International Puppet Fringe Festival 2023: The World on a String (and a rod, and a glove, and in the shadows…)

The puppets at the third International Puppet Fringe Festival measure way smaller than your hand and way taller than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar; they reflect traditions thousands of years old, and those started last week; they hail from ten countries on four continents, in a wide range of styles, from Bunraku to body puppetry; marionettes to masks; shadow puppetry to object theater.

“I wanted to do a festival as diverse as possible,”  says Manuel Antonio Morán, the founder and artistic director of the festival. “Diverse in style, in language, in tradition.”

Indeed, one of the few things the puppets have in common is that, starting today, they are all available at the Clemente Culture Center on the Lower East over the next five days, in dozens of plays, films, cabarets, art exhibitions and parades, half of which are free; the rest, no more than $20.

Below is a preview of some of the shows from the festival, organized more or less by style of puppetry.

The festival this year is dedicated to Ralph Lee, who died in May at the age of 87, and who fifty years ago started the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade. His large masks and towering parade puppets will be featured in two art exhibitions and in the “Halloween in August Theatrical Procession,” which kicks off on Suffolk Street this evening at 6 p.m.

Puppetry, says Morán, “is one of the few popular art forms that’s still alive and thriving throughout the world. It’s everywhere, even on Broadway: Look at ‘The Lion King’ and ‘Life of Pi.’ But many American don’t know how incredible an art form it is, how much a part of so many different cultures and traditions.  I wanted to give a taste of that.”

Let’s begin a taste of that taste with shadow puppetry

Padmashri Ramachandra Pulavar and his two sons manipulate 160 puppets to tell the hour-long epic tale,”Kamba Ramayana,” which is part of an ancient tradition of shadow puppetry from Kerala, India

In “Spooky-Silly Sing Along,” Jim Napolitano of the U.S. has his Nappy’s Puppets sing such songs as I’m a Mummy and Five Little Zombie Ducks.

The Brazilian company Lumiato teatro de formas animadas is presenting “Iara the waters’ charm”

“These three shows, although all use shadow puppets, are very different,” says Moran. “The family from India say they have been doing shadow puppetry for thirteen generations; the master is traveling from India. Then you have like the Brazilian group that does these art collages that integrate the old tradition with many modern techniques. Then the Nappy Puppets are funny and clever and very modern. All three the same style, but different eras, really.”

Paper puppetry

In “Paper Cut,” Yael Rasooly of Israel uses the low-tech universe of paper cut-outs to tell the story of lonely secretary who escapes into a world of daydreams that become nightmares. “She also uses object puppetry as well,” Moran says.

“The Paper Play”  from the Puppets Beings Theater of Taiwan uses paper playfully

Object Theater

The Monteal-based company Scapegoat Carnivale brings to life “Sapientia,” a 10th-century play by Hroswitha of Gandersheim, with the title character portrayed by an espresso pot, the pagan emperor Hadrian whom Sapientia opposes portrayed by hand mirror, and her children by teacups.

Hand or glove puppets

“The Possession of Judy” by Boxcutter Collective tells the tale of an angry old New Yorker who joins a coven of activist witches.

“The Not-So-Spooky Ghost” by Wonderspark Puppets.


MicroTheater is a theatrical tradition that began in Spain that’s been adopted by the puppet world — a series of short shows, no more than 15 minutes long, for 15 people at a time, in a small space. There are four shows this year in the festival, only two of which had photographs available:

La Mujer Barbuda/The Bearded Woman – Jei Fabiane of Colombia

Barnacle Bill the Husband – Brendan Schweda of USA

Body puppetry

The Trip by Treasure Chest Theatre of Hong Kong. “This is also Muppet style,” Moran says.


A style of puppetry begun in Japan that requires more than one puppeteer for each puppet. “It’s kind of like a dance,” Moran says.

The Crazy Adventures of Don Quixote by Teatro SEA (USA), which also uses rod puppetry.


Little Red’s Hood – Swedish Cottage Theatre Mobile (USA) (There will be two performances, one in Spanish, one in Mandarin)

Masks etc.

Road of Useless Splendor by Deborah Hunt / Maskhunt Motions  (Puerto Rico and New Zealand).. “They use tabletop puppetry too. It’s a beautiful show by the way.”

Except for MicroTheater shows, the live puppet shows are reportedly from 45 minutes to an hour long. Here are links to the schedule and to fuller descriptions of the performances.

Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

Leave a Reply