Puppetry of North America—What does this really say to us? Do North American
puppetry have an identity? Would a visitor from Tokyo, say, or Nairobi see a puppet show from Havana or Montreal and blurt: “It’s so…so North American!”?
North America contains many cultures, languages and traditions, stretching north from the Colombian border (or the Panama Canal by some reckonings) all the way to the Aleutian islands and eastward to Greenland. In the following pages youʼll find
articles from Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, The United States and Canada. The identity that emerges will, we suspect, be something of a mosaic with many missing pieces. It will serve as the kick-off for a book by UNIMAʼs* North American Commission, which will fill in some of those missing pieces, allowing a true picture to emerge of our diverse, vibrant puppetry and its history.
After decades of planning, the World Encyclopedia of Puppetry Arts finally appeared in 2009. It's several inches thick and, with 864 pages, weighs nearly 9 pounds.
There are over 500 plates, but the text is all in French. Steve Abrams (one of our board members) contributed over fifty articles to the massive tome, and sent me
several that deal with North American subjects. As he points out in his entry for North America,** everyone here came from somewhere else, beginning with the pre-historic migrations from Asia through Alaska and accelerating after the voyages of Columbus. Everyone brought their traditions and stories with them. Abrams puts things in perspective: “It seems extraordinary that 16th century Spanish records of puppetry in “the New World” actually pre-date the first specifically named
puppeteer in Great Britain and pre-date the creation of Bunraku in Japan.” So, puppetry in North America has a significant past, and an active and “many splendored” present. Find a comfortable chair, read, and see for yourself.
North America—What is it?
North America is a land mass made up of many countries and islands. While some sources consider North and South America to be a single continent, for our purposes it begins in the south at the border between Colombia and Panama, extends northward through all of Central America, the US and Canada. Greenland, the worldʼs largest island is, geographically, also a part of North America (being on the
North American tectonic plate), although, politically, it is an independently governed country within the Kingdom of Denmark. North American islands include Puerto Rico,
Cuba, Turks and Caicos, the Bahamas and others, thoug not Bermuda (which sits on a different tectonic plate and is considered an oceanic island).
-Andrew C. Periale