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Arts Mid-Hudson Blog

Puppeteer, puppet builder, and Arts Educator – Brad Shur

I am a puppeteer. I’ve been working with puppets for the last nineteen years.

Wait. Let’s go back a little farther.

Seventy thousand years ago (give or take a few) my great, great (etc.) granddad was wearing a brand new tigerskin sarong as he tried to explain to his friends where he had acquired such a lovely garment. Words were sort of a new thing at the time, so it was difficult for him to convey the excitement of the hunt in all its glory. In a moment of inspiration that would ring through the ages, he picked up a rock in one hand and a stick in the other. The rock was him and the tiger was the stick. He jumped like this. The tiger bared its twig fangs. A new art form was born.

Or something like that.

We’ve come a long way since then. In Indonesia, Wayang Kulit puppet shadow shows are practically religious rituals. In Japan, the Bunraku puppet theatre is part of UNESCO’s (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. In the Czech Republic, their marionettes are a national treasure. There are puppets all around the world; in high and low culture, comedy and tragedy. We’ve been doing it for longer than we’ve been painting. And yet, fairly, often I’ll introduce myself as a puppeteer and hear, “Oh, people really do that?”

So, I’ve become, like many in my trade, an ambassador for puppetry. I don’t mind so much, but I’m impatient. While I love being an educator, I also love being a creator. I’ve been trying to put the two tasks together. A few years back, I received a grant from the Jim Henson Foundation to create a show called Cardboard Explosion! As the show developed, it became clear that it would be a puppet show about puppet shows. The show introduces the audience to a variety of puppetry styles: marionettes, tabletop puppets, moving mouth puppets and more. It was also built to show some of the process of creating a puppet show, from character design to plot development. I wanted to make the experience direct and gratifying. Using improvisation, I came up for a way that audiences could take part in creating a puppet show, live and on stage. And because everything is made of cardboard, kids of any age could take that experience home and continue telling their own stories.

Everybody can find a cardboard box. Make it your tiger.

Cardboard Explosion! Will be at the Long Island Children’s Museum on April 6 at 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m., the Center for the Performing Arts at Rhinebeck on April 13 at 11 a.m. and the Corning Museum of Glass August 14 at 9:30 a.m. and 11 a.m.

About the Artist: Puppeteer, puppet builder, and arts educator, Brad Shur is the founder and lead artist of Paper Heart Puppets, www.paperheartpuppets.com. He has traveled around the country with his work and continues to develop new shows to amaze and delight.

About the column:

Arts Mid-Hudson has served up fresh arts and culture across the region for over 54 years. This biweekly series of columns showcases arts, artists’ work and arts events across the region presented with the support of Arts Mid-Hudson. For information about its services, events and grant opportunities visit www.artsmidhudson.org, call 845-454-3222 or email [email protected].