Welcome to the 37th issue of Puppetry International—in which we consider the future of puppetry and celebrate three significant anniversaries. First, this issue marks 30 years since Bonnie and I took over the production of UNIMA-USA's magazines. That was 1985. It was called A Propos and was only available to our members. (Back then Bonnie still had dark hair and I had, well, hair—a lot has changed in the intervening decades!)
We are also marking 25 years since the death of Jim Henson, UNIMA-USA's first president and a man whose foresight, imagination and generosity helped to set puppetry's course toward a brighter future [see Cheryl Henson's article, page 4].
Finally, it is also 25 years since the first "puppetry futurism" conference at Atlanta's Center for Puppetry Arts, a gathering of people active in the field to discuss their plans, desires and dreams for puppetry as we trudged toward the new millennium. More on that conference and "futurism" in a moment.
All puppeteers, even those who do "traditional" puppetry, think about the future, even if it is only to wonder what next season will look like, or if the audiences will be there, or the government support. We dream about making our best show ever, our new theater space, an international tour, or getting our work into a national festival or perhaps Sundance. Many of you took up our challenge of making your dreams or plans public on these pages, and perhaps those stories will prove inspirational to others.
Ken Pfeiste recounts his adventures with short puppet videos cre- ated for social media and the active community he found there [page 8]. Robert Blush gives us an overview of the puppetry arts program at the University of Connecticut—with its growing faculty and new facilities, it is training the puppeteers of the future [page 14]. Heather Denyer profiles Werewere Liking, a West African director who is making sure traditional puppetry of that region will be there in the future [page 10]. Jessica Thebus is using toy theater in her classes at Northwestern University as a training tool for future directors—risky business, given the highly addictive nature of puppetry! [page 19] Tom McLaughlin, responsible for "siliconizing" such well-known puppets as Yoda and Jabba the Hutt, lets us in on the tricks of the trade of this "material of the future"! [page 32] There is so much more: Theodora Skipitares exposes Iranian stu- dents to new ways of creating theater, Jyana Browne ruminates on a futuristic bunraku opera, and Honey Goodenough takes us into the world of medical simulation puppetry— a new way of training physicians that looks to have a bright future.
Futurism, as a general term, simply denotes "concern with events and trends of the future or which anticipate the future." Ray Kurzweil, for instance, has been called "America's greatest futurist." As a proper noun, however, it has a very specific meaning. Cheryl Henson explains:
The word 'Futurism' refers to a specific early Twentieth Century art movement. [...] Filippo Tommaso Marinetti's 1909 Futurist Manifesto called for the destruction of art as we know it, the destruction of museums and libraries, the burning of books and the obliteration of the past. He was an anarchist calling for change. But he was also an artist who introduced notions of sound, text, cacophony and modernism to an elite part of society often disconnected from the tumultuous moments in their own history. Futurism had a significant influence on modern art. It jangled the status quo and shook up complacent aesthetics. But it was an alarm clock that went off a long time ago.
The Futurism Conference and its sequels Futurism II (Watertown, CT) and Futurism III (San Luis Obispo, CA) used the term in its general sense, only capitalized because it is a title. It was Nancy Staub who came up with the name: "The conference title Futurism was my choice. At that time some 'scientists' claimed they could accurately predict the future up to 10 years and called themselves futurists." I hope this clears up any confusion as to the difference between futurism and Futurism, and will serve to stanch the flood of letters from indignant avantgardistas.
Cheryl Henson also reminds us that the future does not exist on its own: "The future will always be built on the past, in reaction to it or in continuation of it, or some combination of the two. The past exists. We need to imagine and then build the future, but it does not have to obliterate the past. Some of the greatest puppeteers of the last generation came out of the emotional ravages of the Second World War: Enno Podehl, Albrecht Roser, Kinosuke Takeda, to name a few. Artists of today should know about these masters of the past and many more." To that list, I would add Bil Baird, whose book The Art of the Puppet was a revelation to many of us in the 1970s. For that reason, we include in this issue a remembrance of Bil by his wife Susanna. She provides a very personal glimpse of an artist known primarily for his iconic puppets [page 36].
The Futurism Conference(s)
Nancy Lohmann Staub was the conference organizer for the event in July of 1990. She says that the idea was Vince Anthony's, but Anthony (who hosted the event at the Center for Puppetry Arts, Atlanta, where he is the Executive Director) says he honestly can't remember who first came up with the idea. Certainly both of them must have been inspired by the 1975 meeting at the Detroit Institute of Art proposed and supported by Jim Henson. That event also had the purpose of getting puppeteers to dream about the future of their art and then to bring those dreams into being.
That was the question put to us by Vince Anthony as the conference began: What do you want the field of puppetry to look like ten years from now, in the year 2000? As a way of organizing our thoughts and keeping us on track, he had engaged the services of Greg Bourne, Co-Director of the Southeast Negotiation Network at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Each attendee had written a paper on some aspect of puppetry in advance of the conference: festivals, conferences, seminars, training, centers, puppetry in education, internships, funding, publications and collections. These served as a starting point for discussions of actual events and programs, and then what concrete steps would be taken in order to realize them.
Attendees, in addition to the aforementioned Anthony and Staub, included Leslee Asch (Henson Foundation), Joyce Berty (P of A president), Janet Bradley (Tears of Joy), Mary Churchill (Puppet Showplace), Donald Devet (UNIMA-USA president), Jane Henson, Allelu Kurten (UNIMA-USA general secretary), George Latshaw (The Puppetry Journal editor), Michael Malkin (California Polytechnic U., Chairman, Dept. of Theater), Joann Siegrist, (West Virginia U., theater professor), Steve Whitmire (Henson Productions) and your PI editor and designer, Andrew and Bonnie Periale.
Wisely, I think, all the topic areas are what we might call "service to the field" rather than the art of it. After all, if we can train the puppeteer, fund the puppeteer, make available opportunities for her to perform and commune with other puppeteers, then the art should take care of itself. Probably the best result of the conference was that a bunch of folks devoted to puppetry were able to come together and talk about the future. There were tangible results—Hands Across the Sea, a sort of foreign exchange program for puppet companies. It is also where Bonnie and I first proposed the idea of a puppetry magazine that would go out beyond the membership of the organization. You are reading it now. Other developments were beyond our ability to predict: YouTube videos, puppetry communities on Facebook and other social media, the Puppet Slam Network... .
Futurism II was held the following summer (1991) at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. Jane Henson hosted the event, which was part of the first National Puppetry Conference there, led by Richard Termine and George Latshaw. Many of the participants returned from Futurism I, a group augmented by Eric Bass, Bobbi Nidzgorski, Roman Paska and Richard Termine. The reports for Futurism I and II were made available to anyone for $10, and they provide an interesting snapshot of the puppetry during that era. With the National Puppetry Conference 25 years old now and Puppetry International magazine on issue #37, it is clear that some dreams do come true.