed his performance and teaching. Steven Kaplin (Chinese Theatre Works) will talk about going global with China. Kathy Foley (UC-Santa Cruz) will present on possibilities for learning and collaborating in Indonesia looking toward the 2020 Bali UNIMA World Puppetry Festival.  Colette Searls (UM-Baltimore County) will present on training she did in Brussels and how it has impacted her creative work. We invite you all to join!

Moran's Teatro SEA will present their award-winning and recently remounted/rebuilt  production, Sueño: A Latino take on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, free for the community with its 25 actors, singers, dancers, and puppeteers. Teatro SEA’s “Latinized” version of this theatrical classic aims to spark interest in young and underserved audiences that do not ordinarily have the opportunity to see Shakespeare’s work. With 65 carnival puppets, stilt walkers, and masks including “Vejigantes and Cabezudos” (folkloric characters from Puerto Rico, used in festival celebrations), this production extends the presentations of Shakespeare’s work in Latin America (which dates back to the 1800s). It will allow Americans to see an adapted Latino version of the master’s play. The Clemente, Teatro Latea, and UNIMA’s Three Americas commission are venue partners.  .


Share UNIMA-USA with Your Network!

Everyone has a website these days. Whether it’s a personal website, a company website, or a blog, all websites provide a platform for connection. Since UNIMA-USA is all about connection—between puppeteers, scholars, fans, and audiences—we want to ask you to consider adding our logo and/or link to your website.

Sharing UNIMA-USA with your digital network offers exposure to help us remain strong as an organization. It also shows that you are a vital member in a global community of like-minded individuals; that you strive to celebrate puppetry worldwide, all the time.

You can share your favorite part of what makes UNIMA-USA special. Share a link to our Puppetry Yellow Pages resource guide, where your company is listed; to our Puppetry Calendar, where a festival you’re performing in is scheduled; to information about the UNIMA-USA Scholarship to study abroad; to your favorite issue in our Puppetry International index; and to the Citations of Excellence page, simply because you want to share the best in puppetry!

Below is a logo you can display on your website, along with a brief description of UNIMA-USA you can copy and paste if you wish. Help us connect with your network. We’ll keep celebrating puppetry worldwide!


“UNIMA-USA is the United States branch of Union Internationale de la Marionnette, the international puppetry organization. Founded in 1966 with Jim Henson serving as its first chairman, UNIMA-USA works to promote international understanding and friendship through the art of puppetry.”

Western New York Town is Unlikely Home to the Launch the First New York State Puppet Festival

The story of upstate New York rural towns is a common one:  shuttered factories, missing millennials, and empty storefronts. Perry, situated roughly halfway between Buffalo and Rochester, changed this script when an influx of performing artists, dancers, and visual artists moved to town and started working there.

One of these new artists chose Perry to host the first New York State Puppet Festival (NYSPF, June 14-24, 2018), a festival bringing world-renowned artists to perform, exhibit, and discuss puppetry with the public. This is the first time that this type of festival has been produced in upstate New York.

Theatre artist Josh Rice is starting the NYSPF. Josh grew up in Perry and left after he graduated from high school to pursue theatre in college. At that time, in the early 2000s, there were not many job prospects back home for him.

“Growing up I didn’t know what theatre was. After seeing comedy improv at SUNY Brockport, and getting a chance to intern at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London and to really see the possibilities in theatre, it changed my life,” says Josh. “Then, theatre became my life. To be able to bring theatre back to my community, and, maybe, to other kids like me—who don’t know what is out there in the world until you are exposed to it—that feels like I’m contributing to something greater.”

 Photo Credit: NYSPF Sanbaso with Koryu Nishikawa V - Ayumi Sakamoto

Photo Credit: NYSPF Sanbaso with Koryu Nishikawa V - Ayumi Sakamoto

The artists participating in the NYSPF have made significant contributions to the puppetry field and are traveling from throughout the world to attend. Josh has worked with many of the artists featured in the festival, including Dan Hurlin, Koryu Nishikawa V, and Tom Lee, fulfilling his dream to bring his colleagues to present their work in his hometown.

New York State Puppet Festival Artists include:

·         Dan Hurlin, Winner of the Rome Prize & Alpert Award in Theatre, a Guggenheim Fellow, and Director of the Graduate Theatre Program at Sarah Lawrence College in an exhibits of his works

·         Koryu Nishikawa V, Japanese National Cultural Treasure and fifth-generation headmaster of Hachioji Kuruma Ningyo Theatre Company

·         Concrete Temple Theatre presenting the internationally-acclaimed family show Gepetto: Extraordinary Extremities

·         Tom Lee & Lisa Gonzales premiering their dance/puppetry hybrid piece, Place (No Place). Tom Lee will also present a shadow puppet piece for children, Tomte

·         Sam Jay Gold presenting his new Czech-marionette and Balinese shadow puppetry-inspired piece, Untold Stories from the War with the Newts

·         Josh Rice presenting his original puppet piece, The Marooned

·         Hamida Khatri, a Pakistani-born puppeteer and visual artist, teaching puppetry workshops based on her social justice program, Project KALI

The Wyoming County Rural Arts Initiative, a policy initiative from the Wyoming County Industrial Development Agency, Wyoming County Chamber of Commerce and Tourism, and Arts Council for Wyoming County, also helped bring in an influx of artists.

Josh was a recipient of a grant from this program, which offered funding to artists to start arts-based businesses in the community. He started his own storefront theatre, Theatre@37, on Main Street Perry, which will be the main performance venue for the New York State Puppet Festival. His neighbors include the Genesee Dance Theatre, a pre-professional dance company, the Arts Council for Wyoming County, and several visual artists who have studios in a former department store building.

Jackie Hoyt, the Executive Director of the Arts Council for Wyoming County says “The impact of arts projects like the New York State Puppet Festival on communities like ours is profound. We now can say that our communities can see works of art never seen before in the entirety of the state, right here in our communities.”

For more information about the New York State Puppet Festival, please visit Tickets, festival ticket packages, and a schedule of events will be announced on the website in May 2018. If you have any questions on tickets, please email

The program is made possible with funds from the Decentralization Program, a regrant program of the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature and administered by the Arts Council for Wyoming County. The Perry Main Street Association served as the fiscal sponsor for the NYSPF.

Observations of a School Performer

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By Drew Allison of Grey Seal Puppets 

As a puppeteer who does a lot of performances in schools, I’ve noticed distinct changes over the last ten years in the atmosphere associated with elementary school audiences. 

There are the obvious, disturbing, new-normal practices of background checks, fingerprinting, driver’s license name tag stickers, and being buzzed into the office. 

But I’ve also noticed less perceptible changes as well. 

 Drew Allison. Photo by Debbie Page. 

Drew Allison. Photo by Debbie Page. 

This is a quirky one, but a certain one. School assemblies are less of a “happening” now than in the past. There are many attributable reasons for this, but the fact remains that often the office front line has no idea I’m coming, custodians rarely set up chairs for teachers, teachers often don’t open associated Study Guides and the obligatory pre-show fly-by from a school administrator is often a super brief, out-of-breath handshake as they hurry on to the next task that they’re late for in their overstuffed days. 

Teachers have traded in the practice of sometimes grading papers during a performance to sometimes being on their phones or other devices. I understand the pressure and duress teachers are under. However, our performances are often the first real theatre experience that students are a part of. As an adult, being on a device is not the right theatre etiquette message to send to your students. 

There have been changes in the students themselves as well. Most noticeably for me is the practice of verbalizing what they are seeing.  Often, I’ll find points in a performance that in the past were quiet, listening moments have now morphed into the audience murmuring scene descriptions with unrestricted glee. A product of being flooded by so much visual content coming from a device in their hands, maybe? I’m not sure.

On a more positive note, students’ perception and understanding of stories and theatre techniques has sharpened.  Younger students have a comprehension and attention now that I did not see in the past. 

Sometimes I stand onstage and look out at the faces of my audience and wonder if they wonder if they’re going to be attacked today, if they’re going to be shot today. I wonder if they wonder if I’m going to attack them. These are thoughts I never imagined having. 

These are just a handful of the changes I have seen. But perhaps these can be a catalyst for discussion. If you perform in schools, have you seen similar things? Different ones? Or am I off-base with these observations?