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.