Monday, October 31, 2011

Puppet Palooza at The New Victory Theater

To the world of theater for young audiences, The New Victory Theater Gala is second only to the Tony awards. I missed the event twice while living in Massachusetts, and I was so excited to return this year to honor the work of Cheryl Henson, arts advocate, puppeteer, and president of the Jim Henson Foundation. Cheryl has helped shepherd countless puppet projects to international audiences, and has supported many projects at The New Victory. I first met her in a puppetry Family Workshop at the New Vic several years ago. Of course I was working with my favorite puppeteer, Spica Wobbe, but who was I to share puppets with the daughter and grandchildren of Jim (freakin’)Henson?! Cheryl was kind and encouraging throughout the workshop, and it was clear then, as it was on the night of the gala, how important the artform is to her.

The evening was hosted by John Tartaglia and included performances from Arias With a Twist, directed by Basil Twist, War Horse, The Little Prince at The New Victory Theater, IBEX Puppetry, Leslie Carrara-Rudolph & Lolly, and Marty Robinson & Telly. The show opened with a procession of music and masks/puppets by Ralph Lee. Ralph is well-known for his giant puppeteers made most famous in the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade. He also happens to have been my masks and puppetry instructor while studying at NYU. When Bill Irwin, who was honored last year, introduced Big Bird, I nearly fell to the floor. How much better could it get? It was an unforgettable night.

I was able to take a sneak peek at the dinner setup downstairs. Oobie eyes on the wineglasses?! Brilliant! Check more pictures out here.

The evening ended with all the performers sharing a bow on stage. Out of the corner of my eye I caught Heather Henson, who performed in the gala, marveling at Joey, the horse from War Horse. You could tell she was examining his construction, his movement. Perhaps that simple look of joy and awe in the eyes of an artist was the best part of the night. I’ve seen that same look in the eyes of children watching live and televised puppet performances. To me, that’s what art is all about.

Photograph from The New Victory Theater Facebook page