On my way to DC to see a reading of my play Sonata for Four Hands in the Jewish Plays Project this past weekend, I had a long layover in Atlanta and was finally able to visit a place I’ve wanted to see for years…
The Center for Puppetry Arts!
I was totally that one weird adult who showed up alone and cried while looking at the puppets, which is to say, I had an excellent time.
I didn’t have time to see a performance (must return someday…maybe I’ll even bring my kids like a normal person) but I had a chance to gaze upon the many beautiful puppets from around the world. At one point, I spotted a puppet across the room who looked familiar to me. The character itself was not what I recognized, rather the style of puppet. It made me feel all mushy inside and I wanted to give it a hug (they keep most of the puppets behind glass to protect them from weirdos like me). I crossed the room to read the tag, and it was a Sergei Obratsov puppet! I read a lot by and about Obratsov when I was in grad school. I simply adore his puppets. I also adore the word “puppetness,” which he is credited with inventing (kukolnost in Russian…however despite research by myself and my husband in both English and Russian, we were unable to find a primary source to verify his use of the word).
Recognizing the Obratsov puppet reminded me of one of my favorite things about puppetness…the openness and generosity of puppetmakers and puppeteers. Several kind people took time to show me their methods of puppetmaking when I was getting started a few years ago. One of them said something that stuck with me (I’m paraphrasing here): “Puppetmakers share. Even if I tell you my exact technique step by step, your puppets will look different than mine.” And it’s true. As soon as I started making my own puppets, I realized I had a “style.” I didn’t really work to cultivate it. It just emerged from the process. I don’t think of myself primarily as a visual artist, and my puppets are not nearly as beautiful as many I’ve seen. But they’re mine, and they work for my shows.
As I work on a couple of new puppet projects, the heaping dose of puppetness from this magical place in Atlanta was a welcome gift.