The World Comes to Perth
by Karen Smith

It is 3:20 AM, March 31, 2008, and I board a plane from New Delhi airport, after having spent a month with friends, many of whom are puppeteers and former colleagues. I am flying to Perth, Australia. I am very excited but also a little apprehensive, because my country is about to host an important international puppetry event. 

The 20th UNIMA Congress and World Puppetry Festival (or UNIMA 2008) was held this year in Perth, Australia. The Congress takes place every four years. It is the principal general meeting of members of the 65 national UNIMA centers presided over by the 18-member Executive Committee. An international puppetry festival is independently organized by the host country to coincide with the Congress, and is an opportunity for UNIMA delegates, puppet theatre lovers, and the general public to be part of a world-class puppetry event. 

So, why should I feel some trepidation? When we travel outside our country's borders, we are challenged. We enter a new realm where we are confronted with differences both obvious and subtle. Whether we come away enriched or alienated depends on our skills and strengths. And here I was crossing a border from a new home--I now live in California with my American husband and children--and returning to an old home, Australia. 

My perspective has also been changed because I had lived in Asia for 25 years before I settled in the U.S. in 2005. Not only was I returning to the country of my birth, I was also changing my UNIMA country of allegiance, having previously represented India. As a member of UNIMA-India since 1986, I had been fortunate enough to attend one other Congress and several annual UNIMA festivals. So I knew many of the delegates from Asia and Europe. Most UNIMA folk knew me in my Indian guise, and quite a few had even considered me an Indian! I must admit, part of me wanted to stay that chameleon, Karen the Indian, who happened to be Australian (though, most were not aware of this fact). Now, as a recently elected UNIMA-USA board member, I was part of the U.S. delegation. How, then, should I now present myself at this quadrennial? I had also met Philip Mitchell (artistic director of UNIMA 2008), in Croatia in 2004. He’d asked me to assist his team in locating Indonesian artists for the festival, so I was already privy to some of the insider sentiments and concerns of Perth's festival organizers before the festival began. In a way, I felt a triple representation, as an American resident, as an Australian citizen, and as an adopted Indian. 

What most concerned me was whether my birth country could produce a memorable UNIMA festival. This, for me as well as for the other Australians involved, was the crucial question. Will we get through the next two weeks, and successfully pull it off? International eyes were upon us, especially European eyes! Perth is one of the most remote cities in the world. Yet, in practical terms, Perth is also a very pleasant and convenient city to negotiate. Australia is a member of the "New World"; Europe is part of the "Old World", the world of the masters and deep traditions. While Australia may resonate with North American notions of the Land Down Under and of a final frontier (generally, Americans have a fondness for Australians), for Europeans, on the other hand, Australia perhaps is not on the top of their list of destinations to visit. Will they, then, be keen to cross many geographical borders in order to come to a festival in a country they may not think too much about? Even for Americans, would they be attracted enough to take the long trip to Perth? In the past, the chance to visit countries "behind the iron curtain" was, for Americans, a special and unique opportunity. To see, in person, the puppet theatre greats, Obraztsov, the Czech and Polish puppet maestros, and others, and the great Asian traditions that were also offered at UNIMA festivals, this was what drew large delegates from the U.S. to travel to puppetry festivals abroad. But would they be attracted enough to see Australian puppetry in its own country? Australians are aware of the more marginalized place they hold. Perth residents feel even more estranged from the outside world. So, I believe, there was a lot at stake for the Australian organizers when they were voted in to host UNIMA 2008.

The Congress
This was the third time since UNIMA's formation in Prague, Czechoslovakia in 1929 that a Congress has been held outside of Europe (the first was in Washington, D.C. USA, in 1980, and the second in Nagoya, Japan, in 1988), and the first time it has been held in the southern hemisphere. It was only the second time it has been held in an English-speaking country. UNIMA is growing as an international organization, with relatively new national centers established in several countries each in Africa, the Middle East and South America. For the first time in UNIMA history neither the newly elected President nor the General Secretary is European: Dadi Pudumjee is from India and Jacques Trudeau is from Canada. 

For me as an adopted Indian and a resident of North America, this is wonderful! I am especially excited that Dadi Pudumjee, a long-time member of the executive committee of UNIMA, is now the organization's president. My own introduction to puppetry was through Dadi. In 1982 I joined the New Delhi puppet company, Sutradhar (later renamed the Sri Ram Centre Puppet Repertory) that he directed, and I was a member of that company for three years. I also worked and performed with Dadi twenty years later, when he had formed his own company, Ishara Puppet Theatre. 

So UNIMA, too, is crossing borders, spreading through Asia, Africa and the Americas. At the same time, the impetus for expanding in Europe, UNIMA's original base, has slowed down. (After the collapse of the soviet empire in the 1990s, there had been expansion in Europe as new UNIMA centers were added from the "new countries".)

I am also delighted that an American, Dr. Manuel Moran, was elected to the UNIMA Executive Committee, following a line of great Americans who have served on the international board. This is another border crossing, if you will, for the USA. Manuel has his base both in his native San Juan, Puerto Rico and in New York, directing a Spanish-language puppet company in both cities as well as expanding similar puppet companies in other cities of the US. His whole life has been about crossing borders. Manuel is young and dynamic. He is bilingual, a native Spanish speaker. He brings to the world a message that many people are hearing for the first time: that the USA is also a Spanish-speaking country. He certainly was very successful in negotiating the divide that does exist between the "Old World", that is, Europe, and the "New World", in this case, the USA. Indeed, he was nominated for the executive position by the Spanish national center. This is an important border crossing for the USA, to be acknowledged, not as a monolith, but as the multinational, multicultural nation that it is. 

UNIMA Congresses have a life and momentum of their own. Organized by UNIMA and facilitated by the host country, it seems that, as long as participants manage to get a decent amount of sleep and have good food to eat, the meetings are more or less impervious to the vagaries of the world outside the conference doors. 

Being at the Congress for 25 hours gave people from around the world opportunities to establish and foster international ties. We met over tea and coffee, over lunch, while walking between shows, and during the informal nightlong puppetry get-togethers at the Transit Lounge in Perth Town Hall. Arrangements to co-host or collaborate on projects, tours and festivals were discussed, and UNIMA Commission presidents were able to assemble their commission membership. This is all part of the broader border-crossing role of an international organization such as UNIMA. 
One of the traditional outcomes of participating in the Congress is the renewing of old acquaintances and making new contacts and friendships. Gretchen Van Lente, for instance, was involved in a locally organized program. Along with Kenyan puppeteer and educator, Phylemon Odhiambo Okoth, she was asked to participate in a volunteer puppetry performance and workshop arranged by an Australian puppeteer and educator for children from an Aboriginal community living outside of Perth.

The World Puppetry Festival
The theme of UNIMA 2008 was "Journeys". Philip Mitchell talked about "a puppetry journey that celebrates the traditional to new forms of expression in an art form centuries old." As Richard Bradshaw humorously added in his inaugural address, "for some of you, this will possibly be the longest journey you will ever make." Traveling across the planet to reach Perth was certainly one of the greatest challenges faced by all who attended. 

The Perth quadrennial festival featured the modern and the experimental. The Artistic Director of UNIMA 2008, Philip Mitchell of Spare Parts Puppet Theatre in Fremantle, told us at the inaugural address to "Expect the unexpected, the digital, the universal, the adult and cross-cultural…" Accordingly, the festival portion of UNIMA 2008 emphasized object and actor-dominated theatre, digital technologies combined with the visual arts, and surprisingly few actual puppets. For the ticketed segment of the festival, thirty productions from ten countries were presented. Of these, seventeen were Australian shows. The Czech Republic, South Africa, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, and Korea were each represented by one production, Belgium with three, while Canada and Japan had two companies represent their countries. 

What all of us who attended UNIMA 2008 may have been, at least subliminally, aware of was the number of border crossings that were on offer at the festival. I would say that what was implicit in the theatre performances, in terms of style, the technologies used, the content, and the audience's role in the performance, all involved the concept of border crossings. This could be a matter of performance/audience crossings, or the fusion of many art forms, which is a kind of crossing. The intention of the performance, be it primarily for entertainment or as a work of art or for education, the boundaries between these three are often crossed. Modern puppet theatre is the art form that perhaps best exemplifies the breaking of boundaries and is, in turn, quite the master at crossing borders. Some examples of the festival shows may suffice to illustrate the above statements.

Theatre Productions
A modern country made up Indigenous and Immigrant peoples, Australia has a history of a headlong clash when borders are crossed. Headhunter is a collaborative production of Ilbijerri Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Theatre Co-op and Melbourne-based Polyglot Puppet Theatre. The production was created for student audiences, and workshopped with children from the Glenroy campus of the Victorian College of Koori Education. The show's concept and design was based upon the young people's own stories, drawings and memories of family events. Authenticity of experience is reflected in a script that is well written and conceived. Headhunter is funny and upbeat, poignant and thought provoking. The handling of the history, issues and themes are sensitively dramatized, and balanced by humor and a sense of the tragic. The cruelty meted out by one culture (the European settlers and immigrants) upon another (the indigenous) is suggested but not hammered home is this show. A production that is largely human-actor based, the two human characters, teenage cousins, a male and a female, are Indigenous (Aboriginal) Australians. I thought this was a great show, as it sensitively and entertainingly addressed important issues about identity, respect, and the value of all cultures. 

Another Australian play that was both educational in intent and, in content, addressed issues related to border crossings is Turtle and the Trade Winds. There is the symbiotic relationship between animals (turtles) and humans, and the interrelationships and cooperation between two different cultures (Indigenous Australian and island Indonesian). Turtle and the Trade Winds by Sandpiper Productions (creative producer, director and designer/puppet maker, Sandy McKendrick) is a Western Australian production designed for school children. The production succeeds in exposing its audiences to information and history that is most probably unknown to the average Australian. This educational aspect of the production is very well integrated into the telling of a story that takes us back into the distant past, the centuries-old trading and resource-sharing relationship between north coastal Aboriginal peoples of Australia and seafaring peoples from the islands of Indonesia. And it brings it up to the present, as it is a non-Indigenous child who learns of this history from an elderly Indonesian woman and a young Aboriginal man. 

Another example of the cross over between human performance and animated object with an educational twist is The Mary Surefoot Shoe Collection by Spare Parts Puppet Theatre and The Western Australian Museum.Director. Co-devised by Philip Mitchell and the performer, Michelle Anderson and directed by Philip Mitchell, this appealing one-woman show from Western Australia pivots on one simple concept, the world-changing adventure revealed to us when we step into other peoples' shoes. Ten viewers at a time enter a box-shaped structure and sit facing a young woman surrounded by hundreds of shoeboxes neatly stacked and labeled. This is a woman with an obsessive passion: she collects shoes. Like an anthropologist-archaeologist, Mary Surefoot can travel to other lands and climes, to worlds and times other than her own. An intrepid discoverer and adventurer in her own right, Mary explores the personality of the original wearer each time she puts on her own foot a shoe from her vast collection. Michelle Anderson creates an appealing character, gauche and goofy with her large heavy-rimmed glasses, whose quirky passion ranges from the silly to the very funny to the quite touching. An effective example of object theatre, this 30-minute show charmingly attests to how everyday objects have a wonderful ability to cross borders between the unreal and the real, holding their own memories and stories of human lives lived now and in the past. 

One of the Australian shows that explored the mix between the human performer and technology is Explosion Therapy by Terrapin Puppet Theatre. Devised and performed by Sara Cooper, Leeroy Hart, and Laura Purcell, this show was certainly the most technologically clever and complex of all the festival productions. It was an interesting example of the central role digital technology can play in a puppetry production. A five meter film screen is used to "externalise the internal lives of the show's three characters", to "publicly display the ugly or uncomfortable bits of each character's personality." The human actors physically crossed a border and entered into an artificial world that was disturbingly real. Was this an example of the ultimate crossing of borders in puppetry? Perhaps not. But it was nevertheless disturbingly funny and eerie at the same time. 

Sleeping Beauty, written and performed by Colette Garrigan, is imaginatively inspired by the French fairy tale Briar Rose. This drama is a clever border crossing between the world of fairy tales and the world of the everyday. This one-woman performance is set in a restaurant. Colette Garrigan is the waitress, and she welcomes us into her restaurant. Once she establishes her identity and draws her audience into her world, Garrigan seats herself in the middle of the table facing her audience, and proceeds to tell us her life's tale. A modern-day woman living in urban Britain, seventh child of a working class Irish Catholic family, the fourth and youngest daughter to be given the pet name "Princess" by her parents, her tale and its telling are intimate and disturbing. The well-written script quickly captures the audience's attention, a gritty, retake of a real world fairy tale "princess". There are some puppets, too. But this is essentially an actor-driven performance. Human actors have increasingly crossed the borders into non-live actors' realms. 

As an example of outstanding cutting edge theatre combining puppetry and film animation, Woyzeck on the Highveld by the South African company, Handspring Puppet Company, unites an artist's vision and an insider's social and political insight of a brutal and brutalizing system with compelling story telling, a high standard of puppetry and use of technology to create an artistic whole. Artistic designer for Handspring, William Kentridge's career merges two forms; he is a visual artist and he is active in theatre, film and opera as an actor, writer, director, and set designer. Kentridge's animated charcoal drawings combine seamlessly with the masterfully manipulated rod puppets, ensemble performances, complex characterization and a deeply moving story. The video projection of Kentridge's images of a blighted industrial landscape is possibly the most beautiful element in this powerful production. 

Angel, performed by Duda Paiva (Eduardo de Paiva Souza), who lives in the Netherlands, is undeniably a highly skilled dancer and puppeteer. With Neville Tranter as his puppetry coach, the performer can carry a complex one-man show like a master. This is an example of puppetry allied with acting and dance. 

The active participation of the audience is an important part of the three performances by the Belgium La Compagnie des Chemins de Terre. Circus and mime performance also play an integral part in this company's style of puppet theatre. Moliere et les 7 Nains (Moliere and the 7 Dwarfs) is directed by Francy Begasse, and written and performed by Stephane Georis and Genevieve Cabodi; Like the two other shows from this company, the audience has its role to play. Toward the end of this wacky show, the audience is invited to vote for which direction the performance is to go--to Moliere or to Walt Disney. As the director of the production states, "We make [the audience] believe that they can alter the course of the performance, just like the government leads us to believe we can change the rules of the world 'game'." 

Bradshaw's Shadows by Living Dodo Puppets was written, designed, built, and performed by the much-loved and admired Richard Bradshaw. Which borders does Richard cross? He brings to the stage a love for old technologies, and present-day audiences love and enjoy his magic shadows as much as audiences of old.

Panel Disucssions
Today's world has become a lot closer in many ways, mainly due to the technologies that bring us physically closer. We have ever greater access to information, yet ethnic, cultural, religious and political positions can seem more rigid than ever. Often, differences between us are stressed, and commonalities overlooked. 

In the Professional Development segment of the festival, I facilitated a discussion about crossing borders and collaboration. This was "Cross Cultural Journeys,” with panelists Massimo Schuster, Sam Cook, Nori Sawa and Joan Baixas. We began with the premise that puppetry has always "freely plundered" folk material from around the world, and then moved on to explore from these artists' own work, experiences and perspectives on what happens when a deeper exchange occurs between those of differing cultural backgrounds and values such as how we, in process and performance, can navigate the terrain when "ordinary" behavior in one culture has a very different meaning in another? What skills do we need to have in order to develop work with or about another culture? 

Puppeteer, theatre director and teacher, Massimo Schuster from France talked about his work in Ethiopia and India, of working with local artists on, respectively, Ethiopia's founding myth of Solomon and Sheba and Hindu India's Mahabharata. He asks himself, what is it about these great stores of tales and wisdom that keep their cultures together? Massimo also considered the role of the foreigner when working outside of his own cultural context. He talked of the need to seep oneself into the other culture, to do extensive study of the sacred texts and cultural icons, to try to arrive at the quintessence of the other culture, before attempting any collaboration. One must go beyond the "tourist" version of a culture! Massimo commented on how a foreign artist may, too, because he is an outsider to another culture, become a catalyst of change or exploration for the local artist, once mutual respect and trust is established. He has found that we can all explore our own culture's sureties, and we should question certain traditional norms that need questioning. Moreover, we can often do this more effectively when a perceptive and knowledgeable outsider brings to the picture another perspective to consider. We are not talking here of one culture dominating another. Once we acknowledge that we share points of contact and still have our different perspectives, mutual respect grows. Massimo believes that great art makes people understand that we are part of one large family. 

Sam Cook, the executive producer of Australia's leading Aboriginal theatre company, Yirra Yaakin, is a Nyikina "sista" from the Kimberley region of Western Australia. Her position, in some respects, contradicts Massimo's. Crossing borders can be a devastating and destructive force. Sam stressed that what she and her fellow performers and workers are doing is creating work "For us by us--to share with the world. Developing authentic indigenous Australian performances from the ground up and in the context of living performing kaltja." Sam informed us that there are around 800 indigenous Nations in Australia, and all have different situations. Speaking from the inside, rather than from the outside, is what must happen. Up to now, it has been non-indigenous people in Australia who have "spoken" for the indigenous, and this is exploitation, a desecration. A generalized "Aboriginal" culture has been institutionalized, with a culturally embalmed identity. Now is the time to begin a process of healing and to arrive at a new voice. Ancient indigenous cultures and traditions were integrated before the coming of the Europeans, and the arts were the melding of the culture. Since Invasion, indigenous culture has lost its center, has lost the integral place and existence of its own arts and ceremonies. Sam's abiding passion is to further define the Aboriginal theatre industry within the context of the international indigenous theatre industry. As a provocateur, Sam "explores authentic indigenous Australian expression through a self-determined model of living cultural practice as a catalyst of social change." [Quotations are from notes for the panel facilitator from the Professional Development team, and from the panel discussion itself. N.b., “sista” (sister) and “kaltja” (culture).]

Another instance of border crossings was explored by Nori Sawa of Japan. He spoke of the relationship between, and the intersection of, the traditional and the modern. Nori is presently a guest instructor at the Prague Academy, and he has been collaborating with Czech puppeteers for several years. He began his panel talk by looking at some of the differences and interesting similarities between Western and Eastern puppetry traditions, and then reflected on the new artistic bridge between traditional and modern puppetry in Europe and Japan. He continues to work on building bridges and crossing borders between one tradition and another, and, in the process, creating new collaborations.

Joan Baixas, dramatist, director and painter, former director of Teatre of Claca, Spain, is renowned for his innovative puppetry and theatre projects, painting performances and video installations, as well as his collaborations with great artists, including Matta, Saura and Miro. He has spent extended periods in Australia, working with indigenous communities. On his first visit, he was aware of the lack of ceremonies within the indigenous community he lived with. He felt it was very important to have a sense of community, and so, from this basis, he worked with local elders and members to create performances that would provide such a communal role. In four months, they developed a performance together, essentially about friendships and relationships. Joan is very much aware of the difference between collaboration and appropriation. Foreigners, outsiders, he believes, have an important role to play if they enter into another culture with humility. 

On another level, border crossings take place in the arts. Puppetry is the perfect vehicle for this kind of cross over work, as we’ve noted. Another panel offered during UNIMA 2008 was "Crossing Boundaries", with panelists Deborah Hunt, Kusunoki Tsubame, Neill Gladwin and Jessica Wilson, and facilitator Annette Dabs. They discussed the question of how puppetry combines with other art forms and what happens when everyone wants to use puppets in their work. This was a discussion of how puppetry has become a multi-art form, a cross-art form, interdisciplinary and hybrid, with more and more use of multimedia and collaboration across genres, embracing dance, circus, acting, opera, orchestral music, the visual arts, digital projection, real time animation, and more. Today, audiences are constantly being stimulated with new and challenging perspectives on puppetry. Are there any real boundaries to puppetry, then? By crossing boundaries and borders, have we enriched puppetry or are we diluting this very special art form? The panel discussion argued for both the evolutionary possibilities and the dangers we need to be aware of in this rush to embrace all.

It is the prerogative of all host countries to showcase their own country's productions. In the past, Australia has been represented at UNIMA international puppetry festivals by only a few master puppeteers and companies. This year provided a singular opportunity for Australians to cross another kind of border, and show the world their work. 

In spite of my experience of multiple border crossings, I was reminded there are always borders to cross and negotiate when entering that larger world. We cannot presume to know or understand the inner workings of another culture, or share the same or similar sentiments on political, cultural or aesthetic matters. We cannot even always understand or appreciate another culture's sense of humor. And we can also lose our own cultural identification, growing apart from what was once familiar. Crossing borders is always a complicated and complex journey. 

For me, the festival was a rare opportunity to see a broad selection of Australian puppet theatre. Besides enjoying myself thoroughly, I also found myself wondering how the international community, including the U.S. members, viewed Australia and Australian aesthetics, self-image, and purpose. What did I learn from this rather self-conscious experience? Most of the time, I felt at home with the thematic concerns and the styles explored in the Australian theatre. I could quite easily relate to what was happening on stage, and accept the fundamentals. I could recognize differences, some subtle, some more obvious. At other times, it felt a little foreign, too. 

There are, naturally, some obvious differences in approach between the American and Australian traditions, for instance, in respect to each country's brand of humor, or the slant or attack that is taken when broaching content. I appreciate Steve Abrams' observations: "For the most part, the diverse styles and themes of Australian shows parallel many of the genres currently seen in the USA. One difference discussed by the Americans attending Perth is that the Australians seem bolder (less over-protective) in their idea about content for school shows." (The Puppetry Journal, Spring 2008, p.27). This boldness toward content for young audiences may be a result of the selections made by Artistic Director of the festival, Philip Mitchell, and his colleagues. 

Crossing physical borders is one thing. Accepting someone else's aesthetic choices is another matter. Some of the issues that came up informally at the Perth festival reflected the various stylistic and aesthetic preferences and backgrounds of the international audience. There was some disenchantment about the theatre choices, which, I believe, is quite a common occurrence at UNIMA festivals. For example, there were complaints that there was barely any classical, or traditional, puppetry (of the European and Asian traditions) in evidence at this festival, and what was offered was kept on the margins of the festival. Southeast Asia, a region close to Australia, was represented by only one performer, I Made Sidia of Bali, but no formal wayang performance was possible, to the regret of many. The few traditional Asian performances that did come to Perth were more in the form of demonstrations. The Asian countries represented were Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Myanmar, Japan and China. Short performances and demonstrations were staged only on Carnival Day, the day of free puppetry events that was open to the general public, and a few were performed again for registered delegates in the Transit Lounge. 

Having said this, I did not sense any negative concern or a feeling of being excluded on the part of the invited artists from Asia. A master puppeteer in his seventies, Ye Dway from Myanmar gave presentations on Carnival Day of the traditional Burmese marionettes of his country, and an additional performance in the Transit Lounge. He was also a panelist on "Novice to Master". The puppetry demonstrations from Quanzhou Marionette Troupe of China were also performed at both venues. I Made Sidia from Bali, Indonesia performed a topeng (mask) dance on Carnival Day, was a member of a panel ("In Your Neighbourhood"), and conducted a three-hour workshop, "The Shadow Maker".

One of the highlights of Carnival Day was a performance that was brought to Perth by the Japanese government, I believe. It was an excerpt from The Battle of Ichinotani, a production of Chiryu Karakuri Puppet Preservation Society of Japan. Audiences were dazzled by the demonstration of the mechanics of this eighteenth century form of puppetry that was performed in Chiryu during the Edo period. Thirteen puppeteers, two musicians and a commentator demonstrated how the wooden puppets are brought to life by puppeteers manipulating strings that are hidden in long rectangular boxes. And there are eighty threads and thirty pins to be worked! Chiryu Karakuri is recognized by the Japanese Government as an important part of Folk Cultural Heritage. It was therefore a unique opportunity for all of us that day to experience a little of this remarkable art form. 

Then there is the question of balance with regard to national representations. The U.S. delegation, for one, was disappointed that there was no American presence on the theatre stage (and there hasn't been for at least two quadrennials). The reality is that, how can a UNIMA quadrennial offer a wider international program when the finances to put on the event must come from the host country? A related factor is that it is no easy task to acquire theatre productions from many countries when there is not the money to cover all the costs of transporting a company. If there is little or no government funding for such a program from either the host or invited countries, then we are limited to drawing from those companies or countries that do have the means to participate in a festival. 

All this once more highlights the challenges UNIMA national centers face when their turn arrives to organize a major international festival. Crossing borders is a wonderful yet loaded challenge. Naturally, as UNIMA expands, the fact that not everyone can be well or equally represented at each event will be accepted. This is perhaps one of the major border crossing issues--the complexity of acknowledging home country, cost, expectations, and representation. In the future, border crossings may mean seeing the role of the audience in a more active way. As we think more in global terms for the good of puppetry, the borders become more porous. We may even move away from the focus on national and regional identification.

UNIMA 2012
The 21st Congress and World Puppetry Festival will be held in Chengdu, China in 2012. The large Chinese delegation, led by the Mayor of Chengdu, gave a meticulously prepared presentation for their candidacy in hosting the next Congress, and was elected to do so by a Congress of more than 100 voting members. 

An organization such as UNIMA does play a valuable and unique role in the world by reaching across national borders and political divides to create opportunities to foster international friendships and cooperation through a shared love for the art of puppetry. May puppetry diplomacy live long and prosper!

Karen Smith is a former president of UNIMA-USA.