2016 National Puppetry Conference

Pre-Conference Intensives June 8-10, 2016


Writing | Directing | Soft Sculpture | Mechanisms


Main Conference June 11-19, 2016


Richard Bradshaw | Ronnie Burkett | Art Grueneberger | Writing | Marionettes | Music | Emerging Artist | Resident Company


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.

Roger Danforth
Directing Workshop

How is directing for the puppet theater different from directing for the human theater? Or is it? This is one of the most common questions that comes up when puppet artists talk about directing.  

A puppet “show” and a play with actors are both theater – and both are working to create a similar kind of theatrical magic for their audiences. There are as many approaches to directing with puppets as there are to directing actors. But no matter what the medium, the process of creating an effective theatrical piece needs many of the same things – an overall vision for what the creator wants to achieve, an ability to shape and build the tension of a scene, and a facility to evaluate the work through an objective outside eye.

The Directing Intensive will focus on both group work and one-on-one mentoring with the individual participants. The emphasis is less on solo puppeteering. Rather, we will emphasize the puppeteer’s role as director – collaborating with and directing other actor/puppeteers in order to animate a scene.  Participants may bring their own puppets, but we will also be working with quickly made newspaper or muslin puppets.  A few performers may be available to join us, but participants should expect to be used as performers by other directors. Participants will be required to memorize some short texts before arriving.  

If participants have projects underway they are working on, they may submit outlines, script drafts, research notes etc. Limited to 9 participants.

Lisa Lichtenfels


Using Soft Sculpted Puppets to Develop Characters

Developing believable characters is at the heart of an excellent puppet design and performance. In this class, students will explore the potentials of soft sculpture to create unique faces. Fiberfill will be sewn into features under skins of nylon to create character heads. These will be mounted to simple hand puppet bodies and embellished with facial color, hair, simple costume suggestions, and accessories.

After the puppets are finished, students will take part in exercises designed to explore the potentials of their invented personas. Finally, small groups will be formed with the idea of having the characters interact to suggest story lines for short performances. These will be presented to the conference audience during "Show and Tell." 

Jim Kroupa
Everything you want to know about mechs and then some!

Jim Kroupa and his students, 2011 National Puppetry Conference

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.

 MAIN CONFERENCE June 11-19, 2016

Richard Bradshaw
Animating basic silhouettes and extending their technical and dramatic possibilities

small_Richard_Bradshaw_Publicity_Shot_Eileen_Blumenthal.jpgParticipants will start by making a simple figure of their own choice and will then decide on something that figure might intend to do and ways in which things may not go quite as planned. There is often a big difference between what is intended and what is achieved, and  this can be a source of humour…but also sometimes of sorrow. However, from initial failure may come success quite unlike the intended goal. Where possible we will try to confound the audience’s expectations, and some lateral thinking will be needed. Attention will be given to manipulation and timing, and a tentative title for our final performance could be: “The Best Laid Schemes of Mice and Men…” Photo courtesy of Eileen Blumenthal.

Ronnie Burkett
Text Creation and Interpretation
Photo courtesy of The Daisy Theatre

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 of solo text created by each of the participants. This year, the focus will be solely on new writing and performance exercises created during the conference. Various writing and performance styles will be explored, using a variety of puppet types. Daily writing based upon assignments will be a large component of the work, although the main goal is always the playing of the text through the puppet.

Participants will need to send a sample of their writing for the puppet stage, although work on current projects-in-progress will not be part of our exploration during this conference.  Instead, we will play and write and strenuously explore the possibilities of text for the puppet actor and how to give it our voice. Limited to 8 participants. Photo courtesy of the Daisy Theatre. 

Art Grueneberger
Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Streetsmaller_Grueneberger_3_Credit_Caroline_Thompson.jpg

Participants will be developing selected scenes from the Stephen Sondheim thriller musical Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street as proof of concept for a fully realized production of the musical using life-sized puppets to portray the primary characters.  At the end of the week the participants will perform the scenes. The puppets will be a similar style to the puppets used in Grueneberger’s production of Man of La Mancha. (See video clips of that production here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wMqQpSZKnP8)
Photo courtesy of Caroline Thompson.

Writing for Puppet TheatreMartin Kettling
Writing: Shape & Story

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. We will work to construct consistent worlds, just as we might be diligent in leveling a table. It's less mystical and more mechanics.

The rules of these worlds are unknowns and must be tested. As both creator and cosmologists of our own baby universe, 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 are willing to potentially spend the week working in other material. This is not a workshop to make your current project better; rather, 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.

dcf09452d0cce3fe8c3d022ebc30b827_f419.jpgJim Rose with Fred Thompson and Kurt Hunter
Marionette 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 Dunphysmaller_Music_Comp_Publicity_Shot.jpg

Music Composition 

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.


EMERGING_ARTISTRichard Termine with Derron Wood
Emerging Artist 

The Emerging Artist 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.  

More to come soon – stay tuned!


Funding for the 2016 National Puppetry Conference provided by: 

Walt Disney Parks & Resorts (Creative Entertainment)  |  The Jane Henson Foundation