Imagining and Creating a World-Class Puppetry Festival: How they did it
Of all American puppetry festivals since the very first, no festival has so far equalled or surpassed the 1980 World Puppetry Festival for scale, scope or boldness of vision.
For many puppeteers, it was a life-changing experience.
Jim Henson made it possible, but a team of organizers made it work. And the leader of the pack was Nancy Staub.
34 years later, Nancy shares with us the back story of all that had to be done to put that legendary festival together.
In 1980 the Puppeteers of America (PofA) hosted the 13th Congress of the international puppetry organization UNIMA (Union Internationale de la Marionnette), cosponsored by UNIMA-USA and Puppeteers of America. The international congress is held once every four years and PofA agreed to coordinate an international festival in conjunction with the Congress, the first to be held outside of Europe. I volunteered to organize it and proposed the site as Washington, D.C. PofA granted a cash advance of $3000, but the direct costs of the event reached over 1 million with indirect expenditures an additional million for a total of 2 million.
More than 1,400 registrants from 48 nations attended the congress. Over an eight-day period June 8-15, 1980 there were 50 performance events at 10 separate venues. About half the companies were from the USA. Visiting artists from 20 foreign countries performed. This is the only puppet festival in US history to present such a large number of foreign companies during a single festival.
Festival registrants had meals and lodging on the campus of Georgetown University. Each afternoon they were bussed to Kennedy Center or other locations in DC for afternoon shows, and then they returned to Georgetown University for evening shows
The festival exhibit, Puppets: Art & Entertainment, was attended by 72,000 people in three months and traveled to 10 additional venues across the country bringing the total attendance to nearly 3 million. The WQED one-hour documentary Here Come the Puppets, aired on PBS and around the world to an estimated 10 million viewers.
How did we do it without a huge deficit?
As President of UNIMA-USA, Jim Henson called a meeting in 1975, at the Detroit Institute of Arts of anyone interested in puppetry with the provision they leave their puppets at home. Audley Grossman and Mickey Minors organized it. I represented PofA at the meeting. Jim suggested we host the next congress of UNIMA. With no plans or funding other than Jim’s promise of financial backing, UNIMA-USA authorized its council members, UNIMA-USA Secretary, Mollie Falkenstein, Mike Oznowicz, and Bil Baird, to make the invitation. Unbelievably, the 1976 Congress in Moscow accepted, based on their reputations.
The international popularity and success of Sesame Street and The Muppet Show opened the doors. Jim’s vision and financial backing, fully supported by Jane, his partner and wife, made the event possible.
After returning from the 1976 Moscow Congress, I took a course in grantsmanship back home in New Orleans. The leader encouraged me, predicting our project would be eminently fundable. Margo Rose recommended George Thorn, whom she knew at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Connecticut, as a consultant. He proved to be indispensable. He recommended PofA should confer on me the title of Executive Director and pay me a salary to convey organizational stability for fundraising purposes. At the time, I was President. Vincent Anthony took up that position, and we worked as a team.
First, we needed to incorporate UNIMA-USA and obtain a 501-C 3 from the IRS, making it tax-exempt. Allelu Kurten led that process with Jim covering the legal costs. She structured it after the international UNIMA with an appointed General Secretary, and she volunteered for that position.
We decided to negotiate with Georgetown University (GU) for housing and to obtain as many other venues as possible for performances and exhibits. We hoped to produce a PBS Special for greater outreach. As commitments fell into place, the word spread about “the puppet thing,” and people approached us to participate.
Doris and Don McBride and Bob and Judy Brown offered me lodging in their homes in the early planning stages. When GU officials signed a contract for hosting the festival, I looked for an apartment/office in D.C. at my own expense. I found a marvelous condo on Connecticut Ave. When we first moved in, a visit to the Chinese Embassy across the street by President Carter brought swat teams swarming onto the rooftops. I learned that in D.C. local news is international news, which made it perfect for a World Puppetry Festival.
I persuaded my friend and colleague, Meghan Kelly, to move to D.C. as my assistant. Without her support and innumerable skills, there could have been no festival. We could never have managed without Pat (Stephen P. Belcher, Jr.), a former United States Information Agency (USIA) employee. Though a volunteer, Pat came to the office every day. We gave him the title “diplomatic liaison.” He kept all of us on the right path through his patience and dignity. His humorous staff notes made us smile. I treasure the one urging us not to use memo pads with the PofA logo in house because they were “precious,” but he typed that on the PofA paper!
Due to the enormity of this project, I suffered considerable stress and a few panic attacks.
Rachel Redinger, PofA statutory agent, arranged a rare joint meeting with officers of the National Endowment for Humanities (NEH) and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). Rachel, Jim, Jane and I discussed potential funding with them. Enthusiastic for the project, they advised us as to which endowment program we should apply for various aspects. Since neither agency could fund a book about American Puppetry, they suggested an exhibit grant, which could include a catalog. That was a hard way to get a publication. Jim had Kermit in his hand luggage, but he did not need his help, only his reputation. We made successful grant applications to several NEA and NEH programs.
Governments, foundations and private corporations sponsored the travel expenses of many of the performing groups and delegates. The location of Washington, D.C. helped make that attractive. The Asian Cultural Council, JDR 3rd Foundation, and EXXON Corporation gave us crucial matching grants thanks to George Thorn’s connections.
The Japan Foundation sponsored PUK Theater of Japan to perform at the Kennedy Center and on tour to other cities across the country and in Canada and Mexico.
Pat Belcher made appointments at embassies and consulates seeking travel expenses for performers and delegates. He carried my briefcase to important meetings so I would appear to be in charge. All the same, the Egyptian cultural attaché never looked me in the eye. He told Pat the younger man replacing him did not want folk art to represent modern Egypt. But he prevailed before he left his post, and a wonderful Aragouz hand puppeteer participated.
Of course, we planned for earned income from ticket sales and registrations to cover part of the costs. As an experienced Broadway production consultant, George Thorn told Jim and me that a projected budget that was within 10% of the actual expenditures was outstanding. In a million dollar budget that meant $100,000 either way! We spent a lot of time calculating and recalculating our spreadsheets.
Jim preferred not to donate up front, but Henson Associates handled all legal matters and design and printing of publicity including stationery, post cards and posters. I took Jim’s guarantee to cover any deficit on faith, as we put nothing in writing.
The GU campus is picturesque, but somewhat antiquated. Some registrants, particularly non-Americans, were not too happy with roommates and communal dorm bathrooms. Henryk Jurkowski found a hole in wall of his student apartment, but never complained to me. At least as General Secretary of UNIMA, he was not in a dorm. Many other members of the executive committee had to stay in the dorms, but they were good sports in most cases. Festival Manager Gayle Schluter and her crew brilliantly handled assigning rooms and arbitrating complaints. A delegation arrived from France for which we had not received registration forms or fees. We never did collect from their travel agent! Along with other overflow attendees they stayed at George Washington University. I crashed in my apartment at home a few minutes away to avoid the mayhem. Meghan, Pat, George, Gayle and many others covered for me.
The GU cafeteria had gigantic windows and a veranda overlooking the Potomac. The cooks prepared and served an excellent menu affording dietary options for our foreign guests. Some delegates reported delight in seeing members of the executive committee and famous personalities, including Jim Henson and Sergei Obraztsov, standing in line carrying their own trays like everyone else. We requested a barbecue supper, and the weather cooperated. Some international guests found it memorable as typically American. The late night pub in the cafeteria with impromptu short shows, which PofA calls Pot Pourri, proved so popular the tradition continued at subsequent congresses.
John F. Kennedy Center
for the Performing Arts (KC)
There were several spaces at GU that could serve for performances. We booked Trinity Theater within walking distance of the campus. But we determined that the KC would serve best for public and critical attention. I tried going through the back door meeting with people who were supposed to have influence. I finally just asked for an appointment with the Executive Director, Martin Feinstein. It turned out he appreciated puppetry as adult entertainment. He had worked for Sol Hurok booking a successful tour of the Central State Puppet Theater of Moscow in America. He put us on the schedule for the Eisenhower and Terrace Theaters for the festival week, and the Concert Hall for the Gala opening night. His assistant told me I should keep checking periodically to be sure we had not been bumped.
Carole Huggins Sullivan, Director of The KC Theater for Young Audiences, agreed to hold an educational puppetry day in the KC the Saturday before the festival opening. The staff of Puppetry In Education (PIE) organized it. Carole proposed presenting extra shows by some of our performing groups as well.
Carole suggested I should get a written letter of intent from the KC. She composed one for me and managed to have it signed by Roger Stevens, Chairman of the Board. No sooner had I sent the actual contract to Al Gottesman at Henson Associates several months later, than Mr. Stevens called me into his office. I did not sleep well the night before the meeting thinking through my strategy. He informed me he needed the Eisenhower Theater during our festival dates. He offered the Opera House, but I countered due to capacity it would not be appropriate and would certainly have to be at the same price as the Eisenhower. I explained the contract was already in the hands of the Henson lawyers. I handed him a copy of the letter he signed. After looking it over, he stated, “I guess we’re screwed.” The good old girl network that really ran the center in those days spread the word that the festival was going forward, boosting our profile.
Unions were a concern at the KC. Due to the cold war, boycotts occurred, and some events were cancelled. I had some concern about our East European guests. A union rep at KC said “Lady, you pay us, we don’t care where they come from.” Puppeteers not used to union houses, particularly the University of Connecticut (UConn) students, did not realize how much union stagehands cost. Fortunately we found a great Production Coordinator, Martha Knight, for the KC venues, and she hurried companies along.
On a very snowy day George and I sought out the head of the local musicians’ union. He terrified me when I heard him yelling at someone over the phone. When I described our festival he remarked, “ I used to play for puppeteers in vaudeville, a little of this, a little of that. We couldn’t play for you if we wanted to.” We did hire an orchestra for the Gala and the last campus party, which helped sway him. We simply could not have afforded standby musicians. The KC would have been out of the question without this waiver from the union.
We formed a performance selection committee to determine what kinds of performances to present. We set our goals, aside from quality, for geographic distribution and wide variety of types of shows, techniques of puppetry, and target audiences. We wanted to highlight the best of puppetry for adults at the KC. Peter Zapletal accepted the position of artistic coordinator, a monumental task. We had no cell phones in those days, only walkie-talkies. Amazing that he managed so well!
We decided to use about half of the program to showcase American talent and the other half to expose the American public to other cultures. The committee met at PofA festivals and in Washington D.C. and tackled the thankless task for no recompense. Many fine puppet artists were excluded due to their locations or types of show. Members reviewed as many shows as possible before the final selection. UNIMA Centers were consulted, but festivals in conjunction with UNIMA Congresses are autonomous and not required to accept center suggestions. Companies received free room and board and domestic transportation. Each had to raise its own travel costs. A small stipend was given to companies, which gave public performances at the KC in addition to festival presentations.
34 performing groups from 20 nations took part, excluding the gala and cabaret shows. The majority of registrants forgot to send their ticket orders, which caused utter pandemonium. John Guerin, a New Orleans friend who used to perform in my Puppet Playhouse and had become a theater box office manager in New Orleans, agreed to coordinate tickets. Volunteers, especially Bob Baker and Alton Wood, gave untold hours to helping him distribute and exchange them.
Gala Opening at the KC
We wanted American television celebrities to create a special invitation-only gala to open the festival for registrants and various funders and D.C. VIP’s. This would draw attention to the event and boost the status of the art of puppetry. We planned a matinee for the general public to help pay for it, and it sold out.
Henson Associates offered a specially staged live show as the finale. This promise opened doors to other stars. They all appeared just for expenses. Burr Tillstrom gracefully accepted the role of emcee. He did some Kukla and Ollie numbers and sang a wonderful song from Side by Side by Sondheim with Kukla. His incomparable “Berlin Wall “done with bare hands was a highlight of the evening. Bil Baird agreed to do some of his signature numbers. He stayed the whole week and gave performances at GU as well.
I was very nervous when Shari Lewis agreed to meet with me for breakfast at her home in L.A. I had never met her, and I was afraid she might refuse. She appeared in a running suit, exuding energy. It boosted my confidence that I could appreciate some of her art collection identifying some Sepik River masks. She expressed enthusiasm for the Gala. She relayed our discussion to a recorder including her conditions for a specific orchestra. She impressed me enough to make sure all her demands were met! Her fabulous dance turn with a life-sized manikin of Fred Astaire made a big hit and was featured on the PBS Special.
In one of my favorite moments in the Gala featured on the PBS documentary, Frank Oz and Jim Henson did a brilliant bit making jokes about puppeteers. Kermit was horrified when Fozzie persuaded him to look down to see he was being manipulated. Carroll Spinney did his roller skating feat as Big Bird carrying Oscar the Grouch. Ralph Rinzler, Director of the Smithsonian Folklife Program and Vice-Chairman of the US Commission for UNESCO, handled the introduction to the World Puppetry Festival very well, along with PofA President, Vince Anthony.
I always loved Martin Stevens’ Toymaker. He once described it as his one-man show, assisted by his wife. He filmed it starring Rufus Rose. The U.S. State Department purchased foreign rights , translating it into 17 languages. I felt the theme of non-violence was perfect for an international festival so I asked him to do it the opening night at the Corcoran in its charming intimate theatre. Henryk Jurkowski admired The Toymaker so much he translated it into Polish for production in his country.
Among shows in most demand were Bruce D, Schwartz and Figurentheater Triangel. We placed them in an appropriately small house, one after the other. They gallantly performed to full houses every night missing most other shows.
We presented Albrecht Roser the final evening and did not anticipate the demand for seating as we assumed most puppeteers had already seen Gustaf and His Ensemble. I relinquished my ticket to a disappointed Japanese puppeteer. Albrecht probably could have filled the Terrace Theatre for a week.
I took stage plans of the Eisenhower Theatre to Sergei Obraztsov in Moscow to invite him to present Don Juan there during the festival. He offered me a video of it but I told him to his surprise that I had seen it live. When I explained that one of his designers helped me negotiate admission to a sold out performance with a tough ticket taker at the 1976 Congress, he pretended to be shocked. Bil Baird really saved me embarrassment as he beckoned me to sit next to him when an usher demanded to look at my non-existent ticket. Whoever held the seat did not ask me to move. Sergei managed a booking at a festival in Mexico and could have performed in D.C. if we paid transportation back. By the time this happened, it was too late to change. He did perform his Solo Recital, accompanied by his wife at the piano, for which he is duly famous.
In Cirkus Unikum, the Drak Theatre of Czechoslovakia alluded not too subtly to the oppression of the communist regime. We met apprehensively with Czech cultural exchange officers in Prague, and happily they agreed to Drak’s participation. I think they were politically supportive, not lacking perspective. Drak also performed its innovative version of the ballet Sleeping Beauty at the KC.
Julie Taymor walked into the office and told us we should book her Teatr Loh’s Way of Snow for the festival. She had an aura about her not to be denied. Her photos and videotapes blew us away. The cross-cultural basis made it particularly desirable for an international festival. The crew had a hard time adapting to the Gaston Hall stage at GU, but they succeeded. Everyone loved it and many tried to book it overseas.
The Bulgarian Embassy proposed sponsoring the Sofia Theater although we had not even issued an invitation. I quickly found a space for them and put them in the budget. They asked for cash in lieu of food!
The esteemed dalang, Pandam Gurito of Java, offered to perform at his own expense, so we gladly added him to the program. Larry Reed had already accepted our invitation to perform a Balinese wayang kulit show, so this gave attendees the opportunity to compare.
Bread and Puppet Theater staged an impromptu parade one night featuring Uncle Fatso, a political parody of Uncle Sam. The campus police intervened but fortunately the parade was just about over anyway. We did not need a confrontation. Bread and Puppet recruited registrants and members of the community to parade around the mall to the Corcoran Gallery to publicize the exhibition there. The white birds made a spectacular sight waving in the wind alongside furling American flags at the Washington Monument, a perfect setting for an anti-war message.
Smithsonian Folklife Festival of Puppetry
The Smithsonian Folklife Program had been holding annual festivals on the mall since 1967 I noticed that some puppetry groups took part including a kuruma ningyo (rolling stool puppet) company of Japan. I made an appointment with the Director, Ralph Rinzler, to explore possible cooperation. I’ll never forget the wonderful collection of rocking chairs that served as his office furniture. He immediately assigned Jeffrey LaRiche and Frank Proschan to help plan a folk puppetry component for our festival. It was Jeffrey who suggested Pat Belcher, our “diplomatic liaison,” might join us. The Program had funds that could pay for performing groups as well as research in Egypt, Guinea, and India.
Because the budget would not cover a tent rental, we looked for performing spaces in the various museums around the mall. They were spread out, and some were simply too large. One day Jeffrey called to tell me a tent had magically appeared exactly where we needed it. Erected for the celebration of Belgium Today, the King of Belgium agreed to leave it up an extra week for our festival. The Renwick Museum featured performances and an exhibition of traditional marionettes from Liege as their contribution to the event, and it ran during our festival. I actually shook the hand of the King at the opening party.
The NEA Folklife Program offered us a grant for American performers. The Manteo Sicilian Marionettes and Steve Hansen’s Punch and Judy qualified. Mr. Punch from the UK and Canada, Rajasthani marionettes, a story-scroll and Karnataka shadows from India, and an Aragouz hand puppet show from Egypt completed the schedule.
Puppets: Art & Entertainment
We decided the Corcoran Gallery would be the best venue for an exhibit of the history of American Puppetry. Focusing on its functions in American Society would make it eligible for NEH funding. At first we approached a board member who advised us that an exhibit of puppets would not be appropriate at the Corcoran. I then met with the curator Ed Nygren and he loved the idea. I immediately enlisted the avid puppet collector and historian, Alan Cook, to identify objects for the grant proposal. It required measurements of each object, but Alan did not always find time so I made educated guesses. When I confessed at a design meeting, Ed laughed, “Shame on you.” We did receive NEH funding.
We needed to match the NEH funds to qualify. George Thorn had connections at Exxon. The director of funding came to meet with the Corcoran staff and then go to our “office.” We had locked up the cat and hid the TV to eliminate evidence of living there but he was so satisfied with the enthusiasm at the Corcoran he just flew right back to NY. His successor visited once and was annoyed at the size of the competition’s logo, but we already had the grant.
I sought out the designers, Bob Staples and Barbara Charles. (Staples & Charles Ltd). They accepted the project and proposed the title Puppets: Art & Entertainment. The firm designed a flexible portable exhibition and all the graphics. Michael Malkin agreed to write the catalog essay. We recruited a former Corcoran intern, Myriam Springuel, to work with us. With her museum training she could coordinate documentation of the objects recommended and located by Alan Cook. Alan toured with the exhibit to care for and pose the puppets. Once I was escorting some VIPs and heard a giggle from inside a display case. It was Alan amused by the misinformation I gave out. Alan is a walking encyclopedia of American Puppetry.
Margo Rose recommended a young man, Gordon Linge she met in Iowa at the Baird exhibit. He took over management of the installation and later became tour manager.
Judy and Bob Brown designed and built a show of the art of puppetry for the exhibit, which John McAniston performed several times every day. We estimate he did nearly 4000 shows, which were largely responsible for the record attendance. Jim Gamble arranged to do a video demo of trick marionette manipulation using antique puppets from DIA that would be included in the exhibit. It’s available in the POA AV Library.
We tried to find other venues for the exhibit when it was scheduled to close at the Corcoran. Conover Hunt-Jones, the curator of the Dallas Historical Society, called me every week begging for more time to find funding. We put the exhibit in storage risking further financial loss rather than disassemble it. When Mrs. Meadows, a major Dallas patron, learned the exhibit included the Muppets, she said she’d write the check because she loved Kermit the Frog. The record-breaking attendance there lead to 9 more bookings: Chicago Historical Society, Indianapolis Children’s Museum, Cooper-Hewitt Museum in NYC, Southern Ohio Museum in Portsmouth, Science Museum of Minnesota, Detroit Institute of Arts, Colorado Historical Society in Denver, Oakland Museum, and Museum of History and Industry in Seattle. Exxon’s NY PR firm rejected our poster design. I did not like their attitude or the new graphic they placed on NY buses. I was delirious when their skepticism about the draw of puppetry was proven wrong by crowds in line all the way around the block at the Cooper-Hewitt, breaking attendance records there, too. Another highlight of the tour was a joint venue with Art of the Muppets at the Detroit Institute of Arts, home of the Paul McPharlin Collection. A last minute cancellation gave the museum the space to mount them at the same time. Approximately 700,000 persons saw the exhibit on tour.
Since UNIMA had been accepted as a class C member organization of UNESCO, we petitioned to put UNESCO on the logo for the poster, post cards, and program as we felt that was very prestigious. Peter Small & Associates Inc. handled our publicity. The Muppets created some public service TV promos for us that gave us a big boost. Concerned over sales, KC financial officers called me into their office to suggest we pay for additional ads. I did not feel I could justify more paid publicity. Actually, we more than broke even at the Terrace theatre. The Gala matinee in the Concert Hall sold out and public performances at the Eisenhower had a reasonable attendance. Some surplus tickets made available at Georgetown performances, were in demand.
I lost some sleep worrying about US immigration and customs. When I told the district supervisor we were doing a puppet festival he exclaimed “Puppet Festival? My wife does puppets at her church. No problem.” Pat Belcher composed an official notice to all US Embassies and Consulates urging facilitation of visas. Peter Waschinsky of East Germany got one at the last minute in Paris.
An FBI agent arrived unannounced one day early on. He asked me why I visited the Czech Embassy. After learning more about puppetry than he ever wanted to know and taking one swig of my strong New Orleans coffee with chicory, he made a hurried exit. We never had another investigation.
By 1979, we had an impressive schedule to take to UNIMA meetings in Budapest and Moscow. The entire staff helped prepare packets of papers for delegates. The Hungarian customs confiscated the papers, but they released them in time for me to take them to Moscow and distribute them to the delegates!
Paranoia prevailed about visitors from the Soviet Union. One mini-festival host remarked her favorite stagehands were KGB. They seemed to have no practical function. I imagine they were bureaucrats getting freebie trips. Troublemaking journalists falsely implied that Russians might be blocked from performing. Actually, Sergei Obraztsov not only performed at GU, but he appeared on the PBS Special, Here Come the Puppets, wishing peace between our countries and throughout the world.
Here Come the Puppets
After an unsuccessful proposal to work with the DC PBS station, Jim recommended we work with WQED in Pittsburgh with whom he had a past relationship. Head of Production Dale Bell jumped at the opportunity. We met with a Corporation for Public Broadcasting official to obtain financial support for the special. She was thrilled to meet Kermit the Frog, but we did not receive much from that source. WQED did find matching funds for us from Alcoa. Jerry Hughes served as Producer/Director.
Part of the deal with WQED was to record entire shows whenever set up for a vignette. We placed copies of the over 35 hours of tape in Lincoln Center Library of Performing Arts, UNIMA/USA headquarters at CPA, and in the PofA Audio-Visual Library. The edited WQED one-hour documentary of the festival, Here Come the Puppets, aired on PBS and around the world to an estimated 10 million viewers. Clips from the opening night gala were included in documentaries on Jim Henson, which can be seen on YouTube.
Final Financial Report
When George Thorn and I received the first estimated report of a $100,000 deficit, we went out to a gourmet Italian restaurant for our “last supper.” The deficit turned out to be only $30,000, reimbursed to POA by Jim Henson as promised, and the traveling exhibit Puppets Art & Entertainment, earned more than that! Jim did not ask for a refund. Don Schluter kept track, volunteering his time and expertise.
I believe we achieved one of the primary objectives of the event showing the American public high quality, roots and diversity of puppetry arts. Official recognition by the NEA of puppetry as a unique art form, listed in their funding guidelines, rewarded our efforts. Benefits of increased visibility of puppetry included funding for UNIMA-USA and Puppeteers of America in addition to companies and solo puppeteers.
A major recipient of grant support was the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta where UNIMA-USA maintains its offices. The Center’s Executive Director, Vincent Anthony, served on the influential performing arts overview panel as well as the theater panel for several years. I served one year and then became a site reviewer with assignments across the country.
We intended to make a TV series from the festival footage. The idea stayed with Jim. He produced the series Jim Henson Presents the World of Puppetry expanding video documentation of puppetry. A proliferation of puppetry exhibits, conferences and publications happened in part due to the exposure from the 1980 World Puppetry Festival.
I am gratified when from time to time I hear of people who were deeply affected by the event. Bob and Elise Nathanson testified it inspired them to become full time puppeteers. Mexican puppeteers attending have said the festival inspired the creation of UNIMA-Mexico. After USA and Canadian puppeteers were showcased in Washington, at the next festival in Dresden 1984, seven North American puppet companies performed. In his forward to his book about puppetry in India, Living Dolls, author Jiwan Pani wrote that the festival changed his life. At parties sometimes people told me about that marvelous PBS special or wonderful exhibit when I mentioned, “I’m a puppeteer,” not realizing my involvement. Thanks to the Hensons as artists and benefactors and to hundreds of puppeteers, presenters and unsung heroes, our profession has become widely recognized and appreciated in America.
Just 2 years after the festival Jim and Jane Henson created a foundation to promote puppetry in America, for which I served as a consultant. I used to tell Jim, “Your money, my time.” In 1992, the Jim Henson Foundation held an International Puppetry Festival at The Public Theater in NYC, which I helped organize. Every year since 1980, I had suggested that would be a way to reach New York theater critics and audiences with sophisticated puppetry arts. Cheryl Henson, President of the Henson Foundation, and Leslee Asch directed five festivals 1992-2000 with great success. The NY theater critics now regularly cover puppet productions.
•••Thanks to Steve Abrams for editing this article for The Puppetry Journal.
You will find information about:
•How arrangements were made for several foreign companies to tour the USA
•Notes about the meeting of the UNIMA Congress
•Notes on assembling 2 academic conferences including “Puppet Theatre as Cultural Heritage”
•How Seven of the Smithsonian Museums were persuaded to offer puppetry related exhibits as well as Organization of American States, and George Mason University in Virginia
•Thank you’s to unsung heroes including Carl Harms. Archie Elliot, Bart Roccoberton Jr, and Alan Stevens