Puppet festival returns to New York, all grown up

After more than a year of crises linked to the pandemic, Manuel Antonio Morán wanted to give New York a gift. He envisioned something l...


After more than a year of crises linked to the pandemic, Manuel Antonio Morán wanted to give New York a gift. He envisioned something light and uplifting, but as stimulating and varied as the city itself. The answer? Puppets.

But there is nothing here to make you giggle or roll your eyes. the International Puppet Fringe Festival NYC, who arrives this week with more than 50 shows and events, more than a dozen short films and five accompanying exhibitions, including “Puppets of New York” at the Museum of the City of New York, is far from a children’s party.

“The false perception in the United States is that puppets are only for children or should be used for education” Moran, the artistic director of the festival, said in an interview with Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural and Educational Center, the programming hub of the Lower East Side. “It’s something that I fight every day.”

This festival, which offers 60 percent of its performances for free (tickets for the rest are $ 15 each), can help win over skeptics. Although Morán founded Puppet Fringe NYC as a biennial in 2018 – Covid-19 prevented its 2020 edition – this version is almost twice the size of the original and essentially a rebirth. Kicking off Wednesday with the first Puppet Week NYC, which includes five days of live events, the festival runs through August 31, mostly in virtual form, with performances from countries like India, Israel, Argentina, Spain, South Korea and Côte d’Ivoire. .

It “represents the whole immigrant philosophy of the Lower East Side, channeled through the prism of these other citizens who are puppets,” said Libertad O. Guerra, the executive director of Clemente. The center produces Puppet Fringe NYC with MER Theater, Morán’s downtown Latin theater started in 1985, and Morán’s own agency, Moran Group.

This year’s festival will also have puppet building workshops, including four for adults. And for those whose tastes go towards the politically barbed wire or the comically risky, two puppet evenings reserved for adults are planned, one of them is called “Bawdy, Naughty Puppet Cabaret / Puppet Slam”.

“They include burlesque elements,” Morán said of the slam, which will be presented on Saturday by the Greater New York Puppet Guild. “There might be a bit of skin,” he added, laughing.

But perhaps the most innovative element of this festival is its partnership with the Museum of the City of New York, which will inaugurate its 2,500 square foot exhibition with a sold-out celebration Thursday night. “New York Puppets, Which runs through early April at the Uptown Manhattan Museum, features photographs, videos, films and sets, as well as more than 60 puppets. They range from cardboard finger models designed by Penny jones to the 12-foot-tall Titanya of José A. López Alemán, the fairy queen of “Sueño“, The Afro-Caribbean version of the Teatro SEA of” A Midsummer Night’s Dream “.

“The main argument of the uptown show is that the history of puppetry in New York City reflects the demographics of the city,” said Monxo López, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fellow who organized “Puppets of New York”. And, he noted, “many different puppeteers who reflect this diversity have not been as visible as others. It was important to tell this story of diversity, visibility, inclusion, in a way that also showed joy and possibility. “

To this end, the exhibition includes not only creations by famous masters like Jim henson and Ralph lee, but also the work of artists like the Manteo family, who brought Sicilian puppets in intricate metal armor when they immigrated to New York a century ago, and Derek Fordjour and Nick lehane, including the 2020 puppet production, “Fly awayStarred an unnamed young black man.

“My strategy was that each object should tell as many stories as possible,” said López, who also collaborated with the author and curator. Leslee Asch to organise “Puppets of New York: Downtown at the Clemente», A complementary exhibition presented until September 30. It joins three other art exhibitions which will be held there until August: “Teatro SEA’s International Collaborations”; “Murals of Puppetry Around the World”, featuring paintings by Alfredo Hernández; and ‘Vince Anthony’s Legacy’, which celebrates the retired founder of the Puppet Arts Center in Atlanta, to which the festival is dedicated.

The exhibitions reveal a synergy with the live shows of the festival, which will mainly be presented outdoors. (All in-person events require registration and face masks.) Chinese theatrical works, who will deliver dragons puppets and the Chinese judge of the dead to Clemente Square for four nights in “The Triple Zhongkui Pageant”, will be represented by shadow puppets at the Museum of the City of New York. Also at these two locations will be Lamb chop, perhaps the most memorable – and fiery – sock puppet of all time, who appeared on children’s television for 40 years with her ventriloquist co-star, Shari lewis.

“He’s the puppet velvet bunny,” Lewis’s daughter said, Mallory lewis, referring to Margery Williams’ children’s classic about a stuffed animal that becomes real. On Wednesday evening, Mallory Lewis and Lamb Chop will perform “The Shari Lewis Legacy Show,” an interactive production featuring a new ending linked to the pandemic. “It’s a tribute to first responders,” she said in a telephone interview.

Other family shows will take place throughout the weekend. Bruce Canon, artistic director of the Swedish Cottage Puppet Theater in Central Park, brings his talents to the City Parks Foundation’s jazzy production of “Little Red Riding Hood”, Which will be played in English (Saturday) and Spanish (Sunday).

Besides this fairy tale, in which the wolf stalks Little Red across Manhattan, Cannon will present his “Harlem River Road», A tribute to a man, Sunday.

“He explores how Harlem came to be Harlem,” he said in a telephone interview. While tackling serious topics like racism and depression, it also features cheerful music and multiple kinds of puppets, all operated by Cannon. They usually include a Diana Ross-inspired puppet – absent from the festival show because she is in “Puppets of New York” – and two by Michael Jackson. (When was the last time you saw a puppet walking on the moon?)

Deborah Hunting, a New Zealander living in Puerto Rico, will also examine the evolution of a community in three depictions of “The Macanuda“, Whose title, she said in a telephone conversation, means” a great and friendly being. ” Hunt, whose work appears in the Teatro SEA exhibition, portrays the character in a puppet that envelops his entire body. Accompanied by cutouts, scrolls, and a smaller puppet, it stages a wordless tale – essentially a statement supporting immigrants – in which La Macanuda saves the victims of an ogre destroying the city. “She’s a good start for me,” said Hunt, whose work often tends towards the macabre.

The stars of the Clemente district in the nocturnal performances of “Los Grises / Les Grises”, Morán’s music show on community elders, and Saturday and Sunday in“ Once Upon a Time in the Lower East Side, ”which the center commissioned from Junktown Duende Collective, a troupe that creates puppets from recycled materials.

Its production is “centered around a building where waves of immigrants have settled,” said Adam endé, member of Junktown Duende. And it is “specifically on the history of immigrant puppets”.

If the show deals with gentrification and police brutality, it also illustrates the transformation of a devastated space into a community garden. And like Puppet Fringe NYC, it’s a testament to strength in tough times. “The struggle continues,” Ende said. “And we celebrate together, endlessly.”

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