Panelists: Andrea Balis, Claudia Orenstein
and Jane Catherine Shaw
Theodora Skipitares is an interdisciplinary artist and theater director based in NewYork. Trained as a sculptor and theater designer, she began creating personal solo performances in the late 1970’s, which revolved around the use of handmade objects that were worn on her body. Gradually she moved away from autobiography to explore social and historical themes. She introduced small 3-dimensional representations of herself into these performances, which she understood (later) to be puppets. She has created 25 works featuring as many as 300 puppet figures, live music, film, video and documentary texts. These projects include UNDER THE KNIFE, a site-specific history of medicine which took an audience to twelve different theater environments, and BODY OF CRIME, a history of women in prison. More recently, she created three plays about the Trojan War: HELEN, ODYSSEY, and IPHIGENIA. In 2014, she devised THE CHAIRS, a take-off on Ionesco’s absurdist classic, and in 2016, she created SIX CHARACTERS, a response to Pirandello’s play.
Skipitares has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York Foundation for the Arts, the New York State Council on the Arts, UNIMA, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Rockefeller Fellowship and a McKnight Playwriting Fellowship, among others. Her visual work has been exhibited widely in the U.S., Europe, and Asia, most recently at the Whitney Museum. She has worked frequently in India as a Fulbright Fellow, as well as in Vietnam, Cambodia and Korea. Skipitares is Associate Professor at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. http://www.theodoraskipitares.com/
JoAnne Akalaitis is a Lithuanian American theatre director and writer and co-founder of Mabou Mines. Among works she directed are Endgame, The Balcony (by Jean Genet) and The Birthday Party (by Harold Pinter) – she has staged works by Euripides, Shakespeare, Strindberg, Schiller, Tennessee Williams, Philip Glass, Janáček, and her own work at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, New York City Opera, Goodman Theatre, Hartford Stage, Mark Taper Forum, Court Theatre, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, and the Guthrie Theater. She is the former artistic director of the New York Shakespeare Festival and of the Public Theater, and was artist-in-residence at the Court Theatre in Chicago. Ms. Akalaitis was the Andrew Mellon co-chair of the Directing Program at Juilliard School, and was the Wallace Benjamin Flint and L. May Hawver Flint Professor of Theater at Bard College until 2012. She is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, National Endowment for the Arts grants, Edwin Booth Award, Rosamund Gilder Award for Outstanding Achievement in Theatre, and Pew Charitable Trusts National Theatre Artist Residency Program grant. Ms. Akalaitis was the Andrew Mellon co-chair of the Directing Program at Juilliard School, and was the Wallace Benjamin Flint and L. May Hawver Flint Professor of Theater at Bard College until 2012. She is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, National Endowment for the Arts grants, Edwin Booth Award, Rosamund Gilder Award for Outstanding Achievement in Theatre, and Pew Charitable Trusts National Theatre Artist Residency Program grant. Last year she was the Denzel Washington Endowed Chair in Theater at Fordham University.
Andrea Balis attended NYU as a directing student which is where she and Theodora first met. She worked as director, well as lyricist on numerous off off Broadway productions.She was a founding member and artistic director of The Cutting Edge Theater Company, She began working with Skysaver productions from its founding. as Stage manager, house manager, and sometimes crew for the first solo autobiographical performances she made in the 1970’s. As the productions grew more complex she served as the company dramaturge as well as writing sections of text and lyrics. In addition she has a Ph. D. in the History of Medicine from the Graduate Center of the City of New York, and is on the faculty of the History Department at John Jay College.
Claudia Orenstein is Chair of the Theatre Department at Hunter College with a concurrent appointment at the Graduate Center, CUNY. Her books include The Routledge Companion to Puppetry and Material Performance (co-editor),The World of Theatre: Tradition and Innovation (with Mira Felner), and Festive Revolutions: The Politics of Popular Theatre and the San Francisco Mime Troupe. Recent articles include “Women in Indian Puppetry: Negotiating Traditional Roles and New Possibilities” (Asian Theatre Journal), “How Puppets and Performing Objects Express Elements of Storytelling in Concrete Terms” (International Conference on Exploring Classical Roots and Living Traditions in Puppetry), “Forging New Paths for Kerala’s Tolpavakoothu Leather Shadow Puppetry Tradition”(Routledge Companion), “Finding the Heart of Indian Puppetry” (Puppetry International),“Women in Indian Puppetry: Artists, Educators, Activists” (Gender, Space and Resistance: Women and Theatre in India), “The Object in Question: A Peek Into the FIDENA – International Puppetry Festival” (TDR). She has served as Board Member of the Association of Asian Performance and UNIMA-USA and is Associate Editor for Asian Theatre Journal. She also works as a dramaturg for productions using puppetry including Stephen Earnhart’s Wind Up Bird Chronicle and Tom Lee’s Shank’s Mare.
Jane Catherine Shaw is a member of the Lincoln Center Directors Lab, and graduated on the Dean’s List with an MFA in Directing from Brooklyn College. She is curator of La MaMa’s Puppet Slam and co-founded the Voice 4 Vision Puppet Festival in 2004. Ms. Shaw was puppetry co-director and master puppeteer for Mabou Mines’ Peter and Wendy and built and directed the puppetry sequence for Lee Breuers’ Dollhouse. She often worked with Ellen Stewart to re-create costumes from historic La MaMa shows from the 60’s and 70’s. Ms. Shaw was nominated for a 2014 New York Innovative Theatre Award for her work with Theodora Skipitares on The Chairs. She creates and directs her own work for puppet theatre, among them, Calpurnia Coyote Comes To The Big City, The Blue Marble, Following the Wind, Folktales of Asia and Africa, Pelandok the Mousedeer, as well as adult works: Thirst: Memory of Water, The Lone Runner, Bed of Light, and Universe Expanding, all of which premiered at La Mama. She has worked with Theodora Skipitares since they met in 1989, helping to build her shows and puppets, and puppeteering in many of her productions. She has been a teaching artist with the Brooklyn Arts Council for 6 years and with Shadow Box Theatre in NYC for 4 years. She is a member of the La MaMa Kids Committee, helping to grow sophisticated, age appropriate theatrical work, and workshops for young audiences.
Coffeehouse Chronicles is an educational performance series exploring the history of Off-Off-Broadway. Part artist-portrait, part history lesson, and part community forum, Coffeehouse Chronicles take an intimate look at the development of downtown theatre, from the 1960s’ “Coffeehouse Theatres” through today.
La MaMa Puppet Festival
The La MaMa Puppet Festival showcases new contemporary puppet theatre by artists from around the world. Curated by Denise Greber, focusing on diversifying the voices, stories, and perspectives shared onstage, with the goal of uplifting marginalized identities within the puppet community.