Looking back on a year of puppetry

by John Lechner

Bonnie Duncan of The Gottabees, with penguin puppet.

Last year was challenging for everyone, not least puppeteers. But the Boston Area Guild of Puppetry managed to continue on, hosting virtual gatherings and workshops to provide our members with inspiration, education, and celebration. Here is a look back at some of our guild highlights from 2021!

In March we hosted a virtual performance of ScreenPLAY! by Bonnie Duncan of The Gottabees (photo above). This action-packed participatory series was developed by Bonnie as a response to the pandemic and the need for truly interactive online experiences for children. We all had a great time acting out the adventure with Bonnie traveling to the Arctic, and we learned a lot about the process going into such an interactive program. 

Photo of Gail Kearns with her Halloween puppet.

In May we paid tribute to one of our longtime members who passed away last year, Gail Kearns (photo right). At our virtual meeting we shared stories of Gail’s many contributions to our guild and the impact she had on so many people, locally and nationally. Gail’s extensive library of puppetry books was donated to our guild by her family, and we have yet to go through them and find homes for them all. 

In August, it actually seemed like the pandemic was on its way out, as the new vaccine took hold. So we had a hybrid outdoor meeting, that was streamed online for those who could not come. Kurt Staven and his wife Karen were our hosts in Ware, MA, which was far enough west that some of our friends in the new Western Massachusetts Puppetry Guild could join us. We had a great program with Tanglewood Marionettes, who talked about their career and how they are surviving through the pandemic (photo below). 

Peter and Anne Schaefer demonstrate their puppets at our summer meeting.
Puppeteer Edna Bland

In September, our special guest was Edna Bland, Puppeteers of America Board Member and Chair of their Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee (photo right). She gave a wonderful presentation on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in the puppetry world, drawing from her years of experience as a teacher and puppeteer. We had a thoughtful and open discussion about the issues today and how puppeteers can address them. 

Our November guild meeting featured an online workshop by Linda Wingerter of The Stringpullers about Flat Mechanics, simple mechanisms for shadow puppets and toy theater. We learned about levers, pulleys, and the infinite number of ways that puppets can be jointed together to create different effects. We also experimented with our own cardboard creations and learned about prototyping with everyday materials. Linda showed us some of her intricate shadow puppets like those from Romeo and Juliet (see photo below). It was very inspiring! 

Shadow puppets by Linda Wingerter of The Stringpullers.

So, what’s in store for 2022? We will continue with virtual meetings every other month while the pandemic continues. If you aren’t already a member, or if you haven’t renewed this year, I encourage you to become a member for 2022. In addition to our bi-monthly meetings and newsletter, we offer many other benefits like our website directory, festival scholarships, and grants for new works. We also have an email list to share news of upcoming puppetry events and workshops. 

If you are interested in learning more, please contact guild president John Lechner with your questions – JMLechner (at) aol.com.  

Next Meeting Sunday January 9th

New Work Presentation: Race Cars with Anna Sobel

At our January online meeting, Anna Sobel of Talking Hands Theatre will present her work in progress Race Cars, a tabletop show for young children. In this show, an electric car, a hybrid car, and a gas-powered car have a race. Who will win the mystery prize? No matter who wins, everyone will need to work together to spell out what the prize is! 

This show focuses on early literacy as well as potty training. For ages 2-6. Puppets by Mary Nagler of Whorls of Wonder. Anna will talk about her process and answer questions. This project was supported by a New Works Grant from the Boston Area Guild of Puppetry. 

We will also have sharing from anyone who wants to show what they’ve been working on. And we will also review and vote on a new budget proposal and schedule for the coming year. A Zoom link will be sent to all members of the Boston Area Guild of Puppetry. Not a member? Check out our membership page!

Workshop: Flat Mechanics with Linda Wingerter

We have an exciting event planned for our November meeting, presenting a virtual workshop by renowned puppet artist Linda Wingerter on a special night, Friday November 19th, 6:30-8:30 PM. See all the details below! 

When: Nov 19th. 6:30-8:30pm

Where: Your workspace on Zoom, link has been sent to all guild members. (Not a member? Join here!)

What: Flat Mechanics: simple mechanisms for shadow puppets and toy theaterIn this workshop we’ll play with ideas for prototyping with cheap and abundant materials to get more movement from 2D puppets using linkages, stops, and returns. 

Who: Linda Wingerter is a third generation puppetry artist building, teaching and performing puppets as The Stringpullers Co. in Ithaca, NY. She has a BFA in Illustration from the Rhode Island School of Design and has taught puppetry at Quinnipiac University, Fairfield University, Cornell University, and the Yale School of Drama. Working primarily in shadow puppet films, she specializes in simple, practical, and cheap “flat mechanics”. Linda is a 2021 recipient of a Handmade Puppet Dreams Film Micro-Commission.

This will be a hands-on workshop, here is a list of materials suggested by Linda:  
– A pin board: This is just a couple sheets of around 10×15″ corrugated cardboard stacked and taped together to create a thick work surface that thumbtacks can be stuck into. Thick corkboard or 2 layers of foam board will work, too. 
– Flat thumb tacks and pushpins (both kinds needed)
– Cereal-type box board: bigger sheets without folds, such as from cereal boxes or frozen pizza, are best. Should be easy to cut with scissors.
– Cardstock (or file folders). Something that can be cut with scissors but somewhat sturdy.
– Wire, 22 or 24 gauge is best, but also paper clips or wire pulled out of twist ties can work in a pinch.
– Wire cutters, or whatever will cut your type of wire.
– Rubber bands, any type
– Scissors
– Tape: masking, and blue painters is great if you have it
– String: a kind that runs smoothly through straws but doesn’t break when pulled. Dental floss, fishing line, or other household stringy things can be used. 

EXTRAS, if you’d like, not required:
– Mini brads (also called paper fasteners or spilt pins): not the thick office brads, but the tiny ones you get in scrapbooking supply aisles in craft stores. The thinner the pins, the better. I use these for joints for fast prototyping rather than wire.
– Pliers: if you have thick wire and no brads, you might want these for coiling your wire for joints. 
– Paper straws – I use as guides for string pulls. Not necessary for this workshop but good to use. 
– Glue gun: if you have one around. I often use it to reinforce floppy parts, but it is not crucial for this workshop.

We hope to see you at this exciting workshop!  Even if you are unable to build along, it will be inspiring to hear from Linda and learn from her techniques, which can be adapted to many different kinds of puppets. 

This workshop is sponsored by the Boston Area Guild of Puppetry and free to all members. Afterwards, people are welcome to stay and share their projects, or share anything else they’ve been working on. Many thanks to our Vice President Honey Goodenough for organizing this amazing workshop. Watch for the guild newsletter coming out soon. 

September Meeting – Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in the Puppetry Arts Community

Sunday Sept. 19th, 5-7 PM

Online via Zoom (Link has been sent to all Guild members)

Join Puppeteers of America Board Member and Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, Chair Edna Bland for an antidotal talk about diversity’s role in our puppetry community. Come with your questions and comments as we open the discussion of the differences between cultural appreciation vs. appropriateness, touch on personal pronouns, special needs awareness and how we can make a difference as artists.

If you aren’t a member of the Boston Area Guild of Puppetry and want to learn more about our organization and meetings, contact guild president John Lechner – john (at) fablevision.com

Summer Outdoor Meeting

Peter Schaefer and Anne Schaefer of Tanglewood Marionettes

In case you missed our summer outdoor meeting on August 1st, here are a few photos. We gathered at the home of one of our members, Kurt Staven, in Ware, MA. He set up a tent in the backyard, and we had a great presentation by the Tanglewood Marionettes, as well as members of the Western Massachusetts Puppetry Guild. Hope we can do it again next year!

Eric Weiss shows puppets he made
Jacek Zuzanski shows his puppets
Alice Schaefer and Peter Schaefer

May Meeting – Remembering Gail Kearns

One of our longtime members, Gail Kearns, passed away unexpectedly in March. Gail was a member of our guild since 1989, and despite not being a full-time puppeteer (she was primarily an educator), she was one of our most active and supportive members. 

She served on our board for many years in different positions, including Vice President and Recording Secretary. She rarely missed a guild meeting, driving in from Concord, MA, usually with a homemade cake in hand. She also hosted many of our summer meetings on her big screened-in porch, and welcomed us all like family.

Gail was also a prolific writer for our newsletter, and took copious notes at workshops and festivals she attended. She also volunteered at countless guild events and Day of Puppetry activities. Back in 2009, she organized a puppet-making project to benefit Peace Through Puppets, an organization that collects puppets for American soldiers overseas to give to children in war-torn countries. Gail cut and sewed 35 cloth hand puppets that we could all decorate. In more recent years, she started a legacy lecture series at our meetings, where longtime puppeteers could share their life experiences with others.  

    Gail was a generous and caring presence in our guild, and she will be greatly missed. We will share more memories of Gail at our guild meeting on Sunday May 16th. Details have been sent to all our members. If you are interested in joining, contact John Lechner – john (at) fablevision.com.

Virtual Day of Puppetry Gathering

Sunday March 21, 5:30 PM

The March meeting of the Boston Area Guild of Puppetry will be on Sunday March 21st, which is also World Puppetry Day! Our featured activity will be a presentation of ScreenPLAY by Bonnie Duncan of The Gottabees.

ScreenPLAY is non-stop interactive FUN, where the whole family becomes part of the story over Zoom, exploring movement, puppetry, theater, and the irresistible power of being ridiculous. Come join the fun!

We will start our meeting at 5:30, and ScreenPLAY will begin promptly at 5:45. After the show, Bonnie will answer questions about how this unique show was created. After that, there will be time for Show and Tell — bring a puppet friend, or just share what you’ve been up to. 

A Zoom link will be sent to all members of the Boston Area Guild of Puppetry. If you’re not a member, but are interested in puppetry and would like to attend our virtual meeting, contact our president John Lechner for details – JMLechner (at) aol.com.

That same weekend, also check out the great events happening at Puppet Showplace Theater, like the Puppet Slam on Saturday March 20th, and Rock the Boat on Sunday March 21st at 3:00!

Our annual guild party goes online

Puppet Logo
Sunday Jan. 17, 2021, 5:00 PM

January is when we usually have a party and cabaret, and this year it will be online! We will play fun Puppet Trivia games (bring a trivia question!) We will have an extended Show and Tell, so bring your latest project to share. If anyone wants to do a 5-minute performance for the group, please contact John Lechner. It will be a time to catch up with friends and toast the new year. Bring a puppet friend, or a human one! 

The Zoom link will be sent to all members of the Boston Area Guild of Puppetry. Not a member yet? Our membership year starts in January, so this is the perfect time to join! Visit this page or contact John Lechner – john (at) fablevision.com – for more information.

Virtual Puppet Con: Northeast Edition

This fall the Northeast Region is hosting Virtual Puppet Con: Northeast Edition, October 2-11. Organized by our Regional Director Sharon Murphy Boski and a team of volunteers, the weeklong virtual conference will feature performances and workshops online, along with panel discussions, films, and more.

The Northeast Region of Puppeteers of America consists of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, upstate New York, and Eastern Canada. Virtual Puppet Con: Northeast Edition is a celebration of the Puppetry of the Region. The proceeds from this event will support the Northeast Region of Puppeteers of America, so we can continue to fund collective projects, like Regional Festivals and this virtual event.

There will be performances, workshops, panels, films, a special section for youth and families, historical documentaries, a puppet slam, shopping, an open mic night, and more unique content!

Registration is now open, check the website or Facebook page for updates! Official website: www.puppetconnect.com

September Guild Meeting

The Boston Area Guild of Puppetry will have a virtual meeting Sunday Sept. 13th, 4:30-6:30 PM. It’s earlier this time because we have a very special guest lined up, puppeteer Art Gruenberger of Puppet Art Theater Co.  Art will talk about how to jumpstart your entertainment business in the era of COVID. Art has spent the spring and summer shifting his live puppetry business online, and has become an expert in live-streaming puppetry. He’ll talk about some of the lessons he’s learned, and also answer your questions, so bring them!  

We’ll gather at 4:30, and have a bit of Show and Tell before the program starts at 5:00. Then we’ll have more Show and Tell after if anyone else has something else to share. 

The Zoom link has been sent out to all our members. If you didn’t receive the link and would like to join us, contact John Lechner, JMLechner (at) aol.com.