The Future of American Puppetry and the Schools

The World changes.

The other night Jay Leno caught himself dialing when he was making reference to calling someone on the phone.

I remember when growing up going into a neighbor’s garage where they had a wind up Victrola and the 1/4″ thick 78 rpm records. No hundred of those records can be stored and played back on a device no bigger than a pack of paper matches, and about twice as wide.

When my grandmother got married, she and my grandfather put everything they had into a wagon drawn by an ox and built a house out of dirt. . . in Nebraska.

And before that, people lived in caves.

But to backtrack a bit the re-birth of theatre in the middle ages brought back the story-tellers with the little moving statues. While popular tradition says “marionettes” are the little Mary figures used by those story tellers, the mariole (instrument) players who entertained people is probably a source for the word with the instrument player become more synonymous with entertainer.

There is historical literature referencing puppeteers in colonial America but it is not until the 1900’s that most American puppetry seems to have spread.

It was the puppetry pioneers who took puppetry to the pre-television heartland of America: The Steven’s, the Coleman’s, the Cole’s, the Rose’s, the Proctor’s, and many others. And where did they market? The schools. I have attended festivals where accomplished puppeteers fondly remember their inspiration from members of this group. (I saw the Cole’s.)

In pre-television America glimpses of culture and entertainments outside the movie theater (if the town was big enough to have one) were rare. I toured an historic home in New Orleans and a display case had a doll of a 5 year old dressed in her “going to the opera” clothing. Some members of the group marveled a a five year old going to the opera! But, I pointed out that there was no music on demand at the turn of the 1900’s. Going to the opera was a rare chance to hear an orchestra and beautifully trained voices, and costumese, and lights. That would be a grand experience for a five year old.

The world changes.

We have entertainment on demand. Schools are no longer the social and cultural centers they once were. Puppeteers no longer go into schools to inspire children with their artistry.

next – where do puppeteers come from

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