by Andrew C. Periale
I have thought for a long time that we should have an issue of Puppetry International that honored the achievements of women in our field: Women Pioneers of Puppetry. I was a bit surprised to find that not everyone shared my enthusiasm for this idea. In fact, there were people who looked at me as if I had proposed we do a "Swimsuit Edition." "Why women?" they asked. "Why not just 'Pioneers of Puppetry?...
I don't know. And, if I did know, I wouldn't bother pursuing it. Admitedly, having women as our theme is fraught. It cannot help but be seen as a political act. Putting this magazine together, though no matter what the theme is a journey of discovery. We bring some of the best minds in the field together to write about great art and great artists and as things proceed, the process becomes less like chemistry and more like alchemy. Proven formulae turn weird; serotonin kicks in and the serendipitous erupts; the commonplace, in short, is transformed into something precious.
The trick as editor, it seems to me, is in knowing when to get out of the way. This is not an exhaustive study of Women in Puppetry. It is not complete or even logical. It is more like a collage: the whole is more than the sum of the parts. With luck, by the time we go to print, I will have an answer to the question, "Why women?"
At the moment, our minds are full of "Olympic Moments" visions of athletes who've overcome tremendous obstacles to jump higher, swim faster, throw farther than anyone else. Words like "Courage," "Glory" and "Fair Play" drop from sportscasters' lips like quarters into one armed bandits. Out of the hundreds of newspaper article in the sports sections, I was led as if by an occult hand to this small item: "Little League to Honor Maria Pepe." At age eleven, Pepe made the Little League team in Hoboken, NJ. She was good. Heck, she was their starting pitcher! It only took three games, though, for Little League officials to notice. Because she was a girl, Pepe was out.* Not only was she oppressed by the sport's "old boy" power structure, she was hurt by the crowds' insults: "They said stuff like, 'You're supposed to be play ing with dolls."
You're supposed to be playing with dolls.
Pretty strong stuff.
During Russia's "Silver Age," men dominated the theater world. Not all women were content to remain in their "assigned seats," and a number of them found a new freedom in the world of puppetry, where they were not considered a threat to the status quo. Perhaps because they were only "playing with dolls." Dassia Posner looks at four of these women whose works and writings had, and continue to have, an impact.
In contemporary India, whether or not a woman is even allowed to perform with a puppet may depend on where she is living. Nineteenth century French writer George Sand took on a man's name (and a few "masculine" vices). She also wrote movingly about puppet theatre. Helen Haiman Joseph brought puppet performances to thousands of American children. When she could find no good book on the subject in English, she wrote one!
A number of the women spotlighted in this issue were blatantly discriminated against because of their gender, but oppression is not always such an obvious thing. Our designer, Bonnie Periale (who is, not coincidentally, my wife and puppetry partner), has been oppressed throughout her long career as a puppeteer. Her primary oppressor has been myself a fact of which I am not proud. My blatant bullying as unpleasant as it is is, however, relatively easy to spot. Far more insidious are the journalists who address all their questions to me, sponsors who call and ask to speak with me, and people who send invitations with only my name on them. They do so not because I'm the better artist (I'm not) or because I work harder (I don't), but because I am the man and therefore presumably in charge. Some of the offenders are women ' and I imagine the slights are unintentional. This should not be surprising I have no doubt that some of the hecklers admonishing Maria Pepe to "play with dolls" were women, too. We are alI part of a system in which certain types of discrimination are deeply ingrained.
So, for myself, the answer to the question, "Why women?" is: for Bonnie. And: for Maria Pepe.
But read the magazine. It's for you, too.