Something magical is happening in the midst of the sprawling woods of Waterford, CT, home of the historic Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. The first conference of the season, the National Puppetry Conference, kicked off June 14.
“Welcome, you’ve found your tribe,” artistic director Pam Arciero told the participants.
The idea of a community is not uncommon for puppeteers, but before the formation of the Puppeteers of America in 1936, most puppet artists worked as soloists or with a small group of performers. It was for these reasons that Jane Henson, Margo Rose and other leading puppeteers of the day sought to create a national conference at the O’Neill. They successfully did so in 1990, after the passing of Jim Henson.
At the O’Neill, puppeteers have a chance to learn from peers and develop skills in a form of puppetry that includes shadow, glove, rod and string puppetry while also having the opportunity to create and perform new works. Jim Rose, marionettist, instructor at the O'Neill and son of renowned puppeteers Rufus and Margo Rose of the "Howdy Doody Show," believes the formation of the Puppeteers of America was a pivotal moment for puppetry that helped to make what is happening at the O'Neill, a possibility.
“Before 1936, American puppetry was practiced by several individual professional companies who had little or no contact with one another,” said Jim Rose. “Puppetry associations and schools in the last 80 years or so have strengthened the art of puppetry and broadened its appeal to the public. Gathering together a group of practitioners who can share their expertise, their talents and their knowledge — the result is that the art itself benefits.”
The conference at the O'Neill is a perfect antidote for puppeteers who feel they have become too removed from a viable community.
In the days leading up the National Puppetry Conference, the Pre-Conference was held, which enables puppeteers to study one specific strand of puppetry, such as glove puppetry, over the course of a three-day period. At the close of the Pre-Conference were a bevy of performances by participants and artists in residence. Kuang-Yu Fong, Stephen Kaplin and Shasha Li of the Chinese Theater Works company, along with other performers, premiered a show they developed at the O'Neill.
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