Detroit, the Cradle of Modern Puppetry?

Detroit, the cradle of modern puppetry. Detroit is currently home to PuppetART: Detroit Puppet Theater. Founded in 1995 by three Russian Immigrants, PuppetART has called Detroit home since 1998. Maintaining that no big city should be without a puppet theater, they sought out their residence on E. Grand River near the corner of Woodward Avenue. Once they established this location, the troop of puppeteers and theater professionals were surprised to learn that Detroit has a long and unique puppet history.

In 1929, a puppeteer by the name of Paul McPharlin created the Marionette Fellowship located near the corner of Woodward and Hancock, and in 1936 the Fellowship held the first National Puppetry Festival right here in Detroit. The conference events were held at the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Hotel Webster Hall and the Artisan Guild. The Festival brought together prominent puppeteers from all over the United States and Canada to celebrate puppetry and share new works. The events of this conference led to the formation of the Puppeteers of America the following year. The 75th anniversary of the premier puppetry event was recently held in Atlanta, Ga. The National Puppetry Festival is now held biannually and combines puppeteers and friends from around the world to study, share, inspire, enlighten, entertain, and be entertained.

Come in to PuppetART Theater on any given Saturday and you will experience puppetry in much the way it was intended. Puppetry is the convergence of all art forms, from drama to dance and music to the visual & digital arts, it's all there. PuppetART includes not only a performance space, but a museum and studio as well. After every performance, audience members can take part in a puppet making workshop. Each artist will work with artistic director and master puppeteer, Igor Gozman to create their own puppet.

Following the creation of their puppet, the young artists receive a quick lesson on how to bring their puppet to life, and engage in the age-old tradition of storytelling. Many times PuppetART provides a child's first experience in the arts. Tragically it is also the only experience for children whose arts education programming has been completely eliminated. Puppetry is not just an art form -- it is also a valuable teaching tool that PuppetART is dedicated to sharing with the educators all across Southeastern Michigan. Since 1998, nearly 200,000 children and adults have attended programs that showcase the traditions and folk tales of different cultures using a variety of uniquely crafted puppets and scenery.

PuppetART isn't the only spot in the city that works with puppets. The Detroit Puppeteers Guild remains one of the largest guilds in the country. The guild is a collection of puppet professionals who not only advocate the art form, but also offer all types of performance options from birthday party entertainment to puppets and special effects for television and film. The Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) houses one of the largest collections of puppets in the nation including a collection from Paul McPharlin himself. You can see puppet performances and exhibits at the DIA on a rotating basis. The Matrix Theatre Company is also well-known for their giant puppets that make appearances in the community at parades and festivals among other things.

While I have only given you a glimpse into why Detroit is the cradle of modern puppetry, I hope it will arouse your interest to take in a performance or exhibit in the near future. In a time where we are embracing Detroit's heritage and sharing with the world all the wonderful traditions to come out of the city, we can count puppetry as a large part of that diverse heritage.