Puppets in the Post-Pinocchio Era They're Not Simple Wood-and-String Toys Anymore, as the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta Proves

By Elizabeth Levitan Spaid, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, October 21, 1994 | Go to article overview

Puppets in the Post-Pinocchio Era They're Not Simple Wood-and-String Toys Anymore, as the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta Proves


Elizabeth Levitan Spaid, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


THE stage is bare and dark, and the only props the two performers use include a chair, a black hat, a small shirt, a pair of fake eyeballs, and a nose. But for an hour they enthrall and astonish the audience, which laughs uproariously at points.

In their performance of "The Adventures of Ginocchio," Hugo Suarez and Ines Pasic, otherwise known as Teatro Hugo & Ines, use pantomime and puppetry to transform various body parts into a hodgepodge of hilarious characters. A foot becomes a face mimicking a variety of expressions; fingers intertwined in a certain way turn into a dancing girl; Hugo sits in a chair, attaches the eyeballs and nose to his kneecap, puts a shirt on his leg and his arms through the sleeves, turning this "puppet" into a street musician with a life of its own. The performers behind the characters seem to disappear as their limbs, hands, and feet become animated beings.

For anyone who thinks puppetry is limited to string or hand puppets that dangle or bob up and down behind a two-dimensional stage, a visit to the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta, where Teatro Hugo & Ines recently performed, will quickly shatter that assumption.

Located in a three-story brick building that used to be a school, the Center for Puppetry Arts is the largest organization dedicated to the art of puppetry in North America.

Inside its doors, a museum houses more than 200 puppets from around the world, ranging from primitive 13th-century Mexican clay figures to exquisitely crafted Asian rod puppets to Link Hogthrob and Dr. Strangepork, Jim Henson's famous pigs who appeared on the "Pigs in Space" episodes of "The Muppet Show."

In addition to the museum, three theaters provide space for a variety of shows. During the day, hundreds of schoolchildren fill the seats to see the center's resident company and other artists put on shows such as "Paul Bunyan and Other Tall Tales" and "Dinosaurs." In the evening, company and international artists stretch the definition of puppetry in their performances for adults.

There are also several rooms devoted to educational activities where children learn how to make their own puppets. In the basement are work areas filled with creative clutter, including a prop room and a design room where huge dinosaur feet, sewing machines, fabric, and other tools of the trade are scattered.

The Center for Puppetry Arts was started here in 1978 by Vincent Anthony, executive director, who made a career switch in the 1960s from acting to puppetry. "I decided this was so wonderful that I really wanted to do it the rest of my life, and I really have," he says during an interview. The seeds for creating the center were planted in the 1970s when Mr. Anthony, then president of Puppeteers of America, helped plan an international event of puppetry performances and exhibits in Washington, to spotlight the art form.

"During that time I realized that all the things we were pulling together were going to be gone after 1980 - major exhibits to look at puppetry historically, globally, politically, big education programs, the world's resources of performances . …

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