Tag Puppets

Far From The Tree

I wasn’t able to see it when it was performed a few weeks ago, but Retta sent me a video of her Puppet  Lab performance at St. Ann’s Warehouse in New York. Check it out in the video below.

Retta says of the Puppet Lab workshops, “It was incredible to spend nine months working on the development of an idea, with no pressure and all sorts of feedback and encouragement and amazing mentors.”

Previously she’s studied with Dan Hurlin, one of the artists who sat on the excellent panel I saw last January where he warned against people building puppets and “wiggling them around.”

When I mentioned that to Retta she said, “That’s funny. The other puppet builders we talk to all say “everyone does it their own way—just build a mock up and start playing, learn what it can do, and then adjust it.”


This is the “monkbot,” an exquisite 16th century automaton who now resides at the Smithsonian Institution. Photo by the talented Rosamond Purcell. Watch the Monkbot move in the video below.

From the Blackbird journal:

Driven by a key-wound spring, the monk walks in a square, striking his chest with his right arm, raising and lowering a small wooden cross and rosary in his left hand, turning and nodding his head, rolling his eyes, and mouthing silent obsequies. From time to time, he brings the cross to his lips and kisses it. After over 400 years, he remains in good working order. Tradition attributes his manufacture to one Juanelo Turriano, mechanician to Emperor Charles V. The story is told that the emperor’s son King Philip II, praying at the bedside of a dying son of his own, promised a miracle for a miracle, if his child be spared. And when the child did indeed recover, Philip kept his bargain by having Turriano construct a miniature penitent homunculus.

Via Boing Boing

Phantom Limb’s 69˚S

These evocative marionettes were made for a new production called “69˚S.” by a New York puppet company called The Phantom Limb. This project has been in the works for a few years now and just a few days ago they got their last bit of funding.

I was excited to see this new work from them after hearing about this project from the artists who sat on a Henson Foundation panel I got to see in New York City last year. On the same trip I saw the Phantom Limb productionThe Devil You Know directed by Ping Cong.

I especially like the texture and detail in the costumes, it’s extraordinarily tricky to make fabric look like clothing at such a small scale. I love the sober expressions on the plainly formed heads. My first impression was that they were cut from blocks of gray styrofoam, then I thought maybe they were cast concrete. Now I’m convinced I have no idea what their made of, but I love their black eyes.

During the panel talk Jessica Grindstaff talked about the history of the company and how this project represented a lot of what they had learned from past productions. They got their start with some spectacular shows involving massive . She made special mention of the icebergs, and the creative thinking involved in creating the illusion of mass on stage.

Phantom Limb (Jessica Grindstaff & Erik Sanko, Co-Artistic Directors) is joined by an extraordinary team of multi-disciplinary collaborators. Synthesizing theater, dance, puppetry, photography, film, original contemporary music and an unconventional acoustic palette creating a stunning and evocative series of tableaux vivants that follows a group of gentlemen frozen (literally) in crisis.

Watch the video and you’ll see she solved the problem beautifully using fabric suspended from the fly. Stilt walking puppeteers are a bonus! Thanks to Taylor from the clown class for the link.

“The Curse”

From Kitsune Noir:

Has a puppet show ever made you cry? If your answer is no then this video might just change that fact. The song is taken from Josh’s newest album So Runs The World Away called The Curse, one of my absolute favorites in fact.

Honestly I got pretty misty eyed watching this video. It’s a combination of Josh Ritter’s amazing vocals and the strangely emotional puppets. It should also be noted that the video was directed by Liam Hurley, who is the bands drummer.

Puppet Theater: The Graduate Course


One of the best things I saw last week was on the first day of the Under the Radar festival. After an introductory interview between Anne Bogart (director of American Document) and Ping Chong (d. The Devil You Know) everyone split up into break out sessions. I went to the one called “Puppet Theater: The Graduate Course” moderated by Cheryl Henson and held in Joe’s Pub. Though it was very brief, it made a great introduction to modern American puppet theater.

Check out some of their work—from left to right: Cheryl Henson,  Dan Hurlin, Roman Paska, Basil Twist, Christopher Williams, Erik Sanko and Jessica Grindstaff.

They each only had two minutes to speak about their work (Ms. Henson’s timer quacked when the time was up) which was too little time to get very in depth but I tried to keep good enough notes to refer to later. The speakers represent a spectrum of experience in puppet theatre, Hurlin and Paska have been working and studying in the field for decades. Their work uses adapted bunraku puppet making techniques to make modern theater. The others seem to be newer to puppetry, Twist (if that is his real name) is working on Broadway, Williams is a choreographer, and the couple seem to have stumbled into professionally producing modern puppet theater.

It was energizing to get a glimpse of the bredth and depth of work that is being produced. I’m looking forward to following up  and researching some of the notes I was able to take on each person before their time was up. Quack quack!