Volkenburg Puppetry Symposium

The 2015 Volkenberg Puppetry Symposium is presented by the Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry in partnership with the Chicago International Puppet Theater Festivaland Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.  This event brings together artists and scholars from diverse fields to investigate the meaning, vitality and relevance of contemporary puppetry.


Presented by the Richard and Mary L. Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry at the University of Chicago in partnership with the Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival & Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.


Leslie Danzig, moderator (Theater-maker & Curator, Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry, University of Chicago)
Mark Down (Puppeteer, Actor, Director & Writer, Blind Summit, England)
Timothy Harrison (English Faculty, University of Chicago)
Dan Hurlin (Puppeteer, Choreographer & Theater Faculty, Sarah Lawrence College, NY)
Jesse Soodalter (Hematology/Oncology Fellow, University of Chicago)
Craig Stephens (Theater-maker, Stan’s Cafe, England)


Sarah Fornace, moderator (Co-Artistic Director, Manual Cinema)
Susan Goldin-Meadow (Psychology and Comparative Human Development Faculty, University of Chicago)
Tom Gunning (Art History and Cinema & Media Studies Faculty, University of Chicago)    
Claudia Hart (Artist & Film, Video, New Media, & Animation Faculty, SAIC)    
Todd Murphey (Mechanical Engineering Faculty, Northwestern University)


Blair Thomas, moderator (Artistic Director, Blair Thomas & Co. & CIPT Festival)    
Clare Dolan (RN, Puppeteer & Founder, The Museum of Everyday Life)    
Erik Ehn (Playwright & Theatre Arts and Performance Studies Faculty, Brown)    
Frank Maugeri (Producing Artistic Director, Redmoon)
John Wilkinson (Poet & English Faculty at the University of Chicago)

Session One / Liveness on the Edges of Death

Leslie Buxbaum Danzig is a theater director & deviser and curator of the Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry at the University of Chicago. She was stage director of Wild Sound, composed by Wilco's Glenn Kotche for Third Coast Percussion, with upcoming performances at the MCA Chicago and Metropolitan Museum of Art (NY).  With Julia Rhoads/Lucky Plush Productions, she co-created dance-theater works The Better Half and The Queue (National Dance Project Awardees), which have toured to MCA, Spoleto Festival USA, Institute of Contemporary Art Boston and others.  Danzig is co-founder of the Chicago-based physical theater company 500 Clown, where she co-created/directed 500 Clown Macbeth, Frankenstein, Christmas & The Elephant Deal, which have toured throughout the US. Other credits include co-directing Redmoon's The Elephant & the Whale (Chicago Children's Theater) and Hunchback at New Victory Theater (NYC) and touring as an actor with Elevator Repair Service (NYC). PhD in Performance Studies (Northwestern) and physical theater & clown at Écoles Jacques Lecoq and Philippe Gaulier.  

Mark Down is Artistic Director and co-founder of Blind Summit Theatre. He trained as a doctor at Cambridge University and then retrained as an actor at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. With Blind Summit he has pioneered their style of “extreme puppetry”: character led, improvisational puppetry inspired by Japanese Bunraku.  He writes, directs, designs and performs Blind Summit productions including ‘The Table’, ‘Low Life’ and ‘1984’, which tour throughout the world. In opera he directed a full puppet opera version of Stravinsky’s ‘Le Rossignol’ in Bregenz in 2014 and his puppet direction includes Anthony Minghella's ‘Madama Butterfly’ at ENO and the Metropolitan Opera, Complicite’s ‘A Dog’s Heart’ at ENO, DNO and La Scala, and ‘The Magic Flute’ at the Bregenz Festival. His other work includes puppet direction for Simon McBurney’s ‘Master and Margarita’ and ‘Shun-kin’, Will Tuckett’s ‘Faeries’ and Danny Boyle’s 2012 London Olympic Opening Ceremony. He is currently devising a new show, ‘Citizen Puppet’ which launches in the UK in 2015.

Timothy Harrison is a new Assistant Professor of English at the University of Chicago who finished his PhD in 2014 at the University of Toronto. His current book project, entitled Forms of Sentience in Early Modernity, explores the verbal expression of how it feels to be alive in the work of authors ranging from Montaigne to Milton. He is also co-authoring a book entitled John Donne's Physics. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in English Literary History, Milton Studies, and Modern Philology. He teaches classes in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century literature and philosophy.

Dan Hurlin’s performance works include a solo adaptation of Nathanael West's A Cool Million (1990 Village Voice OBIE); suite of puppet pieces Everyday Uses for Sight Nos. 3 & 7 (2001 BESSIE); The Shoulder (1998 nomination for an American Theater Wing Design award for set design); No(thing so powerful as) Truth (1995); Constance and Ferdinand (with Victoria Marks, 1991); The Jazz Section (with Dan Froot, 1989); The Day the Ketchup Turned Blue from the short story by John C. Russell (1997); Who's Hungry?/West Hollywood (with Dan Froot, 2008); Hiroshima Maiden with an OBIE award winning score by Robert Een (2004, UNIMA citation of excellence) and Disfarmer (2009), both at St. Ann’s Warehouse; Hungry?/Santa Monica (with Dan Froot, 2012, Highways Performance space, CA); and Erik Ehn’s Double Aspect Bright and Fair (2012, LaMama).  As a performer Dan has worked with Ping Chong, Janie Geiser, Annie B. Parson & Paul Lazar, and Jeffrey M. Jones, and directed premieres of works by Lisa Kron, Holly Hughes, Dan Froot and John C. Russell among others. Dan is currently the Director of the Graduate Program in Theater at Sarah Lawrence College where he teaches both dance composition and puppetry. Dan is the recipient of a John Simon Guggenheim fellowship in Choreography (2002), an Alpert Award in the Arts (2004), a United States Artists Prudential Fellowship (2009) in Theater, and the Jesse Howard, Jr. Rome Prize (2013/14) in visual art.

Jesse Soodalter, M.D. is an artist, and Chief Fellow in Hematology/Oncology at the University of Chicago.  Her visual art incorporates found objects, exploring how the chaotic and often violent processes of exposure and aging impose individual, aesthetically-charged identity on objects that began as undifferentiated commodities.  Her academic research focuses on individual and societal thinking about death, specifically the ways in which biomedical discourse colludes with social inhibition to constrain deep engagement with mortality.  She is the founder and director of The Living Mortal Project, a broad interdisciplinary collaboration supported in part by the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society at the University of Chicago.  The Living Mortal Project is intended to engage with the profound questions surrounding death and to catalyze substantive change in both scholarly investigation and clinical as well as cultural reception of mortality. Clinically her interests are in the treatment of blood disorders including sickle cell disease and multiple myeloma, as well as in palliative medicine.  She participated in PalFest 2013, and spent time in the summer of 2013 volunteering in Hematology at Augusta Victoria Hospital in East Jerusalem.

Craig Stephens is Associate Director and Performer with Stan’s Cafe.  Stan’s Cafe is a theatre company based in Birmingham (UK). Formed in 1991 the company creates and tours innovative theatre in many forms around the world. Craig studied theatre at The University of Warwick and gained an M.A. in Contemporary Theatre Practice at Lancaster U.. He has performed with a number of companies including Insomniac Productions, Plane Performance, Talking Birds and The Playhouse. Craig has written for BBC Radio 4, Talking Birds, Untied Artists, Hamfisted! and Ludlow Assembly Rooms.  He first worked with Stan's Cafe devising Simple Maths in 1997, since when he has been at the heart of most of the company's activities. He has performed in almost all Stan’s Cafe shows since 1997 including It’s Your Film, Good and True, Be Proud Of Me, Of All The People In All The World, The Cleansing Of Constance Brown and The Anatomy of Melancholy. As well as performing, making stuff and attempting to keep control of the store room, Craig is also involved in the devising and delivery of much of the company’s acclaimed education work and the running of the Stan’s Cafe venue. The company is currently working on its new show A Translation of Shadows, which takes as its inspiration the role of the Benshi – the narrator and interpreter of silent films in Japan in the early days of cinema.

Session Two / The Uncanny Valley: Real Fakeness and Fake Realness

Sarah Fornace is the co-artistic director of Manual Cinema, a Chicago-based puppet theater company that combines handmade shadow puppetry, cinematic motifs, and live sound manipulation to create immersive theatrical stories. Sarah is a choreographer, performer, and narrative theorist based in Chicago. Her interests include narrative structure, theories of time, non-verbal storytelling, spectacle, and interactions with (in)animate objects. She has choreographed fights and stunts for Depaul University, Court Theatre, Red Orchid Theatre, Steppenwolf’s Garage Rep. series, The New Colony, Adventure Stage, and elsewhere. She has performed with Redmoon, Lookingglass Theatre Company, Collaboraction, and Babes with Blades.  Sarah has been a member of Blair Thomas & Company (puppetry) and Boum Twa (ladder acrobatics). She is also a member of Cirque du Soliel’s artist database. She currently teaches movement at Columbia College Chicago.

Susan Goldin-Meadow is the Beardsley Ruml Distinguished Service Professor of Psychology and Comparative Human Development at the University of Chicago. Her research is on the ways that the body can affect learning––how the body provides insight into a learner’s skills and how the body contributes to changing those skills.  More specifically, she studies movements of the body that are representational––the gestures that we produce when we talk––and contrasts them with movements that have a direct effect on the world––actions on objects.  Her recent work shows that gesture is more effective than action on objects at getting learners to generalize the knowledge they gained during a lesson, particularly in the mathematics. She is currently Principal Investigator of an NICHD funded Program Project that is now in its 11th year, a co-PI of the NSF-funded Spatial Intelligence and Learning Center (SILC), and co-Director of the Center for Gesture, Sign, and Language at the University of Chicago.

Tom Gunning is the Edwin A. and Betty L. Bergman Distinguished Service Professor, Art History and Cinema & Media Studies at the University of Chicago.  He works on problems of film style and interpretation, film history and film culture. His published work (approximately one hundred publications) has concentrated on early cinema (from its origins to WW I) as well as on the culture of modernity from which cinema arose. His concept of the "cinema of attractions" has tried to relate the development of cinema to other forces than storytelling, such as new experiences of space and time in modernity, and an emerging modern visual culture. His book D.W. Griffith and the Origins of American Narrative Film traces the ways film style interacted with new economic structures in the early American film industry and with new tasks of story telling. The Films of Fritz Lang: Allegories of Vision and Modernity deals with the systematic nature of the director's oeuvre and the processes of interpretation. He has written on the Avant-Garde film, both in its European pre-World War I manifestations and the American Avant-Garde film up to the present day. He has also written on genre in Hollywood cinema and on the relation between cinema and technology. Recent publication: Fantasia of Color in Early Film Cinema, with Joshua Yumibe, Giovanna Fossati, and Jonathon Rosen (2014).

Claudia Hart is an artist working with post photographic simulations technology to create media installations, objects and images. For the past fifteen years, she has used virtual imaging and 3D animation to create hyper-feminine, often erotic installations, sculptures and photo integrations that deal with issues of representation, the role of the computer in shifting values about identity and the real and what might be considered “natural.” Her works are polemical and meant to interject an emotional subjectivity into what is typically the aggressive, hardcore iconography adopted by the computer graphics industry. Claudia Hart is represented by bitforms gallery, NY.  She is a former IDMagazine and Artforum editor and is an Associate Professor in the department of Film Video New Media and Animation at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she created a special program, “experimental 3D,” in which she developed new pedagogical structures for teaching computer animation in the context of the avant-garde and experimental film.

Todd Murphey is Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Northwestern University; Ph.D. Control and Dynamical Systems, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA and B.S. Mathematics, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ.  Professor Murphey's research focuses on computational methods in dynamics and control.  The group focuses on computational models of embedded control, biomechanical simulation, dynamic exploration, and hybrid control.  Much of the work uses structured integration (numerical techniques specifically suited to mechanical systems) to ensure stability and robustness of the numerical technique.  Example projects include simulation and control synthesis for a biomechanical model of the human hand, real-time control of robotic systems using structured integration, stabilization of large-scale power network models using a single bit of control authority, mechanical simulation of rat whiskers, numerical modeling of contact in locomotion, and dynamic search for underwater vehicles using electrosense for localization and mapping.   His group's work on robotic marionettes has been featured at the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago.

Session 3 / Word as Object, Object as Word

Blair Thomas is the Artistic Director of the Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival and the founder and Artistic Director of Blair Thomas & Co.  He has twice earned the highest international honor for creators of original work in the medium, the UNIMA Excellence in Puppetry Award (2001, 2004). In addition, Thomas has received the Illinois Arts Council Fellowship Award (2001, 2004), the After Dark Award (2002), and a number of Joseph Jefferson Citations. Currently on faculty at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Thomas has taught at the University of Chicago, University of Illinois at Chicago, Columbia College Chicago, and held the first-ever Jim Henson Artist-in-Residence position at the University of Maryland, College Park. Co-founder and past Artistic Director of Redmoon Theater, Thomas has vigorously contributed to the Chicago theater scene as an actor, director, puppeteer, designer, and teacher for three decades, contributing to his status as “Chicago’s unofficial puppeteer-general” (TimeOut Chicago).  Now President of the UNIMA-USA Board of Directors, Thomas represents the American chapter of the oldest international theater arts organization in the world.

Clare Dolan is a performer, director, cheap artist, and intensive care unit nurse based in Vermont. She was a full time puppeteer for 12 years with the Bread & Puppet Theater, and continues to perform, install exhibits, and teach for Bread & Puppet throughout the US, South America, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. Independently, she lectures and leads workshops in a wide range of arenas, from small town community centers, to mountain villages in Mexico, to inner city schools. She is a specialist in picture-story performance (cantastoria) and the co-founder of Banners and Cranks, the first annual international American festival devoted to this performance form. She also creates, performs, and participates in collaborative projects in puppet theater, toy theater performance and experimental dance. She is a stilt dancer and instructor, and also the founder and chief curator of The Museum of Everyday Life, a five-year-old museum experiment in Glover Vermont, whose goal is to explore, analyze and celebrate everyday life objects. As an Intensive Care Unit nurse in a small rural hospital, Clare is interested in finding intersections between cultural practice and community health, particularly concerning creating new kinds of narratives around chronic illness and death.

Erik Ehn is Professor and Chair of Theatre Arts and Performance Studies at Brown University.  Work includes Maria Kizito, Heavenly Shades of Night are Falling, Yermedea, Drunk Still Drinking, The Saint Plays, and a series of 17 plays – Soulographie - on the history of the US in the 20th Century from the point of view of its genocides, which premiered at La MaMa (NYC), November 2012. His works have been produced in San Francisco (Intersection, Thick Description, Yugen), Seattle (Annex, Empty Space), Austin (Frontera), New York (BACA, Whitney Museum), San Diego (Sledgehammer), Chicago (Redmoon), Atlanta (7 Stages), Los Angeles (Cal Rep, Museum of Jurassic Technology), Belgrade (Dah); elsewhere. He conducts annual trips to Rwanda/Uganda, bringing teams to study the history there, and explore the ways art is participating in recovery from violence. He produces the Arts in the One World conference yearly, which engages themes of art and social change. Artistic Associate, Theatre of Yugen. Graduate of New Dramatists.

Frank Maugeri is a large-scale public art, spectacle maker, whose work ranges from the transformation of enormous public spaces to the intricate creation of miniature toy theater productions, all in partnership with hundreds of collaborators. For 18 years, Redmoon has been his creative, artistic home, where he currently serves as Producing Artistic Director. As co-director of the inaugural Great Chicago Fire Festival, he produced, designed and directed the creation of hundreds of art objects, which gathered over 30,000 people at the Chicago River. He has directed, co-created, and designed spectacle productions including Astronaut’s Birthday, projected on the MCA’s 80-foot façade; The Elephant & The Whale in collaboration with Chicago Children's Theater; The Feast: an intimate Tempest at Chicago Shakespeare Theater; All Hallow’s Eve ritual celebrations in Logan Square; Winter Pageant performances; and many large-scale site-specific spectacles in Chicago parks. Frank has directed many indoor shows for Redmoon, including The Cabinet, which toured to Brazil. He is a recipient of the NEA/TCG Career Development Award for Directors.

John Wilkinson is a poet, and Associate Chair for Creative Writing and Poetics in the Department of English at the University of Chicago. His Selected Poems were published in 2014 under the title Schedule of Unrest (Salt Publishing). His last book of new poems was Reckitt’s Blue (Seagull 2012) and a new chapbook, Courses Matter-Woven has just been published by Equipage. His academic work enters on first-generation New York School poets and contemporary British poets; currently he is working on W.S. Graham and St Ives painters, particularly Roger Hilton.