Bonnie Duncan from The Gottabees on Performing in Izmir, Turkey

Bonnie and Squirrel being mobbed by fans after a performance. 

Bonnie and Squirrel being mobbed by fans after a performance. 

I’ve just returned from Izmir, Turkey where I performed Squirrel Stole My Underpants at the 12th Annual Izmir Kukla Günleri – Izmir International Puppet Days.  During the 18 days of the festival, 50 companies from 26 countries performed all over the city – at theaters, art centers, schools, shopping malls, refugee charities, and even on sidewalks.

I performed Squirrel four times (with lights and sound run by my husband, Dan, who also directed the show) – twice for families who brought their children, and twice for hundreds of wonderfully raucous school groups who came by bus to the theater. After each show, I was mobbed by fans wanting to meet Squirrel.  I felt like I was at home – sharing my own giddy, absurd delight in the world with both children and adults. 

Each evening, we’d return to the hotel for “Puppet Dinner Time.” Although this irresistibly conjured up images of tiny little tables with tiny little place settings, it was in fact a very simple concept: feed the guest artists at the hotel at the same time each day.  This one simple act opened our adventure up in wonderful ways.

We met puppeteers from the UK, Iceland, Switzerland, Germany, Spain, India, and Italy.  We all shared tips on what to do, how to travel within the city, and how to get ourselves outside of it.  We organized evenings out.  We talked about contemporary puppet theater and our own approach to puppetry.  We talked about what is happening in the world and in our own lives. 

It’s where we connected, communicating in multiple languages, with hugs and laughter and depth. Our conversations flowed both easily and with some jolts, ranging from: puppeteers we admire; EU and US politics; family dynamics and experiences; corporate ownership of beloved stories and music; experiences touring to Iran, Japan, Palestine, and elsewhere; how we all struggle to make a living and define success; how our shows or workshops went each day.

I will admit that I was afraid of this trip – the US news is very quick to frighten us.  I looked to others who have traveled to this festival and to Turkey in the last year for thoughtful insight and a boost of confidence.  I am so glad I did.  

UNIMA-USA’s mission statement is to promote international understanding and friendship through the art of puppetry.  In keeping with that mission, I want to encourage us all to seek out opportunities to perform outside of the US.  I want to encourage us all to meet puppeteers from around the world and bring them to share their work in the US. 

Let’s share our love of puppet theater.  Let’s work harder to soften the borders that feel as though they might close us off to the world out of fear. 

We are the perfect representatives of the US – we work hard and we do what we love. We try to make sense of the world using common materials transformed into exquisite moments and stories.  We share the stuff of life together with a community of people we don’t know when the theater lights dim, but with whom we are connected by the end of the performance.

- Bonnie Duncan, The Gottabees

Bonnie AND Dan with the many puppeteers they met in Izmir.  

Bonnie AND Dan with the many puppeteers they met in Izmir.