2014 National Puppetry Conference

Pre-Conference Intensives June 11-13, 2014

Writing | Hand Puppet Manipulation | Mechanisms | Chinese Rod Puppetry


Main Conference June 14-22, 2014

Ronnie Burkett | Wunderkammer Vol. 2 | Marionettes | Music | Writing | Emerging Artist | Resident CompanyArtist-in-Residence | Master Classes

June 11-13, 2014

Ronnie Burkett


Ronnie will act as a go-to sounding board for those working on full length puppet theatre productions. While there will be group sessions focusing on the general aspects of creating new work, the primary focus will be one-on-one mentoring with the individual participants, with insight on dramaturgy for text-based work, translating design into reality, the mysterious language of collaboration, finding performance vocabulary and the role of puppeteer-as-actor through performance interpretation, plus advice and guidance on a lot of nuts and bolts practical issues. Participants will not be expected to produce a performance piece during the Conference. Focus will be on projects already underway and participants will be selected based upon submissions which should include preliminary script drafts, outlines or storyboards, set and character designs, research notes and source material. Limited to 8 participants. Pictured: the Daisy Theatre. Photo courtesy of Ronnie Burkett.

Hand Puppets
Paul Vincent Davis & Brad Shur
Hand Puppet Manipulation

Glove puppetry (also known as hand puppetry) is one of the world’s oldest and most versatile theatrical traditions. From Punch and Judy to Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood of Make-Believe, glove puppets are famous for their ability to express an enormous range of character and emotion without ever blinking an eye. 

In this fun and rigorous pre-conference intensive, participants will learn the fundamentals of glove puppet manipulation, using techniques developed by Paul Vincent Davis over his decades-long performance career. Using "nobody" puppets, the class will start with basic articulation exercises and build towards the creation of complex multi-character scenes. By the end, participants will have acquired an extensive movement vocabulary that enables their hands express almost any emotion or action. The class will also explore technical challenges such as handling puppet props, making rapid puppet switches, and working behind a traditional booth stage. This is a great class for anyone interested in creating solo performances, touring professionally, or refining their manipulation technique! Photo courtesy of Puppet Showcase Theatre.

Jim Kroupa and his students, 2011 National Puppetry ConferenceJim Kroupa
Everything you want to know about mechs and then some!
Jim's mechanism class will examine his approach to mechanical heaven! Starting with hands-on examples and discussions that cover materials,designs, execution, and results, each student will design and build a puppet mechanism.
This will be done using Jim's "keep it simple" approach and incorporating minimal effort for maximum effect!  Those interested in this intensive should be able to use basic power tools, (bandsaw, drill press, hand drills, sander, etc.).
IMAGE:  Jim Kroupa and his students, 2011 National Puppetry Conference.  Photo by Richard Termine.

Chinese rod puppetryHua Hua Zhang
Bridge Between Body and Puppet
An advanced Rod Puppet Movement workshop

Hua Hua Zhang will share her vast experience in and knowledge of Chinese rod puppet manipulation and style with the participants. In Chinese rod puppet performance, the movement of the puppeteer determines how the puppet moves onstage. Additionally, finger and wrist “twists” allow for elaborate arm and hand movement for the puppet, including the ability to make personal gestures. We will focus on Stage Combat to learn and apply the Chinese performance techniques. Participants need wear comfortable clothing and be prepared to move their bodies with the puppets!  Class size limited to 15. Pictured: Hua Hua Zhang's 2012 Pre-Conference Chinese Rod Puppetry class. Photo courtesy of the artist.


MAIN CONFERENCE June 14-22, 2014

Photo courtesy of The Daisy TheatreRonnie Burkett
Text Creation and Interpretation

“Maybe I am old-fashioned, but I like to feel something when I go to a performance. I want to be stirred and moved and thrilled by people and puppets who can do that. That is why I feel that training in acting is essential for this funny field.”  –George Latshaw

Ronnie Burkett will be concentrating on interpretation/acting more than on writing in this workshop. Participants will work with Ronnie on how to present the best of artist-created work. You will explore the development of  the piece from the text to a well-performed theatrical event.

Participants will need to send a sample of the intended work to be developed. Focus will be on projects already underway and participants will be selected based upon submissions which should include preliminary script drafts, outlines or storyboards, set and character designs, research notes and source material. No more than 5 pages. Limited to 8 participants. Photo courtesy of the Daisy Theatre.

WunderkammerAlice Therese Gottschalk, Raphael Mürle, & Frank Soehnle with Bradley Kemp

The concept of the Wunderkammer is to develop the art form of string puppetry. Frank Soehnle, Alice Therese Gottschalk and Raphael Mürle regularly create shows which has the aim to improve the art form and discover new ways of performing and presenting.

Each day the participants would get a training of marionette manipulation based on the studies by Albrecht Roser, after that the participants would have the opportunity to develop scenes under the guidance of Frank Soehnle, Alice Therese Gottschalk und Raphael Mürle. A special point will be to develop group or ensemble pieces.

The string puppets, which are used are constructed by Frank Soehnle, Alice Therese Gottschalk and Raphael Mürle use techniques based on Albrecht Roser’s developments. There will be also the possibility to include scenes re-created with the marionettes made by the participants. Closely working together with music is very important for the vivid appearance of the puppets. Bradley Kemp will be creating improvisational music to perform to.  We will also develop scenes based on the sentiments of poetry. Photo courtesy of Winfried Reinhard.



Phillip Huber & Jim Rose

All participants in the marionette class will receive instruction in both construction & manipulation. However because of time constraints, each participant must choose to concentrate on only one field of study.Those concentrating on manipulation will spend most of their time with Phillip Huber, modifying their marionette (that the participant brought from home) then staging & rehearsing a short performance piece. Those participants choosing to concentrate on marionette construction will spend most of their time with Jim Rose, designing, building & stringing one new marionette.

Tom Getchell, Marionette Performance, 2011Phillip Huber
Advanced Marionette Manipulation

GOAL: To de-mystify the process of marionette manipulation & performance.

These stringed figures are rightfully regarded as one of the most complex & difficult of puppetry forms. However, when they are approached with patience & an eye for the most simple & direct path of expression, they become graceful, poetic actors & entertainers… highly amplified extensions of their human manipulators.

DESCRIPTION: Using a series of carefully crafted exercises, Phillip Huber will instruct and guide participants through an intensive & advanced study of marionette manipulation, revealing the influencing factors of stringing, control, & marionette design. Special emphasis will be placed on “Cabaret Style” performance (short-strung marionettes). Participants will be taken through the process of developing & refining a brief marionette performance piece.

PARTICIPANT PREPARATION: Each participant MUST bring a marionette that they do not mind modifying (joints, stringing, controller) for the purpose of developing specific movements & character attitude. Bring 2 or 3 pieces of music (each 2.5 minutes or less) to use as background for the marionette performance. This music can be on CD or computer. It would be helpful to bring headphones & an iPod-type player for rehearsals. Please bring one black outfit for performance.
 IMAGE: Tom Getchell, Marionette Performance, 2011 Conference. Photo by RIchard Termine

Instructor Jim RoseJim Rose
Marionette Design & Construction

Jim Rose offers a thorough examination of marionette design, layout, and construction methods for the creation of a new marionette. Participants will have the opportunity to build a complete marionette from a precut kit.

Total Maximum Marionette Enrollment - 10 students
IMAGE: Jim Rose, Instructor. Photo courtesy of Richard Termine

Melissa Dunphy
Music for Puppet Theater 

A Music Participant is given the unique opportunity to collaborate with puppetry artists as they create new works for the stage.  As a music participant you will work with the artists and directors to help tell their story with music.  You will be challenged with evoking the mood of scenes and characters from multiple pieces, ranging from playful to dark and haunted themes.  Ideal candidates are composers with a strong performance and improvisation background and familiarity or willingness to experiment with different styles and genres of music. See Submission Info for more details. 

Writing for Puppet TheatreMartin Kettling
Writing for Puppet Theater 

Playwriting, especially where puppets are involved, is not an easy task.  Nor should it be.  A play is a delicately constructed world, newly born. Each day, we will create worlds using exercises designed to take away the need for divine inspiration, and replace it with concentrated effort.  The rules of these worlds are unknowns and must be tested. As both creator and cosmologists of your own baby universe, you will delve deeply into terra incognita and explore.   We will attempt to understand what it is that makes drama effective and affecting.  We will attempt to apply this new knowledge into the creation of live performance with puppets. 

This class is appropriate for those who are looking to develop existing stories, ONLY if they willing to abandon all the work they have done on the story to date.   This is not a workshop to make your current project better, it is an effort to give you the skills that will help your story in the future.  That said, there will be ample writing time and assignments that a writer with an existing project may find it a proper development opportunity.  That is, if they have the guts.

Those puppeteers looking to investigate playwriting for the first time will find this a welcoming and productive introduction, as will those playwrights looking to incorporate the use of puppets in their drama. Pictured: Writing at the 2010 Conference.  Photo by Richard Termine.

EMERGING_ARTISTRichard Termine with Derron Wood
Emerging Artist 

The Emerging Artists Strand identifies participants during each conference who appear to be at a critical juncture in their careers as puppet artists; a place in their lives where working intensely on a particular project or aspect of their work could lead to important breakthroughs. Those artists may apply to the program, describing in detail what their work during the conference is likely to be and how they will work with mentors in writing and directing, as well as other artists from the Conference staff as needed, to achieve their project goals. The Emerging Artists are given the option of showing the results of their work during the public performances that conclude the conference. Pictured: '100 Sandwiches' by Elizabeth Hara (2011 Emerging Artist).  Photo by Richard Termine.

Jane Martineau
Resident Company 

This role is for those who have attended the conference previously. Your focus for the main conference will be supporting the work of the Emerging Artists and the Artist in Residence to develop their projects by working under their direction for the majority of the Conference day. Resident Company Members will also be allowed create Participant Projects in the evening. While this role takes place during the main conference, you may also attend the pre-conference.  


Artist-in-ResidenceAaron Cromie & Mary Tuomanen
The Body Lautrec

The Body Lautrec is a meditation on the life, work and maladies of French painter, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. The iconic artist suffered from from the rare genetic disease of pycnodysostosis, discovered in his youth, and syphilis, contracted later in his life, forever influencing his unique perspective on the world. Performed in English and French, this theatre work explores the intersection of 19th Century art and medicine featuring skeletal puppets inspired by the collection of the Mütter Museum of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia,and will premiere in the 2014 Philadelphia FringeArts Festival.

At the O'Neill:
Mary performed in the 2002 O'Neill Playwrights Conference, was an intern for the O'Neill Puppetry Conference and is an alumnus of the National Theater Institute.
Aaron was a 2010 Pre-Conference (mechanisms) and Full conference participant (Video Puppet Anarchy) returning in 2013 as Pre-Conference participant (Toy Theater). Pictured: Aaron Cromie.  Photo by Mary Tuomanen.

Hua MulanChinese Theatre Works: Kuang-Yu Fong, Stephen Kaplin, Shasha Li
Hua Mulan: Holding Half The Sky

The first of a series of genre-crossing puppet productions linked around the theme of extraordinary women of Chinese history and legend,  Hua Mulan: Half the Sky brings together an ensemble of American and Chinese puppet artists, Beijing Opera performers and musicians. The production will blend together masks, rod, shadow and  hand puppetry, together with classic Chinese opera.

Given the circumscribed social situation for women in traditional Chinese culture and literature, Mulan’s story stands out as a inspiring model for gender equality. It has been adapted into literature, opera and film (it is even well known here in the West, thanks to the Disney animated feature.)  CTW’s production will link the classical sources of the Mulan legend together with the 18th and 19th century opera and contemporary puppet theater. Woven into the structure of the narrative will be the stories of other female fighters of literary and historic note. Their lives intersect with on stage with Mulan’s, contrasting their charismatic heroism in battle with the mundane realities of deeply etched sexual stereotypes which faces them in civilian society.

Huan Mulan: Holding Half the Sky is conceived, written and directed by Kuang-Yu Fong and Stephen Kaplin, with puppetry and shadow designs by Mr. Kaplin and collaborating Chinese puppet artists. Shasha Li, an award-winning key puppeteer from the Shanghai City Puppet Theater, will be in residence with CTW for 4 months in the Spring/Summer of 2014, working with Mr. Kaplin on the design and construction of traditional style rod and shadow puppets and to help train CTW puppeteers in advanced rod puppetry manipulation technique. The company will include both Western and Chinese trained performers, puppeteers and musicians. The first public showing of the production is scheduled for late Fall, 2014 in New York City. Artwork courtesy of Chinese Theatre Works.


Stephen Kaplin
The Eye of Light: Object and Image in Shadow Theatre, Theory, and Practice

Shadow theatre is the oldest form of motion picture medium, with roots going back  to the pre-historic dawn of human culture. In many parts of Asia, shadows are is a conduit for transmitting sacred stories and legends down through the generations-- a doorway between the spirit and the human world. Here in the 21st Century, shadow theater have absorbed the new tools for digital image generation, projection and animation. Yet though it often utilizes contemporary technology  in live performance context, shadow theater remains deeply embedded in extremely simple and basic  technical means.

The class is led by Stephen Kaplin, a leading American shadow artist and designer (with credits including award winning productions with Julie Taymor, Ping Chong, Lee Breuer, Peter Schumann, Great Small Works, Chinese Theatre Works, and many others). Drawing on 30 years of professional experience and study, Mr. Kaplin will explore a variety of topics central to the use of shadow in performance:

• The science  and physical properties of light, its  generation , manipulation and control.
• The architecture of light and shadow-- Transparence, refraction and reflection in materials.
• The shadow image in performance-- - A cultural overview of traditional and contemporary shadow theater.
• Techniques and processes for designing, building and manipulating shadow figures- with special focus on the overhead projector.

Sasha Li & Kuang-Yu Fong
Chinese Rod Puppetry: Movement and Technique

Traditional Chinese puppetry focuses on the linkages between puppeteer and the puppet, and between the puppet’s fluid choreography and the music. Chinese opera has greatly influenced the musical and movement vocabulary of the puppet stage, and parallels  it closely in terms of repertoire and overall aesthetic language.  

This workshop will explore the shared gestural language of rod puppetry and live Chinese opera and find ways that the stylized grammar of Chinese opera movement language (dance and pantomime) can shift in scale as it is translated between human body and puppet. The practical goal is not to learn to mimic traditional puppet choreography, but to help participants understand the mechanics and principles of the Chinese stage movement language and to devise practical methods of application of them that are useful to American puppeteers and lay foundations for a contemporary movement dialect.

While a high level of dance or puppet movement training is not required, this workshop will require participants to stretch themselves both physically and mentally.

It will be led by two women who are both deeply immersed in both contemporary and traditional Chinese puppetry and theater practice: Shasha Li-- award-winning key performer for the Shanghai Puppet Theatre; and Kuang-Yu Fong--whose training in classical Chinese opera has influenced all the theatrical productions she has created over her 30 year career in New York City, and in her work as director and performer with Chinese Theatre Works.

More to come soon – stay tuned!