From the Editor

I am thrilled and honored to introduce the first issue of Puppetry International Research, the online, open access, peer review journal devoted to puppetry, masks, and related arts, a project of UNIMA-USA supported by the CUNY Academic Commons. UNIMA-USA’s magazine, Puppetry International, has been serving the puppetry community since 1995, under the direction of Andrew and Bonnie Periale until 2022, and now with Alissa Mello and Mike Kelly at the helm. In recent years it expanded to include a peer review section, edited by Dassia N. Posner, allowing for more scholarly approaches to material. While these strong projects continue, our hope is for this new journal to further enhance the growing critical conversations around puppetry arts internationally, providing a platform for longer, more in-depth studies that both address and reach beyond the puppetry community to connect with a wide audience of scholars and artists with allied interests. PIR importantly offers a home for academics writing in our field to submit work, receive thoughtful consideration and feedback from knowledgeable peers, and publish within a context that embraces their subject of study.

I want to thank Kathy Foley, Immediate Past President of UNIMA-USA, Distinguished Professor Emerita from University of California, Santa Cruz, and Guest Editor for this inaugural issue, for lending her thirteen years of experience as Editor of Asian Theatre Journal to moving PIR forward. I am equally grateful to I Nyoman Sedana, Professor at Institut Seni Indonesia, Denpasar, for his work as Guest Co-Editor of the special section devoted to Puppetry in Contemporary Bali. His mentorship of Balinese artist-scholars has helped them sharpen their critical acumen and increased their opportunities for sharing the rich, multifaceted world of Balinese puppetry arts with a wider public. Enormous thanks go to Karen Smith, President of UNIMA-USA and UNIMA International, for her willingness to take on a further daunting task, the copyediting of this journal. Melissa Flower Gladney, doctoral student in Theatre at the Graduate Center, City University of New York, deserves special gratitude for bringing her expertise in design and working with online platforms to this project. She has crafted the look of the journal, helped us navigate the online realm, and ultimately brought the volume to publication. The UNIMA-USA Board and the journal’s Advisory Board members were instrumental in conceiving of the journal in its initial stages and continue as invaluable helpers and advisors in numerous capacities. I am grateful to Frank Hentschecker, Director of the Martin E. Segal Theatre Center, for his early support and enthusiasm for this project, and to Laurie Hurson of the CUNY Academic Commons and Robin Miller of Manifold for their advice as I strove to absorb the ins-and-outs of creating and maintaining an online journal. Thanks to Hunter College and the Graduate Center, CUNY and the National Endowment for the Arts for the support they have provided to this endeavor and to members of our Review Board, who gave their time and expertise offering feedback on material. 

The authors in this first issue are pioneers, trusting their writing to our emergent review, editing, and publication process. I appreciate the faith they have had in us and the provocative and engaging material they have brought to this initial issue of PIR. While the issue was not conceived as stressing any unifying topic, other than the section focus on contemporary Balinese puppetry, common themes arise across the articles both in and outside that section, notably reflections on the roles puppets play in linking past and present. These appear in terms of traditional forms striving to adapt to contemporary times, a subject present throughout the Balinese articles as well as in Rahul Koonathara’s essay on traditional Indian tholpavakoothu shadow puppetry and Mari Boyd’s analysis of investiture ceremonies in traditional Japanese string puppetry. They are also present in regard to more personal, psychological considerations, as expressed in Achinoam Aldouby’s analysis of puppet performances that deal with childhood trauma from the Holocaust. Interestingly, the book and performance reviews also reflect these ideas: Many of the essays in the Women and Puppetry: Critical and Historical Investigations, co-edited by Alissa Mello, Claudia Orenstein, and Cariad Astles, reviewed here by Jungmin Song, express these themes; Federico Pacchioni’s The Image of the Puppet in Italian Theatre, Literature and Film, reviewed by Stefano Boselli, reveals puppetry persisting within and linking older and more contemporary technologies; Maiko Kikuchi and Spencer Lott’s 9000 Paper Balloons, reviewed by Zhixuan Zhu, and Michael Shuster’s The King’s Dream, reviewed by Marsha Gildin, use object performance to bring past histories to present consciousness for critical consideration. Several of the essays in this issue also address how artists and ordinary individuals turned to performing objects during the COVID-19 pandemic, adopting them as tools for education, entertainment, psychological comfort, and protest. Zhixuan Zhu studies examples that arose within the context of China’s Zero-COVID policy, while Dru Hendro and I Made Marajaya look at Cenk Blonk’s presentation of puppetry through an online platform as a COVID education measure. This volume also includes Karen Smith’s report on the Wayang Workshop held for international participants who attended UNIMA’s International Congress in Bali, Cariad Astles’ report on the symposium held in conjunction with the Congress, and Alissa Mello’s account of Portrait of the Puppeteer As Author, the Second International PuppetPlays Conference held in Montpellier, France. She outlines the provocative presentations and exchanges that took place and how they brought significant questions about authorship within puppetry into focus. 

The first issue of PIR is already illuminating puppetry’s power of reaching beyond the confines of the puppet booth to bring its force to a broad range of human concerns and activities and, in the process, demanding we pay critical attention both to performing objects themselves and what they lead us to question and explore. I look forward to discovering where they and the authors who will bring their future writings to PIR, will take us next. 

Claudia Orenstein
Hunter College and the Graduate Center, CUNY