She’s pulling the strings!
A Hunter Theatre professor whose mission it is to strengthen the underexplored field of puppetry scholarship in America has started an online publication.
Claudia Orenstein launched the open access, scholarly journal devoted to puppetry, masks, and related arts, Puppetry International Research, in November. The journal, a project of UNIMA-USA, the American chapter of the international puppetry organization UNIMA, is hosted on the CUNY Academic Commons.
“The journal will be a forum for the growing group of scholars who recognize the importance of this ancient and contemporary, but oft-neglected art,” Orenstein said. “It has been my privilege to mentor and support scholars working in this area; now there will be a platform for showcasing this research.”
The journal is only the latest project of Orenstein, the author or co-editor of several well-regarded volumes on puppetry. Last summer she published a monograph, Reading the Puppet Stage: Reflections on the Dramaturgy of Performing Objects, and the first volume of a two-volume compendium of essays, Puppet and Spirit: Ritual, Religion, and Performing Objects, co-edited with Hunter colleague (and MA graduate) Tim Cusack. Both publications will be featured in Book Talks at the Chicago International Puppetry Festival in January.
Orenstein, whose scholarship has brought her to India, South Africa, France, Spain, and Vietnam, spent 2021-22 in Japan exploring traditional ritual puppets as a Fulbright Research Fellow. Her project was recently featured in Fulbright Japan’s My Fulbright Story series. Based at Tokyo’s Sophia University, Orenstein traveled across Japan to investigate traditions as far south as Oita Prefecture up through Aomori in the north.
In Japan, puppets and related figures have long been part of Shinto rituals to comfort the souls of the dead; remove illness, pests, and spiritual pollution, and usher in blessings for the new year. Some puppet rituals Orenstein researched originated 500, 800, and even 1,200 years ago — and are still practiced today.
Orenstein’s work has helped to cultivate puppetry scholarship and practice among students and colleagues in Hunter’s Theatre Department. For example, Puppet and Spirit includes essays by her Theatre Department colleague Deepsikha Chatterjee and by Theatre MA alumnus Joseph Maybloom. The second volume, whose publication is expected soon, contains an essay by another Theatre MA alumnus, Ana Martinez, and one from a former Hunter graduate teaching fellow, Heather Jeanne Denyer, who also has an interview in volume 1.
“It’s an exciting time for scholarship and productions in puppetry,” Orenstein said. “There is a vibrant puppetry community, and it’s growing.”