SPECIAL FEATURE: UNIMA-USA TURNS 50
It’s hard to know where to begin when remembering a life as rich and varied as Allelu’s. She loved singing and making music, was an inveterate and enthusiastic gardener and a self-proclaimed “morning person” who nonetheless stayed up late at puppet festivals.
If you never had the chance to meet Allelu, then you should know that she spent much of her life helping to make the world a friendlier, more peaceful place through the art of puppetry. She was a longtime member of the Puppeteers of America (serving a term as vice president). She created delightful puppet shows, often satirical, in a unique style that blended Art Deco with tennis balls (aided by her husband John, a designer on the theater faculty of Vassar College). But her work of greatest consequence, I think, was her long service to UNIMA (Union International de la Marionnette).
Jim Henson was the first Chairman of UNIMA-USA when the organization was first formed in 1966. In advance of the 1980 World Puppetry Festival in Washington, DC (headed by Nancy Staub), Allelu took charge of making UNIMA-USA a non-profit 501c3 organization, with Jim Henson underwriting the legal costs. Allelu volunteered to be its General Secretary, and for the next fifteen years (1978-1992) traveled the world on behalf of the organization. She helped organize scholarship funding so that American puppeteers could study overseas, helped promote American puppet troupes abroad and fostered UNIMA’s goal of international friendship and understanding through the art of puppetry.
When Bonnie and I joined UNIMA-USA in the early 1980s, Allelu welcomed us warmly. She supported our bid to take over producing A Propos, UNIMA-USA’s magazine, and again when we proposed replacing it with Puppetry Interna- tional. Twice a year, we would drive to Allelu and John’s to spend a weekend organizing the mailing to members, making up songs, walking through their woods, cooking meals and listening to Allelu’s stories of traveling to foreign festivals and visiting her friends all over the world, or we would swap tales of performances that had gone horribly wrong (always hilarious in retrospect).
Allelu had a way of taking situations that were toxic and transmuting them into events flooded with light. She replaced the old “critique” sessions that followed some performances at puppet festivals (and the hurt feelings that sometimes en- sued) with a “meet the artist” series—post-show discussions where audiences got to meet the puppeteers and hear them speak about their lives and work. She treated us all as the artists we aspire to be.
After passing on the job of General Secretary to the in- domitable Vince Anthony, she continued to visit her puppeteer friends all over the world and to attend puppet festivals into the final months of her life.
As much as we miss her, we have to smile when we think of Allelu. UNIMA president Dadi Pudumjee emailed: “I wrote a small obituary for the UNIMA site, it’s been a sad day... but she lived a great and happy life, [I] remember her sitting on my little Vespa when she visited Delhi – must have been late 80s – in her dirndl skirt, shocking all the other UNIMA ladies ...”
And Cheryl Henson wrote: “She did so much for UNIMA- USA out of her teeny tiny home office! Remember when people would come from abroad expecting to see a well staffed office, only to find the hardest working, most dedicated in- dividual in international puppetry (at least in UNIMA-USA) at that time!”