Researching puppet theater could end up taking a lifetime seeing as how it is centuries old and is an art form that’s practiced world wide. I dove into some of the history of the art, and then more specifically in bigger cities. A lot of it is theatrics for children, which is understandable, but there are a lot of examples of amazing works out there for mature audiences as well. Unfortunately there are very few examples of well branded puppet theaters. As mentioned before also, a lot of great puppetry doesn’t happen in a single place; puppet theater troupes often roam or perform specific shows in various theaters or locales. Those troupes often don’t seem unified enough to invest in a brand either, though there is a mild amount of promotional material that communicates what kinds of performances they provide.
I have to have faith in Pine Boy as a concept, but I also have to be realistic enough to understand my challenge. As seen in these images, successful puppetry occurs all over the world and presents some striking visuals. To name a few bigger names in the business (because not doing so would be a discredit to the art): Punch & Judy, Wayang Kulit, The Jim Henson Company, Mr. Squiggle, Julie Taymor, Bread & Puppet, and the Bob Baker Marionette Theater. There are many more, but for the purpose of this project, the history and movers and shakers of the art are just the outer layer.
In New York City, I’ve found a few ideas that are or were similar to the approach of a local puppet house for children and adults. Among them are the Cosmic Bicycle Theatre and ClockWorks Puppetry Studios, Great Small Works, Basil Twist, Drama of Works, the Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre, and Lone Wolf Tribe. Then there’s also Manhattan’s only permanent puppet theater the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre in Central Park. Here’s a round up of some of the visuals from these local troupes and artists:
For Pine Boy I’ll try to build an amalgam of venues and shows that approach the identity they would like to convey. They are a permanent house dedicated to puppet performances, and although it may be challenging in New York to sustain such a theater, it’s a viable ambition otherwise.
When I think of their projects I’m reminded of something like a cabaret, though exclusively puppetry. It’s dark and dirty, fun and raucous. It’s bizarre and thought provoking. So it might be something like the Upright Citizens Brigade. Or perhaps a show at the Box. Or perhaps a burlesque at Le Scandal. All in all, Pine Boy would no doubt have to maintain a regular schedule of some sort and a set season of shows to produce (and possibly reproduce). But perhaps there are vignettes on certain nights and ongoing series that draw people back to the strange creatures that make up their company of dolls. Something like Tales from the Crypt or The Storyteller by Henson—albeit on stage and not on HBO.
So as for research, I feel I have a good vibe of the world these puppeteers live in and what they’re up against. There are some remarkable works out there, but a small portion of a large community might certainly enjoy a venue for regular visitation. Without a doubt though, Pine Boy is ambitious. Hopefully this is a good launching point to develop a brand that helps keep them performing their visions.