Out of the Shadows:
The Henson Festivals and Their Impact on Contemporary Puppet Theater
What is the first name that comes to mind when you hear the word puppet? Likely, it’s Jim Henson. Many books and thousands of pages have been written about Jim Henson’s life and work. This will, however, be the first book to focus solely on his love of the field of puppetry, an important and as yet unexplored aspect of Jim Henson’s lasting legacy. The Jim Henson Foundation’s International Puppet Festivals brought puppet theater into mainstream American theater.
Jim Henson knew that in order to introduce U.S. audiences to puppet theater our American companies would need to be seen with the best in the world. Thus, a festival! To realize Jim Henson’s vision for a puppetry festival in New York, the author served as producing director, working with Jim’s daughter Cheryl, who served as executive producer, to produce five award-winning festivals that would equal the European festivals and put U.S. puppet artists on the international stage.
Between 1992 and 2000, The Jim Henson Foundation presented five International Festivals of Puppet Theater in New York City, and developed a national touring program. The festivals presented 136 different productions from 31 countries in 24 theaters throughout New York City. Over 120,000 people attended New York performances; nearly 400,000 saw exhibitions; 100,000 more attended Festival on Tour performances; and millions of people read about the festivals.
Out of the Shadows examines the festivals and their continued legacy, including a look at the contemporary puppet theater landscape. This year, 2020, is the 20th Anniversary of the last Henson Festival and the 30th Anniversary of Jim Henson’s death. It is time to reflect back.
Header Photo: The World Puppetry Collection. Photo courtesy of the Center for Puppetry Arts, Atlanta.