By Tania Fisher . . .
This is not your grandfather’s puppet show. This is absolutely hands down a revelry of that other kind of performance art that whisks us away willingly to a surreal world.
This festival is filled with old worldly artists, in the truest sense of the word. Over 40 Puppet Troupes have come to NYC to be a part of this amazing event. They were raised in a life we couldn’t possibly understand. Their grandfather’s shadow puppets were kept in a musty old suitcase and lovingly handed down generation to generation. They communicated with marionettes around their dinner table. They learned to make shadow puppets before they could spell. These are people for whom the word “performance” is not recognized as part of their job description, but rather a natural living organism that resides within them 24/7. Puppeteers whose skills and talents have been inherited; it’s in their blood to become puppeteers, a right of passage, an honorable occupation. They mostly come from the far corners of Europe, and the pride they take in their work is flooring. They demand respect, and they get it.
The International Puppet Fringe Festival NYC is a bi-annual puppet theater fringe festival hosted by Teatro SEA (Society of the Education Arts) and The Clemente in the Lower East Side of New York City and this year has been joined with the Museum of the City of New York to help create “Puppet Week NYC” with their exhibition: “Puppets of New York” where you can see Lamp Chop, Howdy Doody, puppets from The Lion King, and the “mahna-mahna-doo-doo” muppets from The Muppet Show in person. (For those of my generation who were raised on The Muppet Show you now have that tune stuck in your head)! I can’t tell you how meaningful and moving it was for me to be standing face to face with a glorious, albeit weathered, original Oscar the Grouch from Sesame Street.
The festival itself hasn’t been around long, having had its first edition in 2018, at the Clemente Soto Velez Cultural and Educational Center. The Festival is a glorious mélange of puppet shows, short films and artist talks with international puppet theater companies. The Puppet Fringe Festival is the first ever international fringe festival solely dedicated to puppetry, and NYC is the lucky recipient.
You can see the fans among the crowd; the “puppet enthusiasts” if you will, who wear the all-access-pass with lanyards around their necks. There are those who attend just to be part of the happenings of NYC, those who bring their kids to see fabulous puppet shows, but mostly, it’s filled with adults who appreciate a time-honored art and a magical form of entertainment that perhaps isn’t given the high profile spot-light it deserves.
Organized by Teatro SEA, Grupo Morán (The Morán Group) and The Clemente Soto Velez Cultural & Education Center, the festival had live performances held at La Plaza at The Clemente Center, as well as virtual performances which still continue until the end of August, workshops and film screenings. As part of the celebration, Puppets of New York companion exhibitions are open downtown at The Clemente Center and uptown at the Museum of the City of New York.
The festival also honors Center for Puppetry Arts founder Vincent Anthony, and included appearances by Lamb Chop, Mallory Lewis and Leslee Asch.
Many of the live Puppet Fringe events were free, outdoors, and open to the public.
Many of the featured artists performed at Henson Festivals, and all continue to create and perform in downtown NYC and Co-curated by Leslee Asch, the producing director of all five Henson Foundation International Festivals of Puppet Theater, and Monxo López of the Museum of the City of New York (MCNY).
The Exhibition on International Collaboration / SEA Puppetry (at the Clemente) highlights the different types of puppets used throughout SEA’s history, providing a sample of SEA’s puppets and characters. The various puppets featured include shadow, cabezudos, vejigantes, hand and rod puppets, in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and styles. These puppets were created by the international artists Deborah Hunt (New Zealand-Puerto Rico), Ingrid Hamster Harris (Holland-Canada), Zenén Calero (Cuba), Víctor Navarro (Spain), Shinde Chithambara Rao (India), Álvaro Ortega Beltrán (Spain), Cristina Arancibia (Chile) and José López (Puerto Rico), who was SEA’s Puppet Master and Designer for 30 years.
The Puppets of New York: Downtown at The Clemente is showing until March 2022 at Abrazo Intero Gallery (@ The Clemente) until September 30. The Clemente Center, 107 Suffolk Street, NYC (free or donation entry).
The Festival remains virtual until the end of August. The full program listing is available at:
The Puppets of New York exhibition at The Museum of the City of New York is currently open and will remain so for at least the next few months (no set end date at this point).
Location: Museum of the City of New York, 1220 Fifth Avenue, NYC