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The Ellen Van Volkenburg Puppetry Symposium

by California Digital News

The Ellen Van Volkenburg Puppetry Symposium brings together practicing Festival artists with scholars to consider the intersection of puppetry with other disciplines and ideas. Before 1912, the year the Little Theater of Chicago was founded in the historic Fine Arts Building, the term “puppeteer” did not even exist. Little Theater director Ellen Van Volkenburg needed a program credit for the actors she had trained to manipulate marionettes while speaking the text of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and she coined the word “puppeteer.” That marked the dawn of the movement that has brought us to the rich art form now practiced around the world.

This year’s Symposium will feature Festival Artists on four different artist panels discussing the materiality of the puppet in both theory and practice. It also features book talks by puppet scholars of four new U.S. publications released this year. Mexican-American writer, artist and philosopher, Manuel DeLanda calls for a new materialism noting that by splitting the supposedly indivisible atom, modern physics has demolished the tangible solidity on which Aristotle defined the “real.” Taking “material images of humans, animals, or spirits that are created, displayed, or manipulated in narrative or dramatic performance,” as performing objects in anthropologist and folklorist Frank Proschan’s terms, the theme of the Symposium series will move from materialism to material performance, to material characters, to the actual material of the puppet asking, what is it made of and how is it made while looking at what the design and the materials enable object performance to express about material existence.

Artist Panels and Book Talks


Friday, January 19 at 5 p.m. CST

Author Colette Searls: A Galaxy of Things: The Power of Puppets and Masks in Star Wars and Beyond
A Galaxy of Things explores the ways in which all puppets, masks, makeup-prosthetic figures are “material characters,” using iconic Star Wars characters like Yoda and R2-D2 to illustrate what makes them so compelling.


Saturday, January 20

10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. CST

Panel 1 – Mechanisms explores the question: How do mechanisms, both digital and mechanical, ingenious and simple work to animate the material characters and performance?

Matthew Gawryk & Dan Kerr-Hobert, Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities: A Toy Theater Atlas
Tarish “Jeghetto” Pipkins, The Hip Hopera of SP1N0K10
Michael Vogel, Spleen


Sunday, January 21

10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. CST

Panel 2 – Materials explores the question: What tells the story? How does the performance start with the selection of materials chosen for the puppet and set fabrication?

Iwan Effendi & Maria Tri Sulistyani (Ria), A Bucket of Beetles
Jacqueline Serafín & Iker Vicente, The Beast Dance
Hamid Rahmanian, Song of the North


Tuesday, January 23 at 5 p.m. CST

Author Dr. Paulette Richards: Object Performance in the Black Atlantic
Given that slaveholders prohibited the creation of African-style performing objects, is there a traceable connection between traditional African puppets, masks, and performing objects, and contemporary African American puppetry? This study approaches the question by looking at the whole performance complex surrounding African performing objects and examines the material culture of object performance.


Friday, January 26 at 4:30 p.m. CST

Author Dr. Claudia Orenstein: Reading the Puppet Stage: Reflections on the Dramaturgy of Performing Objects
Drawing on the author’s two decades of seeing, writing on, and teaching about puppetry from a critical perspective, this book offers a collection of insights into how we watch, understand, and appreciate puppetry.


Saturday, January 27

10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. CST

Panel 3 – Manipulation explores the question: How does the material used to construct the puppet affect the manipulation technique used to animate it? How do the needs of the performance influence the choice of materials and manipulation techniques?

Michael Montenegro, Little Carl
Basil Twist, Book of Mountains and Seas
Yael Rasooly
Tita Jacobelli and Natacha Belova, Chayka


Saturday, January 27 at 4:30 p.m. CST

Authors Dr. Claudia Orenstein & Tim Cusack: Puppet and Spirit: Ritual, Religion, and Performing Objects
The relationship between human consciousness and the material world raises ontological questions about the nature of reality itself. In The Puppet and Spirit asks “What is the ontological nature of a supposed spirit perceived as acting through objects?”


Sunday, January 28

10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. CST

Panel 4 – Construction Techniques explores the question: How do various building techniques – simple and direct, or complex – impact character, presentation, and storytelling?

Dagmara Sowa and Paweł Chomczyk, Krabat
Fedelis Kyalo, Tears by the River
Federico Restrepo, Lunch with Sonia


About HowlRound TV

HowlRound TV is a global, commons-based, peer-produced, open-access livestreaming and video archive project stewarded by the nonprofit HowlRound. HowlRound TV is a free and shared resource for live conversations and performances relevant to the world’s performing arts and cultural fields. Its mission is to break geographic isolation, promote resource sharing, and develop our knowledge commons collectively. Anyone can participate in a community of peer organizations revolutionizing the flow of information, knowledge, and access in our field by becoming a producer and co-producing with us. Learn more by going to our participate page. For any other queries, email [email protected] or call Vijay Mathew at +1 917.686.3185 Signal. View the video archive of past events.

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