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national puppetry conference

The National Puppetry Conference provides a meeting and creating ground for master artisans to pass their craft and ingenuity to new artists in the field of puppetry.

Application Dates

Pre Conference

June 3-June 7, 2024

Main Conference

June 7-16, 2024

January 16-30, 2024

Each June, puppeteers gather from across the globe to create works that defy the bounds of contemporary theater and the imagination at the National Puppetry Conference. Participants collaborate with renowned directors, puppet artists, and playwrights to develop innovative productions conceived by guest artists, as well as presentations initiated by the Conference participants. The National Puppetry Conference encourages artists to create and communicate through the visual and kinetic form of the puppet, to push beyond preconceived boundaries, and develop new innovative works of  puppet theater. 

Every year, the National Puppetry Conference begins with a four-day-long Pre Conference, perfect for artists who are new to the world of puppetry or the O’Neill. The Pre Conference is followed by the full ten-day Main Conference, which culminates in a public sharing of the pieces created and skills learned throughout the week. In both the Pre and Main Conference participants elect to a course, or Strand, based on their interests or areas in which they would like to grow as puppeteers. Each Strand is taught by an incredible roster of world-renowned artists who are experts in their field. For more information on our 2024 Strands and faculty please see below.

2024 Applications have closed. Sign up HERE to be the first to know when 2025 applications will open.

The 2024 National Puppetry Conference requests the following materials:

 

  • Contact and Demographic Information: Name, email address, phone number, and mailing address, as well as information regarding housing and dietary considerations.

  • Resume (PDF): This must include your contact information, current occupation, work history, education, and contact information for two references saved as a PDF file.

  • Headshot (JPG): This must be a recent photo saved as a JPEG file.

  • Artistic Statement (PDF): You will be asked to provide a response to the following three questions: 1) Are you a practicing puppeteer? 2) How do you plan to contribute to the Conference community? 3) In 500 words or less, what is your mini-manifesto on puppetry? 

  • Additional Materials: Some strands require additional information. Please review the application guides below or refer to the directions in the application. 

  • Scholarship Information: If interested and eligible, you will be asked to rank the scholarships in order of applicability and provide some information regarding your current financial situation. If necessary, we highly encourage all applicants to apply. Most applicants are awarded even a small amount of scholarships. Only Main Conference participants are eligible to apply. 

  • Admin Fee: The administrative fee for the National Puppetry Conference is $20. A limited number of fee waivers on a first-come, first-served basis. If you would like to request a fee wavier, please complete this short request form before you begin your application.

Participants of all O'Neill programs, including 2024 National Puppetry Conference participants, guest artists, and faculty, must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 with the latest available booster shot prior to arrival on campus. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact our Company Management team at companymanager@theoneill.org.

If you are interested in applying for the Conference, we welcome you to review our general and strand-specific application guides for preview of the process:

Tuition

  • Pre-Conference: $700 per strand, including room and board.

  • Main Conference: $1,350 per strand, including room and board.

    • EXCEPTIONS: 

      • Tuition is waived for the Emerging Artist strand [room and board is $500].

      • Resident Company strand is $750.

      • Music Composition for Puppetry strand is $500.

Additional Materials Fee of $125 required for:

  • Marionette Performance with Sarah Frenchette

  • Puppets, Robots, and Hybrid Marionettes with Alice Gottschalk

  • Marrionette Construction with Kurt Hunter

  • Lantern Puppet Creation and Performance with Andrew Kim

  • Everything You Wanted to Learn About Mechs and Then Some! with Jim Kroupa

  • Life Behind Things: From Paper to Emotion, Sound to Writing, and Object to Movement with Rute Ribeiro and Luís Vieira

Refund Policy

Should you not be able to attend the Conference, the O'Neill will refund half of your total paid cost, minus any non-refundable deposits if the request is made prior to May 24, 2024. The O'Neill is unable to offer refunds requested after May 24, 2024.

Scholarships

Please note that only Main Conference participants are eligible for scholarships to help offset the cost of tuition. If you wish to be considered for a scholarship, you will be able to do so through the general application form for the National Puppetry Conference. Please read on for a full description of each scholarship: 

Jim Rose Memorial Scholarship

This scholarship honors Jim Rose, one of the great marionette masters, beloved Conference mentor, and son of Margo & Rufus Rose. This scholarship is awarded to puppeteers who have a special interest in marionette construction and manipulation.

Allelu Kurten Generous Spirit Scholarship

Please help us honor the memory of the one and only Allelu Kurten with a donation to the "Generous Spirit Scholarship" that has been created in her memory. All Main Conference participants are eligible.

 

Lisa Simon Scholarship

On April 4, 2015, we lost a dear friend in Lisa Simon, longtime producer and director on Sesame Street, on her 64th birthday. Winner of 20 Emmys over a career spanning four decades, Lisa started with a summer job as a file clerk and a caretaker for children who appeared on the show during the early days and rose to supervising producer/director of Sesame Street. She directed shows for Between the Lions, Oobi and many humanitarian outreach projects. The Lisa Simon scholarship is awarded to a female director whose work is currently or is growing in the puppet arts.

 

Jerry Nelson Scholarship

This scholarship honors one of the great character puppeteers, Jerry Nelson, and is awarded to puppeteers who have a special interest in character and vocal development of puppet performances.

Caroll Spinney Scholarship

This scholarship honors Caroll Spinney and Big Bird. It is award to participants or are great at storytelling and endearing performances, as Carroll was.

Eric Engelhardt Memorial Scholarship

The this scholarship honors puppeteer and puppet builder Eric Engelhardt. When Eric first participated in the Puppetry Conference in 1996, he was a sculptor, musician, and new-ish puppet builder at the Jim Henson Company, but did not have much previous puppeteering experience. That year, he performed in guest artist Larry Hunt’s ensemble, created his first participant puppet piece called "Redstone", and created the musical score for and puppeteered in Ronald Binion’s first incarnation of “The Alien Cow Puppet Show.” He returned the following summer to work again as an ensemble member in Jon Ludwig’s “Home” and performed in more participant projects. These two summers at the O’Neill contributed to Eric’s decade-long New York career as a puppet builder and table-top team puppeteer in TV and theater. An individual suitable for the Eric Engelhardt memorial scholarship has professional experience or is well-versed in another or many other art forms, but has had limited or nontraditional exposure and training in the art of puppetry. In addition to his or her original reason for attending the conference, the participant will also be required to create their own participant piece or have a major contributing role in another participant’s project. Flock Theatre is the fiscal sponsor of this award.

 

Alumni Grants

Alumni Grants are awarded to returning participants who display a desire to retool their thinking about their work in the art of puppetry. These artists display a strong desire to learn new skills or challenge themselves in unconventional ways thus bringing a newly invigorated desire for growth to the conference and to themselves. The Alumni Grants began through the efforts of alumna Honey Goodenough, the Conference indebted to this ardent artist and all who helped her to support this grassroots effort.

 

Connecticut Guild of Puppetry Scholarship in honor of Margo Rose

Given by the Connecticut Guild of Puppetry. Margo Rose was one of American Puppetry's pioneers, with over 60 years of contributions to the field. In 1931, Margo, with her husband Rufus, started the Rufus Rose Marionettes. They were founding members of the Puppeteers of America and organized the first festival in 1937. Rufus and Margo are perhaps best known for giving life to the marionettes of the popular television program Howdy Doody. The couple went on to win a Peabody Award for the best children's program for their series The Blue Fairy. In addition, Margo was a founding member of the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center in 1964 and one of the founders of the National Puppetry Conference at the O'Neill in 1991. All Main Conference participants are eligible.

Diversity and Inclusion Scholarship

The Diversity and Inclusion Scholarship is intended to build and promote the community of historically marginalized puppeteers in this country. Past recipients have gone on to join the casts of many well known television and Broadway shows, as well as create and perform their own small works of puppet theater. All are encouraged to apply with passion.

O'Neill Puppetry Conference Grant, courtesy of National Capital Puppetry Guild

​The O'Neill Conference Grant is offered to guild members under the age of thirty who are accepted by the conference for first-time attendance. It is a need-based, partial scholarship designed to offset a participant's expenses while there. Application is open to all members in good standing of the NCPG. Applicants must apply directly to National Capital Puppetry Guild for consideration.

All gifts toward puppetry scholarships are appreciated and go directly to support the next generation of puppetry artists. Click here to make a donation, or contact development@theoneill.org for more information.

Puppets, Robots, and Hybrid Marionettes with Alice Gottschalk

The Institute for Applied Robot Psychology invites you join its second research laboratory, which will explore the relationships between robots, puppets and people. The results of the research will be presented at the National Programming und Psychology Konferenz (NPuPK). We look forward to working with interested and curious researchers. This workshop will explore simple robots with DC motors, servo motors, 3D Printing, and Arduino Programming in reference to puppetry. Participants will work with the principles of what brings life to a puppet—breathing, intention, direction, material, and object animation—and then apply those principles to simple robots. We will explore questions like, "How can I program a servo motor so that its movement initiates convincing breathing?" and beyond. 

 

Writing for Puppetry: A Strand in Three Acts with Liz Hara

We’re going to run this workshop like a television writers room! Using three act structure, we will develop your ideas from concept to outline. We’ll learn story structure, character development, and why there’s no such thing as a good idea. We’ll also discuss the challenges and opportunities in writing for different styles of puppetry. Come prepared to write, collaborate, and eat snacks (the best part of any writers room).

 

Everything You Wanted to Learn About Mechs and Then Some! with Jim Kroupa

Mechanism class participants will learn all of Jim's secrets. (Both of them!) From hands-on examples of various mechanisms to materials and where to get them, all participants will experience the road to mechanical bliss, using Jim’s “keep it simple” approach. Minimal effort for maximum results! All attending participants should have basic small tool experience. BONUS: Everyone goes home with a working mechanism they built themselves! And stories… lots and lots of stories!

Marionette Performance with Sarah Frechette

This workshop is a study in marionette manipulation that explores the influencing factors of stringing, control bar, and regional style. While the focus will be working with a marionette that participants will bring to the Conference, this workshop will also give participants a broader scope of the theories and possibilities inherent to the art-form. Daily manipulation exercises will create the structure for concentration and partnership upon which Participants will develop and refine a brief marionette scene. Special emphasis will be placed on the “Cabaret Style” performance (short-strung marionettes), however the individual performance pieces will be developed in a group environment, allowing for the exchange and enhancement of ideas in an ensemble setting.

Marionette Construction with Kurt Hunter

The workshop offers a thorough examination of marionette design, layout, and construction methods for the creation of a new marionette. Participants will have the opportunity to design, build and string a complete marionette working from supplied patterns and materials including wood, rigid foam, and paper mache. The patterns will be modified as necessary for each participant’s design. Basic marionette manipulation will also be covered and additional construction and stringing methods will be demonstrated. Participants should bring black performance clothes. Materials and tools will be supplied, but a list of optional tools to bring will be sent out prior to the Conference.

Lantern Puppet Creation and Performance with Andrew Kim

Participants will work as a team to build larger-than-life internally-illuminated puppets and perform an outdoor night-time scene lit only by the puppets. Participants will learn to work with clay, bamboo, reed, lantern paper, Worbla and fabric. They will learn basic giant puppet mechanisms and LED wiring and lighting. They will learn basics of giant puppet manipulation and ensemble performance. Andrew will be assisted by Hartford giant puppet designer Anne Cubberly (giantpuppets.org, @annecubberly). 

Life Behind Things: From Paper to Emotion, Sound to Writing, and Object to Movement with Rute Ribeiro and Luís Vieira

This strand will be a laboratory for research and experimentation on the relationships between actors, articulated figures, images, objects and sound. In the style of Portugal-based puppet company A Tarumba, led by Luís Vieira and Rute Riberio, participants will be challenged to create a new piece together using two-dimensional articulated paper or cardboard figures, collages, images, and video. This piece will take inspiration from images and short stories by modernist, surrealist, and absurdist authors and artists including Edward Gordon Craig’s The Drama for Fools, Mário-Henrique Leiria, Jacques Prévert, Jean-Cocteau, René Magritte, among others. We will also use stories contained in songs and the personal stories of participants. There will be some dramaturgical work; an exchange of ideas, images and objects, improvisation and manipulation; and the use of sound or music as inspiration. Together, we will create a kind of a cadavre exquis—or “exquisite corpse,” a technique invented by the Surrealists—in a method that allows participants to collectively assemble words and images and discover the life behind things.

Music Composition for Puppetry with William Wright

Along with puppeteers and theater makers, the National Puppetry Conference offers a truly unique, mind-expanding experience to composers! Over the course of a week, music participants at the conference will dive headfirst into collaborating with individual puppetry artists, supporting their storytelling with music in the creation of brand-new performances. You will be challenged to produce soundtracks, scores, or musical accents—either live or recorded—for multiple original short works as they are developed during the conference. Ideal candidates are composers interested in writing for theater or film, with a strong performance and improvisation background and familiarity with or openness to diverse styles and genres of music. Composers will have opportunities to learn about the process of collaboration with theater artists, try new ways of performing or improvising music live on stage, explore and refine techniques of producing and recording, and network with performers from an international community of puppetry artists and other theater professionals. 

Emerging Artist Strand with Richard Termine

The Emerging Artist strand identifies participants who are at a critical juncture in their careers as puppet artists; who are at 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. Emerging Artists are given the option of showing the results of their work during the public performances that conclude the Conference. Please note that only alumni of the National Puppetry Conference are eligible to apply.

Resident Company

Resident Company members will be supporting the work of the Emerging Artists to develop their projects by working under their direction for the majority of the main conference day. Resident Company Members will also be allowed to create Participant Projects in the evening. While this role takes place during the main conference, you may also attend the pre-conference as a participant

Pam Arciero, Artistic Director of the National Puppetry Conference

Pam Arciero is a principal puppeteer with Sesame Street, performing numerous characters, most notably Grundgetta Grouch. She has worked on many adult and children's programs including Between the Lions, Blue's Clues Blue's Room, Chappell's Show, Allegra's Window, The Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss, TV Funhouse, Oobi, Eureeka's Castle and The Great Space Coaster. She has performed in many commercials and films, including Zappos, Fuze, Angel Soft, Sundance Myths, Sundance Film Festival; Extreme Measures, Little Monsters, and Follow That Bird.

 

As a stage director, she directed Iftah Ya Simsim-Sesame Street Saudi Arabia, Sesame Live Shows for Sesame Place, Beaches Turks and Caicos, Beaches Jamaica, Port Adventura, Barcelona, Spain; Sea World Orlando; Play with Me Sesame Live, US tours; and Disney's Wahoo Wagon at the El Capitan Theater in Los Angeles. Pam directed the film Whiskey Neat, and she has also directed Between the Lions and Oobi for television.

 

She has taught for the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts, the University of Hawaii, Sesame Street International; South Africa; remotely for Afghanistan and Bangladesh, Taipei National University of the Arts, the University of Connecticut, and California State University, Fresno. Pam holds a BA in Dance and Drama from the University of Hawaii and a MA in Puppetry from the University of Connecticut.

  • Pam Arciero, Artistic Director

  • Jean Marie Keevins, Artistic Producer

  • Jim Kroupa, Pre Conference Guest Artist

  • Liz Hara, Pre Conference Guest Artist

  • Alice Gottschalk, Pre Conference Guest Artist

  • John Cody, Pre Conference Mechanism Assistant/Shop Supervisor/Pub Host

  • Kurt Hunter, Main Conference Guest Artist

  • Andrew Kim, Main Conference Guest Artist

  • Anne Cubberly, Main Conference Guest Artist 

  • Luís Vieira, Main Conference Guest Artist

  • Rute Ribeiro, Main Conference Guest Artist

  • Sarah Frechette, Main Conference Guest Artist

  • William Wright, Director of Musical Composition

  • Richard Termine, Director of Emerging Artists/Participant Projects Mentor/Conference Co-Founder

  • Marsian De Lellis, Participant Advisor

  • Tyler Bunch, Resident Company & Emerging Artist Mentor/Participant Project Mentor/Pub Host

  • Jane Martineau, Director of the Resident Company and Participants Project Director

  • Bobbi Nidzgorski, Mentor, Participants Projects and Co-Founder

  • Kalob Martinez, Advisor, Emerging Artist and Participant 

  • Claude LaPointe, Counselor 

  • Ulysses Jones, Master Craftsperson

We’ve provided a list of frequently asked questions for your convenience. If your question isn’t answered here, please reach out to the literary office us at litoffice@theoneill.org.

 

If I’ve been to the National Puppetry Conference before, do I have to apply again?

Yes! A completed online universal application is always required.

 

Can I apply for both Pre Conference and Main Conference strands?

Yes!

If I've previously participated in a strand, am I eligible to apply for it again this year? (Or: Can I take "Mechs with Jim Kroupa" again?) 

Absolutely. We're happy to confirm that there is no limit on the number of times you can participate in a strand. Please note, however, that you must reapply with a complete application each year.

 

Is there a fee to apply for the conference?

Yes. The administrative fee for the 2024 National Puppetry Conference is $20.00 USD.

You will be guided through the payment process step-by-step as you finalize your online application. We are glad to accept both debit and credit cards, but we are no longer able to accept checks by mail. 

A limited number of fee waivers on a first-come, first-served basis. If you would like to request a fee wavier, please complete this short request form before you begin your application.

 

How do I apply for scholarships? 

Scholarship application details are included on the general application form for the National Puppetry Conference. Please note that only MAIN CONFERENCE participants are eligible for scholarships. If you are only attending the Pre Conference, you are ineligible for scholarships. 

 

If I'm selected to attend the conference, will the O'Neill provide housing?

Yes. Conference participants will be provided with dormitory-style housing in double or single rooms. All rooms include beds, desks, dressers, and closets. Community bathrooms, private bathrooms, and shower rooms are available. 

 

Are meals provided? And can dietary restrictions be accommodated? 

Yes. Three meals a day are served on-site by our resident chefs. Special consideration is given to accommodate dietary restrictions, and all applicants are asked to provide their dietary restrictions in our application form. The O'Neill cafeteria offers continual access to snacks and beverages throughout the day and into the evening. 

 

Does the O'Neill cover travel or provide transportation to the National Puppetry Conference? 

The O'Neill is unable to cover the cost of your travel to the National Puppetry Conference. 

 

Where are the nearest airports to the O'Neill? 

The O'Neill campus is located in Waterford, CT. If you are flying into the area, the nearest airports are Providence International Airport (PVD) and Hartford-Bradley Airport (BDL). We are able to arrange transportation from the airport to the O'Neill. Please reach out to the Company Management team at companymanager@theoneill.org to schedule a pickup. 

 

If I'm selected to attend, could I drive to the O'Neill campus? Is parking available on-site? 

Yes. Please reach out to our Company Management team at companymanager@theoneill.org. They will provide you with a parking pass upon arrival.

What have previous Conference participants gone on to achieve in the field? 

Past conference participants have gone on to work in such venues as HERE Arts Center, Dixon Place, La MaMa, Redmoon, The Puppet Showplace, The Sandglass Theatre, Trouble Puppet, The Center for Puppetry Arts, Zeum, Automata Theater. Their work has also been seen in commercials; in films such as Being John Malkovich, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and The Muppets; and on television, including Sesame Street, Between the Lions, Saturday Night Live, and Bear in the Big Blue House. On the global stage, our puppeteers have gone on to produce and perform in shows in Afghanistan, Iran, Australia, Scotland, India, Uganda, and China.

Puppetry has been woven into the very fabric of the O’Neill since its founding in 1964. The O’Neill's National Puppetry Conference was established in by key founding members Jane Henson, George Latshaw, Richard Termine, Bobbi Nidzgorski, Bart P. Roccoberton Jr., and Jim and Margo Rose and is dedicated to the legacies of Bill Baird, Jim Henson, Rufus and Margo Rose, Don Sahlin, Martin Stevens, Burr Tillstrom, Brad Williams, Nikki Tilroe, and George Latshaw in the spirit with which they shared their artistry and themselves.

 

Please scroll down to the bottom of this page for a comprehensive timeline of puppetry at the O’Neill.

Funding for the National Puppetry Conference is provided by the Jane Henson Foundation.

a history of puppetry at the O'Neill

Timeline Photo Credits: Richard Termine, Jean Marie Keevins, Isaak Berliner, A. Vincent Scarano.

Participant Presentations
Puppeteer in Workshop
Puppet Manipulation
Puppet Eyepieces
Object Manipulation
NatPup988
NatPup93
Crave by Ronnie Burkett
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