Artists and Scholars Consider the Intersection of Puppetry with Other Disciplines and Ideas

The Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival presents the the Ellen Van Volkenburg Puppet Symposium livestreaming on the global, commons-based, peer-produced HowlRound TV network on Saturday 21 January and Saturday 28 January 2023.

The Ellen Van Volkenburg Puppetry Symposium brings together practicing festival artists with scholars to consider the intersection of puppetry with other disciplines and ideas. Before 1912, the year the Little Theater of Chicago was founded in the historic Fine Arts Building, the term “puppeteer” did not even exist. Little Theater director Ellen Van Volkenburg needed a program credit for the actors she had trained to manipulate marionettes while speaking the text of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and she coined the word “puppeteer.” That marked the dawn of the movement that has brought us to the rich art form now practiced around the world. In Van Volkenburg’s honor, the Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival presents four discussions featuring festival artists and key topics from the works presented in the Festival.

Saturday 21 January

Volkenburg Puppetry Symposium: Boundless Bodies

8 a.m. PST (Los Angeles, UTC -8) / 10 a.m. CST (Chicago, UTC -6) / 11 a.m. EST (New York, UTC -5) / 17:00 CET (Berlin, UTC +1)

In Hindu cosmology, the rhythmic energy of Shiva’s Tandava dance is the source of all movement in the universe, propelling the cycle of creation, preservation, and dissolution. The purpose of the dance is to release humans from illusion. Since the puppet body can be an extension of the puppeteer’s body or a separate object that forces us to negotiate with matter that is distinct from our human bodies, object performances can readily explore how human consciousness might transcend the boundaries of our own bodies and how can we find transcendence through immanence on the path to self-knowledge.

Moderated by Dr. Paulette Richards with panelists Ishmael Falke (Invisible Lands), Elise Vigneron (Anywhere), and Camille Trouvé (R.A.G.E.).


Volkenburg Puppetry Symposium: Grand Narratives and Petits Récits

11 a.m. PST (Los Angeles, UTC -8) / 1 p.m. CST (Chicago, UTC -6) / 2 p.m. EST (New York, UTC -5) / 20:00 CET (Berlin, UTC +1)

François Lyotard criticized modernist meta-narratives such as Progress and Enlightenment as totalizing stories justifying the hegemonic order. He and other post-structuralist thinkers like Foucault called instead for petits récits or localized narratives that could transmit the full diversity of human experience. The shows represented in this panel challenge the grand narratives of western civilization by adapting classic stories in ways that mute the discourse of traditional patriarchs. Post humanist theory takes this shift in focus one step further by challenging the notion that human subjectivity is the only possible narrative agent. Thus we can view object performance as an experimental methodology for apprehending the agency of human and non-human others.

Moderated by Dr. Paulette Richards with panelists Yngvild Aspeli (Moby Dick), Sarah Fornace (Frankenstein), Michael Brown (Invitation to a Beheading) and Theodora Skipitares (Grand Panorama).


Saturday 28 January

Volkenburg Puppetry Symposium: Maya: the Uses of Illusion

8 a.m. PST (Los Angeles, UTC -8) / 10 a.m. CST (Chicago, UTC -6) / 11 a.m. EST (New York, UTC -5) / 17:00 CET (Berlin, UTC +1)

Hindu cosmology regards the material world as Maya – illusion. The soul’s journey to enlightenment is a process of awakening from the illusion that our impermanent material existence is separate from the divine consciousness. Maya therefore also encompasses the wondrous creativity of the gods who brought forth and maintain the material world. Western theories such as Graham Harman’s Object Oriented Ontology, similarly conclude that while humans are not the only agents in the universe, we can only enter into the reality of the material world outside our own consciousness through metaphor. Thus Harman turns to aesthetics rather than science for new tools of knowledge creation. Puppets, masks, and performing objects can be powerful implements in this endeavor because they function as three-dimensional metaphors that explode Cartesian dualisms such as Self and Other by enabling us to apprehend material objects as subjects in their own right. The shows represented in this panel use performing objects to un-mask the grandiose obsessions of the human ego and make space for the enchantment of vibrant matter in our perception of reality.

Moderated by Dr. Paulette Richards with panelists Eduardo Felix (Macunaima Gourmet), Janni Younge (Hamlet), and Jonathan Meyer (as though your body were right).

Volkenburg Puppetry Symposium: Building New Worlds: Emerging Voices

11 a.m. PST (Los Angeles, UTC -8) / 1 p.m. CST (Chicago, UTC -6) / 2 p.m. EST (New York, UTC -5) / 20:00 CET (Berlin, UTC +1)

The School of the Art Institute Performance Dept. and Chicago Puppet Fest present: Emerging Voices. Moderated by Dr. Dassia N. Posner with panelists: Felicia Cooper from the University of Connecticut, Camille Casemier from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and Claudia Kinahan from Northwestern University. The emerging artists present their most recent works with Living Treasure of Puppetry, Bruce Chessé serving as the respondent.