history of radical puppetry is the history of puppetry in service to
the people, the tradition of puppetry as the voice of the everyman,
the expression of dissent, protest, the real and human concerns of daily
life. This history of puppetry and the vitality of puppetry itself has
been watered down and buried in commercialization in this country. In
recent years however there has been a renewed interest in puppetry,
as the bankruptcy of corporate mainstream media becomes more and more
apparent. Puppets are immediate and authentic. Hewn from scraps of cloth,
paper and duct tape, they are the quintessential tricksters--court jesters
without the court, able to cross boundaries of both opinion and propriety,
enabling us to critique society and government with handmade beauty
Any kind of radical history is hard to piece together. Information is
lost through direct suppression, censorship, marginalizing and watering
down in history texts. It is no different trying to get to the roots
of radical puppetry using available contemporary puppet histories—it
is neccessary to dig, interpret and read between the lines to locate
the radical content. As Richard Stourac and Kathleen McCreery write
in their book Theatre as a Weapon: “Often persecution is not necessary.
Just as women have been ignored by historians, so revolutionary working
class artists are swept under the carpet by the chroniclers of culture.
They are members of the dominated class and subject to the rules of
domination, however subtle, which reinforces the rule of capital.”
Following is a survey of radical puppet history. Puppets are seen in
every nook, cranny and culture of this world but for brevity's sake,
against my deepest desire to expound upon the wonders of puppetry for
many volumes, I will focus here on traditions in Europe and the US and
specifically on puppetry existing outside the status quo.
There are a couple of different historical lineages to trace in looking
for the roots of modern political puppetry. Interestingly both start
in the church and the mainstream. One is the lineage of small puppet
shows or motions, which include mostly hand puppets and rod puppets—easily
carried and performed in the street, the other of giant puppets and
Roots of Small Puppets in Europe
Starting sometime after 600 AD and continuing through 16th century,
puppets shows were mostly seen in service to the church, enactments
of Bible stories. Even then they had a sketchy path through history
as they were banned every few centuries for a time for “smacking
of idolatry.” A turning point came in the 15th century, with the
advent of the morality plays. These dramas in verse featured personifications
of the Seven Deadly Sins. "Old Vice" in particular became
a popular rogue and comic, who spoke to the common experience with debauchery
and vulgar humor. Thus, the stage was set for puppetry to be delivered
into the hands of the people: the puppets were expelled from the church.
The English puppet shows of this time were called motions and were mostly
the banished moralities, emphasizing slapstick and bawdy humor and influenced
by commedia dell’arte. By the early 17th c. the puppeteers, called
"motion men," traveled around England along with the tinkers
and gypsies. Puppet bawdies were popular in many places in Europe at
this time. German Kaspar, Russian Petrouchka and French Polcinelle were
all regional examples of the commoner’s hero. In Turkey, the shadow
puppet rogue, Karagioz, acted as a live news service for the people,
satirizing local events, taking pot shots at the government and spreading
the retail gossip of the day.
The 17th Century saw the violent transition from a pastoral economy
to industrial capitalism, the destruction of the commons and the rise
of popular resistance movements such as the diggers and the ranters.
In England in 1642 Cromwell and his puritans locked the theaters due
to fear of spreading revolutionary propaganda, but the puppets were
not seen as important and so slipped through the cracks.
For 18 years the only theater in England was roving outdoor puppet theater.
The Lord Mayor of London tried to ban puppet shows during this time
as well, but then he died and the shows returned, irreverent as ever
with the Lord Mayor, himself, appearing as the Devil.
Interestingly, the first mention of Punch is seen shortly after this
ban in the late 17th century. With government closure of legitimate
theaters, Punch took to the streets as a vehicle of dissent. A derivative
of the Italian Commedia Dell’arte character Puncinella, Punch
reigned as king of the puppets in England through most of the 18th century.
He was the commoner’s hero, critiquing through slapstick and satire,
breaking all the rules in a time when conformity was imposed upon every
sphere of life. Punch‘s adversaries are god, the law, the landlord,
king, judge, policeman and even death. He is rough, brutal, vindictive,
vain, lecherous and deceitful, yet he is one of us. We identify with
his sins and struggles and wish for him to prevail. He does so just
as a puppet can—escaping torture and death and torturing his foes
in return. The man who operated punch was a Punch Man: author, designer,
singer and actor for his entire repertory. A good punch man could set
up anywhere and within moments create instant theatre, an entirely new
drama responding events of the day.
In France a similar trend occurred, starting with the French version
of Punch, Polcinelle, but then quickly being superseded by the Guignol,
a goodhearted fellow with the simple costume of a silk worker. Laurent
Mourguet created Guignol in 1812. Mourguet worked in the silk industry
in Lyon. In 1799, he was married, had 10 kids, and was laid off due
to an economic recession in France at the time. To make ends meet, he
became a dentist. To attract customers to his chair, he began performing
Polichinelle puppet shows with a friend. The name Guignol comes from
“C’est guignolment”—“It’s a scream!”
Saxony banned puppetry in 1793 and by 1852 French government was demanding
that texts be committed to paper--no improvisation allowed!! Puppetry
was particularly controversial in Lyon, a hotspot of revolution. Apparently
Napoleon III's police state was nervous about people gathering in groups
and so Guignol shows came under surveillance. Petitions to perform puppet
shows in Lyon were refused.
In Germany Hanswurst, Faust’s sidekick was also kicked out of
the Faust play for being a rogue and negotiating with the devil. Hanswurst
managed to survive the censors of reformation Germany, by being quick
on his feet and by memorizing their texts when the printed versions
of their plays were outlawed. Thus in England, France & Germany
alike puppetry was treated as a criminal act, puppeteers were refused
licenses offered to other professions. Itinerant puppeteers were regarded
with suspicion and accused of promoting crime, as they drew crowds of
poor people into respectable business areas. Sound familiar? And yet
this limitation was also strength. Roving puppeteers set up instant
stages and used improv as an immediate response to local and state events.
Unlicensed, illegal and thus unhindered by the censor.
Beginnings of Giant Puppets in Europe
Giant figures, mostly lightweight, non-articulated statuary, were used
in civic and religious festivals in many parts of Western Europe beginning
in the 14th century.
In England, where giants were part of traditional folklore, the Giants
of Guildhall, Gog & Magog were wicker statues representing the guardians
of London. The statues were carried in Lord Mayors pageants starting
in the reign of Henry V. Later they were used in other civic festivals
to represent the professional guilds. Although not political in the
contemporary sense of anti-authoritarian, as champions of the guilds
the images represented the rise of the middle class, where previously
only peasant and royal classes had existed. With the middle class came
the overthrow of feudalism, a hugely important political and economic
There were also traditions of giants in many towns in Belgium. In 1530
following a victory against France, the basket makers guild of Douai
made a wicker float called a Gayant to be part of the celebration. The
next year the Gayant got a wife. In 1667 Douai was again conquered by
France and pageants were cancelled not only because they celebrated
French defeat, but because had become too profane, full of devils and
dragons. The celebrations were revived in 1780 and banned again after
the French revolution. This time because they were seen as too religious
in nature and portrayed aristocrats. The gayants were then restored
after Napoleons defeat in 1815. They were destroyed and rebuilt after
each world war and they continue to bless the streets of Douai today.
Throughout the southern parts of Europe festivals arose around the religious
holidays. Both Carnaval and the Feast of Fools belong to this lineage.
Carne levale literally means ‘to take away meat’ or ‘good-bye
to flesh,’ and is a period of indulgence before the fasting and
penitence demanded by Lent. Lent begins, of course, on Ash Wednesday.
Thus Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, also belongs to this Spring tradition.
The pre-Lenten festivals of the time were (and still are) characterized
by a subversion of established order, drinking, sexing and disrespect
of authority, the reading of edicts containing biting social criticism,
wearing masks and disguises. In Italy, Southern France (Nice since the
14th c.) Wicker giants borne as statues came out for the festivities
which often culminated in a mock trial of the King, who is found guilty
and burned in effigy. Carnaval festivities often became vehicles for
local politics. The big Carnaval in Via Reggio, Italy is a modern day
holdover which features large scale floats and themes of political satire.
In Spain one of the traditions of Giants centered on Corpus Christi,
or the festival of the Body of Christ. Corpus Christi was officially
recognized in 1263 in Italy. The festival arrived in Spain in the 14th
century, beginning in Catalonia and spreading into many Spanish towns.
Much darker and more fantastical than in England and France, the traditional
puppet figures of Corpus Christi included Cabezudos (big heads), Mulasses
(beasts), Diables (Devils) and Tarascas (dragons) accompanying the host.
Late 19th Early 20th Century
In the late 19th and Early 20th centuries there was a surge of interest
in puppetry within the mainstream. Puppets were invited back indoors
by the bourgeois. These tended to be marionettes more than hand puppets,
to explore the technical side of the art more than the thematic and
to take place in a theatre where there could be complex staging and
a comfortable setting for the audience. Because real estate requires
patronage, these shows tended by default to serve those with money.
They were operas and epics which sought to amaze and entertain with
trick marionettes and hidden levers. Outside the walls, however, a movement
of radical and experimental puppetry was beginning within the avant-garde.
In 1888 Alfred Jarry, the eccentric anarchist puppeteer performed an
early version of Ubu Roi, a brutal and irreverent slap at bourgeois
morality and stupidity. The play received instant notoriety, not the
least of which was that the first word the king utters on stage is "shit!"
The play debuted as a marionette piece and was later played by masked
actors, retaining much of its original puppet quality.
Gerhardt Hauptman, foremost German dramatist of his time was asked in
1913 to write an appropriate theatrical work to commemorate the 100th
anniversary of the German “wars of liberation.” It was expected
that he would write something of deep patriotic sentiment. The resulting
work shattered audience expectation, creating controversy and scandal
and making a mockery of the heads of state, including Napoleon, by showing
them as puppets (literally & metaphorically) while honoring some
of the real patriots of the time.
WWI – WWII
In 1916 Dada was invented in Zurich in response to the horror and absurdity
of the modern warfare of WWI. Dada spread to France and Germany where
in 1919 Dadaist George Grotz along with Oskar Kokoska and John Heartfield
held satirical marionette performances in their basement. They were
shut down for disrespect of the political authorities. That same year
Walter Gropius founded Bauhaus School of design. From 1919 until Hitler's
rise to power in 1933 artists in the Bauhaus drama department experimented
with puppetry and performance, bringing their paintings and sculptures
to life in a sort of precursor to performance art. Among the best known
of those artists are Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky, Xanti Schawinsky
and Oskar Schlemmer. Hitler of course, quickly suppressed the experimental
art of the Bauhaus.
Two notable women puppeteers of this time were Sophie Taeber Arp wife
of Hans Arp (both Zurich Dadaists) and Alexandra Exter, a highly skilled
Russian painter who worked among the Fauves in Paris. She returned to
Russia in 1917 and began experimenting with marionettes. The influence
of Cubism is apparent in her work. Alexander Calder also began work
on his puppet circus in Paris in the late 1920s. It was slowly assembled
1926-1930 and performed throughout the 1930s.
Workers Theatre in Europe 1917-33.
Another buried treasure of radical theater history is the a huge movement
of agit-prop and workers' theatre that started in revolutionary Russia
and spread through Europe, most notably to Germany and England, between
the two World Wars. The Communist party immediately recognized the popular
appeal of theatre and pageantry and its usefulness as propaganda. They
utilized theatre as living newspapers, as well as engaging clowns, circus
artists and puppeteers in spreading the word and propagandizing the
people. The Russian collective of revolutionary theatres, The Blue Blouse
reached over 80,000 workers in their first two weeks of their existence
alone. Among other things the collective of workers theatres described
itself as a “flexible, vivid, juicy, hard-hitting and mobile theatre
performing under any condition” They held theatrical trials, small
performances in teahouses and mass spectacles in which “thousands
would perform for tens of thousands.” The Blue Blouse used clowning,
acrobatics, dance, mask puppetry and other devises from the popular
arts. In Germany similar movements were formed starting in the late
teens and early 20s. After a Blue Blouse tour to Germany in the late
20s the movement burgeoned spawning dozens of groups with names like
The Red Star, Red Rockets, Riveters, Red Megaphone and Red Blouses.
The author of the book Theatre as a Weapon notes that much of the information
we have about these groups and their props was gleaned from police reports.
Russian Street Art
socialism Lenin had said, art would no longer serve the elite, “the
upper 10,000 suffering from boredom and obesity,” but the tens
of millions of laboring people, “the flower of the country, its
strength and future.” The design of mass festivals was not just
a phenomenon but also an intentional and orchestrated design of the
communist party, who were well aware of the power of visual metaphor.
Early festivals were dominated by avant -garde artists, the futurists.
But in the 20’s and 30s “fine artists” were dissuaded
and themes were simplified and made representational, carried out by
the workers and unions themselves.
Throughout the years before World War II MayDay and the Anniversary
of the Revolution were events filled with elaborate and highly evocative
street art, giant statuary, puppets of the evil imperialists designed
to denigrate the bourgeois and celebrate the workers.
Indicative of the contradictions inherent to the Russian Revolutionary
Spirit, is the evolution of the party’s relationship to the puppet
character Petroushka. Petrouchka was an underdog and popular hero, a
working class trickster in conflict w authority, much like Punch—a
perfect revolutionary. The Red Petrouchka Collective started in 1927
and dozens of other sprang up in the following years. But of course
Petrouchka eternal problems with authority soon led the soviet state
to suppress the anarchic and rebellious Petrouchka in favor of a more
benign version of the character, suitable only for children-a parallel
to the watering down of puppetry in the west for purposes of education
Undisputed leaders of puppetry in Europe, the Czech puppeteers also
had a tradition of radical puppetry. When the Czech language was banned
by the Austrian Hungarian empire in the 19th c., puppeteers continued
to perform in Czech as an act of defiance. During Nazi occupation Czech
puppeteers organized illegal underground performances in homes and basements
with anti-fascist themes, called “daisies.” Karel Capek,
who wrote the famous anti-technology play RUR and coined the word Robot,
wrote anti-fascist prose pieces for the puppeteers. Josef Skupa, a famous
popular puppeteer known for his leading character Spejbl, did wartime
tours of adult puppet plays with subtle allegorical points imperceptible
to the censor. In the concentration camps, Czech women made puppet shows
from scraps of nothing to keep up their morale. Eventually the Nazi's
suppressed all Czech puppetry and over 100 skilled puppeteers died under
torture in the camps.
The United States
In the US avant -garde and political puppetry was also experiencing
a surge. One artist quite active in both political and mainstream performance
at this time was Remo Bufano, who was both a highly successful artist
and puppeteer and also an activist. One of the key moments in his artistic
career was the creation of giant marionettes for a 1931 performance
of Oedipus Rex. Bufano also headed WPAs NY Marionette Unit, which employed
scores of puppeteers and produced thousands of performances of over
47 full-length works. Bufano quit his position in 1937 protesting the
“obstructive policies” that prevented him from mounting
a production RUR, Czech Puppeteer Carel Kapek’s play which dealt
with the evils of technology.
In the early part of the 30s, however, art was politicized by economics
and world politics. A new theatre movement was inspired by a sense of
theatre as modern art rather than entertainment, and imbued with a activist
political zeal inspired by Marxist ideas. In this fervor, puppets and
larger than life processional images played important roles as public
articulations of leftist political views. Sound familiar?
The MayDay celebration in New York City in the 30s brought together
many different radical factions in an international celebration of leftist
solidarity, showing opposition to the rise of fascism in Italy, Spain
and Germany. In 1936 Jackson Pollack helped design floats in workshop
with Mexican artist David Siquieros, In 1937 amongst the political imagery
was also a traditional maypole—calling attention to the other
green traditional roots of the holy day. Some of the images from parades
of this era include a float representing International solidarity against
fascism—figures represent England, Russia, France and the US stretching
out a hand against a tank representing fascism, a giant skeleton backpack
puppet representing Nazi Germany, a group of backpack puppets representing
cops and politician— wow, it could be today!!Following World War
II, the end of the Federal Theater Project, need for economic survival
and atmosphere of the cold war dampened political expression of the
puppet theatre. In the 40s and 50s puppetry went the way of children’s
theatre, entertainment, publicity and advertising and television until
renewed by social upheaval of the 1960s. Popular use of puppets in nightclubs
and variety acts was common during this time. Most of it was pap, but
amongst the popular entertainers of the time, some puppeteers still
dared tread into the tricky waters of political content. One such puppeteer
was Alfred Wallace, active in NYC from the 30s through the 50s. Wallace
used puppet to turn FDR into Punch’s baby. He also depicted a
US senator as a two faced puppet and this “tired world”
rod puppet of the 1950s expressed public feeling between WWII and the
beginning of the cold war.
The1960's brought the beginning of movement of political puppetry
as we think of it today. For most of us our knowledge of giant puppets
in connection to radical or protest puppetry starts here with Peter
Schumann. In 1961 the German artist, Peter Schumann came to this country
and shortly after founded the seminal Bread and Puppet Theater with
the motto that "theatre should be as basic as bread." Their
work in protest of the Vietnam War put Bread and Puppet on the cultural
map of this country. Later moving to a farm in Vermont, Bread and Puppet
hosted their annual Domestic Resurrection Circus, a fantastic blend
of spirituality, politics and pageantry which spawned a generation of
puppeteers and which continues to influence the world of political puppetry
the left coast the SF Mime Troupe was prompting the beginnings of “guerilla
theatre,” This idea, was first articulated in 1965 by mime troupe
founder RG Davis as part of a manifesto committing the Mime troupe to
serve as a “movement vanguard in the nascent cultural revolution.”
After a Radical Theatre Festival in SF in 1968 brought the Mime Troupe
together with Teatro Campesino and Bread and Puppet, The Mime Troupe
started performing a series of vignettes they called Gutter Puppets—stage,
props and actors that could all be packed into one car for touring.
Gutter puppet shows included Digger style how-to skits—like scamming
free parking, calling cards or food.
European notables from this time period are The Welfare State and Dario
Fo. The Welfare State, founded in 1968 blends political street theatre,
public spectacle and celebration and is a precursor to community art
as we know it today, as well as to popular art events such as Burning
Man. Seeking to re-establish popular theatre traditions of the working
class Welfare State drew from Carnival, the Feast of Fools, the fairground,
the mummers and the tradition of subversion as entertainment. Welfare
State brought together theatre, food, fire, puppets, stilts, arts education
and more. One of my favorite of their actions was their burning of a
60 foot crooked parliament on Guy Fawkes Day.
Nobel prize winner, Italian playwright and clown Dario Fo, together
with his equally talented wife, Franca Rame, broke with mainstream theater
in 1968, giving up substantial salaries and fame in the mainstream theatre
and declaring he would no longer be a “jester for the bourgeoisie.”
He developed a kind of naïve clowning that enabled him to question
statements of diplomats, generals and historians. Fo helped found a
theatrical organization dedicated to the proletarian revolution, bringing
theater to the people in factories, stadiums, villages and school dorms.
He believed that theatre was the only means of freeing people from the
tyranny of corporate mass media and sought a bloodless revolution of
the proletariat. Throughout the 70s and 80s, Fo used clowning, puppetry,
masks and humanettes in his satires of government and government intelligence.
Fo's best known face, the Accidental Death of an Anarchist, based on
police reports, documents and testimonies was so successful in exposing
state repression that his group were subjected to provocation and persecution
of all kinds.
Dogtroep is a company of visual artists creating site-specific theatre.
Dogtroep was founded in 1975 by amongst others Warner van Wely, who
developed a ‘self-willed form of theatre out of protest against
the inaccessibility of regular art.” Images and music were central;
text hardly played a role. In addition to theatrical spectacles Dogtroep
held concerts, parades and unannounced audience infiltrations. They
were one of many “wild companies” within the urban Euro/US
arts landscape which approached theatre from a visual arts or sculptural
point of view. Much of the work of artists of this time began as happenings
in the 1960s and reached toward the performance art movement of the
80s. Other well known companies in this group are Welfare State, Royal
DuLuxe, Cirque Archaos, SRL and Els Comediantes.
Dogtroep's standards were authenticity (just do what you consider beautiful),
effectiveness (it must work within the performance situation and incite
the audiences imagination) and homogeneity (it must work with the other
members of the company). They site Dada, the lineage of visual art (sculpture),
happenings, Jackson Pollack, Bread and Puppet Theater and Welfare State.
Their work is on a grand-scale, immediate, raw and risky, often devised
little at 5 days. “We devise our scripts at the end of the process
when we know our elements, scripts which we do not rehearse, but combine
with one another at the moment of the performance.” “Our
performances are dynamic sculpture constructed from iron, sand, wood
textiles, fire, water, light, noise, air and people.”
In the lineage of people's puppetry in this country is the longstanding
In the Heart of the Beast Mask and Puppet Theater. Founder and Director
Sandy Spieler worked with Peter Schumann in the late 60s and returned
to Minneapolis where HOBT made their first piece in 1973. Their MayDay
parade which continues to this day, involves over 500 people from their
local community who help call in the Sun and raise the Tree of Life
each spring. HOBT also presents a full spectrum of puppet performance
each year. One of their most successful political works was Befriended
by the Enemy based on a true story of a Jewish family who takes in an
ailing KKK member.
The Underground Railway Theater was founded in 1976 in Oberlin Ohio,
one of the last stops of the midwestern branch of the Underground Railroad
and currently resides in Arlington, MA. An arts company (rather than
an activist company) URT has a history of presenting gorgeous full-length
puppet spectacles on diverse social themes. Some of their current work
for adults includes an eco-cabaret, a piece called Washed-Up Middle-Aged
Women, “on women 40-59 who are anything but washed up” and
Mothers and Whores a cabaret about motherhood, sexuality and choice.
They also have an extensive repertory of politically conscious works
for youth and they tour extensively throughout the US.
Arm-of-the-Sea based in the Hudson River Valley in Saugerties NY features
magical realism that marries the mythic and the everyday, humanity and
the earth, visual arts and natural science, poetry and politics. Large-scale
productions incorporate ancient theatrical devises, music, gesture and
stunning visuals, they illuminate the links between human communities
and the life-support processes of this living planet. With a bus powered
by bio-diesel (a fuel made from vegetable oil they tour the Eastern
US extensively with works like Seed Story which deals seeds, grains
and how their control relates to the global economy; City That Drinks
the Mountain Sky, the story of NYC's water supply. And At the Turning
of the Tide - A paper mache expose’ of the Hudson River Estuary
On the West Coast, Wise Fool Puppet Intervention got started at the
Nevada Test Site actions in 1989, while the protests against the Gulf
War in 90-91 firmly established them as part of the west coast radical
scene. Wise Fool’s work has encompassed a visual support project,
bringing puppets to dozens and dozens of demos, coalition work with
other bay area social change groups, tours to Europe and Chiapas and
the creation of several dozen full-length and short theatre works on
diverse themes such as living with HIV, 500 years, white privilege and
the history of the Tenderloin.
Spiral Q, founded by Mattyboy Hart in 1995, started as a shadow puppet
theatre which also created puppets, props and effigies for social change.
In 1997 they began to focus on neighborhood activism and eventually
created Peoplehood, “An All-City Parade and Pageant,” as
a culminating event for their free neighborhood puppet building workshops.
The event brings together more than 3000 people, in six delegations
from throughout the city, to celebrate community, diversity and the
challenges and triumphs of life in Philadelphia and its neighborhoods
and is the most visible a measure of their progress toward fulfilling
the vision of an Urban Arts Democracy.
Cry of the Rooster founded by Nathan Scott mid 90s is a performing arts
collective specializing in creative and provocative presentations of
folklore from around the world. Cry of the Rooster has traveled extensively
doing cultural exchange throughout Mexico and India.
In 1996 members of Wise Fool worked with other activists at the democratic
national convention in Chicago and from this union Art and Revolution
as born. The first official Art & Revolution Convergence was a three-day
skillshare held at PRAG tree farm near Seattle, WA with a subsequent
Human Needs Not Corporate Greed tour of the city of Seattle. As well
as the beloved SF contingent Art and Revolution projects have sprung
up in urban centers all around the country.
Into the New Millenuem And
then there was Seattle N30, 1999. Despite vast media coverage of police
violence only, Seattle was truly a carnival of resistance, resplendent
with puppets, masks, dancers, creative roadblocks, banners and music.
Folks from Art & Revolution, Bread and Puppet, Wise Fool and many
many others came together at a convergence center and made art for days.
This lovely chaos continued into Washington DC the following spring
during which time our convergence center was closed and the puppets
held as weapons. The concept of the Puppetista was born.
The energy continued into the following summer at the Republican and
Democratic National Conventions. In Philadelphia at the RNC the violence
against puppetry escalated when police engaged in a full-scale siege
against the puppeteers. They surrounded the puppet warehouse, also known
as the Ministry of Puppetganda, mounted the roof and refused to allow
the 80 Puppetistas inside to leave. An hour or so later, after they
had obtained a warrant, the cops broke down the door, arrested everyone
in the building and destroyed all the signs, costumes, and artwork,
including throwing over 100 skeleton puppets--one for each person executed
by GW in Texas--in a trash compactor.
Later that summer in LA the convergence center sought a received a writ
of protection, forbidding the police access to the convergence center,
however the demonstrations themselves were cordoned off by huge police
presence isolating the demonstrators from the public in designated “Free
Since that time many emerging groups have taken to the road including
the Insurrection Landscapers, The Liberty Cabbage Theatre Revival, and
the Puppetutal Motion Cycle Circus who caravanned across the cornbelt,
educating and entertaining their way to Washington DC for a biotechnology
Jan Berger, an amazing banner artist who also worked with Bread &
Puppet, now runs Paper Hand Puppet Intervention in North Carolina. These
show some of the most impressive artistry I’ve seen. Every summer
they put on a big show at the outdoor Forrest Theater in Chapel Hill
NC. In 2003 the show was called the Dream and the Lie, and it featured
an animation of Picasso’s Guernica. At Bush’s inauguration
they brought a show about Caribou and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
to Washington DC.
In Florida the Free Carnival Area of the Americas was hosted by the
Lake Worth Global Justice Group (which formed to take part in WTO demos
in 99) to build puppets for the FTAA meetings.
While there seems to have been a surge in political puppetry that started
in the mid 90s, the form has certainly become more visible since the
Seattle WTO protests. There are dozens of groups around the country
Shoddy Puppet & Ramshackle Enterprises in Philadelphia, Redmoon
Theater and Environmental Encroachment in Chicago, Great Small Works
in New York City, Clare Dolan’s work in Vermont. There has also
been a surge in small alternative festivals: Puppet Uprising and the
Black Sheep Festival on the East Coast, Puppetropolis, the Combustible
Puppet Cabaret and Theater Dank’s Puppetry Festival in Chicago
and PuppetLOVE! on the west coast to name just a few.
There are dozens and dozens of people out there all around the world
making puppets for social causes at greater or lesser levels of skill.
At convergence centers, Art and Revolution workshops or with only the
Wise Fool book in hand they staple, cut and paste and carry their creation
with pride. Just do an image search for “radical puppet”
or “political” puppet on the net and see what turns up.
So here we are today!
We continue forward in history as the unnamed puppeteer, hidden behind
the mask of the puppet, giving voice to the people.
Educate. Agitate. Animate!!