File puptcrit/puptcrit.0907, message 108

To: "''" <>
Date: Tue, 14 Jul 2009 14:15:43 -0400
Subject: Re: [Puptcrit] how to consider

Positive signs in the puppet world:, which is a New York Times article about the London production of "War Horse", a National Theatre production with puppets by Handspring Puppet Company of South Africa.  I saw this production two months ago when I was teaching in London and it is quite extraordinary and inspiring; rumored to be heading for Broadway in 2012.  My review of "The Horse's Mouth," a book about the making of "War Horse", will be in the next (shadow theater) issue of "Puppetry International."  "War Horse" is a good sign for the future of puppetry because it shows how actor-based theater people are fascinated and inspired by puppet theater, and how great theater works with puppets can be created wherever people are compelled by the form.

Dr. John T. Bell
Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry
University of Connecticut
6 Bourn Place Unit 5212
Storrs, Connecticut=A0 06269-5212
office: 860 486 0806
cell: 617 599 3250

To make a contribution to the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry, please go to, and select "Ballard Puppetry Museum" from the "Purpose" list.  Thanks for your support!

-----Original Message-----
From: [] On Behalf Of Stephen Kaplin
Sent: Monday, July 13, 2009 12:44 AM
Subject: Re: [Puptcrit] how to consider

Conrad, Malagsia, Hobey et al have made a good point.

The ideal of "amaterism"in the original meaning of the word meaning  
"for the love of" has always been strong in our field. And that's been  
a great strength for American pupptetry as whole.

I don't rue the fact that puppetry doesn't have  the same sort of  
industrial, professionalism of the commercial music world (God  
forbid). Nor is it necessarily bad that puppetry remains affixed to  
the cultural fringe (it keeps away the fame-seekers and gold-diggers).  
But I do wish there were some more solid institutions that could  
support the professionals (and the amateurs too )who are out there.  
Couldn't NYC for example use several more dedicated puppet stages?   
Would North America benefit from having more than one major Puppetry  
Center? A few more college programs? Wouldn't it be nice if book  
stores found more than one good, meaty puppetry book every few years  
to stock on their shelves?

  In regards to a puppet renaissance, I think there has been a  
definite change in audience and critical understanding of the artform  
over the past several decades. And that has made it possible for a  
some artists and companies to cross over or find recognition and  
critical success for their work. That being said however, I feel that  
any advances we as puppet artists have made  critically and  
aesthetically in recent years are in danger of being swept away by the  
current economic crunch. In fact it seems all American artists  are in  
the same sinking ship. The whole structure of non-profit  
organizational art making is currently in jeopardy. New York City has  
done a fair job in protecting its art funding, only slashing it by %15  
percent this current fiscal year. The NY State has cut arts deeper.   
And next year the projected deficits are even bigger (plus there may  
not be these Federal stimulus bucks to help either)  Meanwhile   
corporate  and personal giving to the arts has also dropped through  
the floor. So whatever organizational structure we ourselves have been  
laboring to construct in support of our own work are in grave, grave  
danger at the moment.

Right now, it's a little hard to think into the future further than  
the next grant cycle. I don't know what is coming down the pike (I'll  
lay money it's not being built by GM). Conrad, you are lucky to have  
actually had the luxury of retiring!

Sorry I'm on such a downer this evening. I try to be optimistic and  
all, but find it harder and harder to put up a happy front.

Any one out there who can report gold or silver linings in the distance?


On Jul 11, 2009, at 2:01 PM, malgosia askanas wrote:

> But why is it a "sad and sobering realization"?  Would you really
> prefer to be working in a big-business, multi-buck, mass-production
> industry?
> -m
> At 1:03 PM -0400 7/11/09, Stephen Kaplin wrote:
>> This a very interesting question. I think the answer has to do with
>> the economies of scale.
>> Consider that in the US there are (according to recent Bureau of
>> Labor Statistics) some 1/4 million professional musicians and
>> singers.To provide outlet and support for that small army of talent,
>> there are in New York City alone many hundreds of performance venues
>> of various size, ranging from Avery-Fisher Hall down to Joe's Bar
>> and Blues Joint. Added to that, there dozens of music Festivals and
>> outdoor concerts happening at any given time all over the city and
>> state; an enormous industry set up to record and distribute music
>> globally; dozens of university level programs devoted to training
>> new musicians and technical people entering the field;  music
>> programs and/or bands in most public schools and institutions (even
>> the US Armed Forces spends more on marching bands than then entire
>> annual NEA budget!); half a dozen of magazines and journals in any
>> given corner newstand and innumerable websites focussed exclusively
>> on some corner of the music world,  etc, etc, etc.
>> In contrast the field of professional puppet theater consists of
>> (rough guess, since BLS doesn't list puppetry as a separate category)
>> about 2500 (?) professional practitioners. In New York City (with by
>> far the greatest concentration of puppeteers in the nation) there
>> are, at last count, 4 permanent puppet theaters (none of them able
>> to seat over 100 people). Nationwide there are 2 graduate level
>> university programs, no industry-wide unions, one national festival
>> and a couple of regional festivals per year and no national touring
>> networks or circuits.
>> So do the math. We can't afford to exclude anybody from our field.
>> If someone is doing great work in their living room or garage it
>> gets heard and appreciated because there is so little else to hear
>> and appreciate.
>> Truly a sad and sobering realization (not that Baumann and Dwiggins
>> ought not be heard about). But from what I understand, we are in the
>> midst of something kind of like a puppet renaissance, yet the facts
>> on the ground have not shifted all that much. Or perhaps they have,
>> since many unemployed actors and musicians are beginning to discover
>> the joys of (non-union) puppet work.
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