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 www.newyorkstatepuppetfestival.org. 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 nyspuppetfestival@gmail.com.

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.