Since Kermit the Frog and his creator Jim Henson cut its ceremonial ribbon in 1978, the Center for Puppetry Arts has helped put Atlanta’s performing arts scene on the map. Whether you’re a veteran puppeteer or a working actor looking to expand your skill set, the largest nonprofit dedicated to the art of puppetry in the country has become an important cultural hub for theater makers to keep on their radar.
“We always bring in a lot of people who look like they’re into puppetry,” says Jon Ludwig, the Center’s artistic director. What qualities does Ludwig look for in a potential puppeteer? “They do funny voices, they’re very physical, they can dance and sing,” he says. In addition, puppetry is all about teamwork, so actors with a knack for close collaboration excel in both open and invited auditions, which the Center holds throughout the year.
“I’ll audition three or four [people] at a time—can you work together? Are you having fun with the puppet or fighting the puppet? Can you breathe as one? Everything starts with the breath in puppetry.”
Opportunities for growth and collaboration abound at a theater with a cutting-edge educational outreach program and a museum featuring hands-on exhibits, tours, and performances. Schools across the country are given access to interactive television equipment, allowing distance learning—puppeteers enact the life cycle of a butterfly, where food comes from, or folktales from various cultures—through two-way teleconferencing.
For established artists and those intrigued by puppetry’s storytelling power, the Xperimental Puppetry Theater is a great way to get involved. Ludwig says applicants run the gamut from visual artists and dancers to carpenters and electricians; XPT even features filmmakers exploring the art form onscreen. “Anyone can apply, people with any theatrical background, as long as your proposal makes some sense and is pushing the boundaries of puppetry.” Artists receive a small grant to help actualize their vision, as well as a rehearsal space, advice from the company’s builders, and access to a pool of volunteer puppet enthusiasts.
What Ludwig describes as “a real grassroots community” extends to other theaters, both local and international. Folded into the Center’s main-stage season are visiting troupes and productions from around the world. This year’s docket includes an adaptation of “Stellaluna” from a puppetry group in Portland, Ore., a two-man show from NYC, and, from Vermont’s Sandglass Theater, “D-Generation,” an adult series about living with dementia.
Ludwig says the Center partners with other companies on “everything from ‘How do I do this?’ to a full-on collaboration. We’re not about to say, ‘We own puppets.’ We’re very much about sharing the art form; it’s our passion to get it out there. It must have some element of puppetry. It can be the most avant-garde, off-the-wall definition you could think of—and often we do!—and if it’s cutting-edge we’ll have it here.”
When asked about Atlanta’s theater scene in general, Ludwig points to the lack of an overly competitive creative atmosphere. “Everyone has their niche here,” he says. “It’s not so overcrowded that people are viciously competing for the same turf.” Between the Tony-winning, LORT-certified Alliance Theatre, several activist-oriented companies, and the historic Fox Theatre, which is among the highest-grossing venues of its size in the country, thespians have plenty to choose from. Actors new to the city should reach out to the Center or any other theater of interest, says Ludwig.
“People are moving in and not moving out,” he adds with a laugh. “It’s a really playful town. Just keep playing.”
For more information on the Center for Puppetry Arts, visit puppet.org.
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