New Victory Blog

The New Victory Blog is a place to learn more about New York's theater for families and the shows we produce. Find out what we do and what we're passionate about—exploring the arts as a family.
September 19, 2016

Puppetry and the Art of Storytelling

Often we have artists return to the New Vic again and again. Sometimes they're actors, sometimes they're entire companies, but this time we have a puppeteer returning! Shawn Kettner's work was last seen in Comet in Moominland during our 2007-08 season. This year, she and the cast of the visually stunning Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea will be kicking off our season. 

We caught up with Shawn to hear how she first became interested in puppets, where the soul of the puppet lives and what exactly is the greatest part of creating puppets for the theater!


1. What does puppetry convey that live actors can't?

Puppetry frees the performer from the physical constraints of the human shape. A puppet can be anything; it can vary in texture, be any size or shape and is only limited by your imagination.

2. When did you start working with puppets and why?

At the age of 15, as an extension to my studies of kids' theater, I enrolled in a puppet making class at Manitoba Theatre Workshop. At 16, I became a teaching assistant and by 18 I was teaching five classes per week. Turns out I loved to teach! At 20, I decided to actually try putting together a show so I established a professional puppet company that toured in Canada.

3. What is your favorite part of making puppets? Do you have a favorite style of puppetry?

I love watching the puppets come to life in the workshop, and then placing them in the hands of professional puppeteers and watching their personalities emerge.

I prefer the style of hand puppetry; the soul of the puppet is the hand of the puppeteer.


Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea opens our 2016-17 season! Photo: Claus Anderson
4. What or who inspires your work?

My first inspiration came from my teachers and mentors, Christopher Hurley, Artistic Director of the Manitoba Puppet Theatre, and Deborah Baer Moses, a director/educator from Philadelphia and my kid's theater teacher. More recently I have been inspired by the work of The Handspring Puppet Company, the puppet designers and builders of Warhorse.
5. Can you tell us about the creative process of making a puppet?

Puppets are tools to tell a story. The process starts with the story or the play. The first question that needs to be looked at is, "What does the puppet need to do?" Then we can start thinking about how it should be constructed and how the puppet should look. It is important to start with the skeleton; the bones or mechanics of the puppet. The skinning or covering of the puppet is what the audience sees and is often designed in collaboration with directors and other designers.

It is a magical process to take simple materials and watch them come alive. The best part is adding the eyes and having the puppet look back at you and say, "Hi!" 


Comet in Moominland
Comet in Moominland from the Manitoba Theater for Young People during our 2007-08 Season. 
6. What was your favorite puppet to design?

That is a very hard question. I have made thousands of puppets over more than 40 years. The puppets from Comet in Moominland are very dear to me, but I also have a soft spot for George and Martha, two large hippo puppets I built for Carousel Players of St. Catherines, ON. 
7. The last show you were here for was Comet in Moominland. Tell us about that experience and what it's like to return to the New Vic!

What fun to get off the subway at Times Square and look up and see a poster with my Moomin puppet just down the street! It was a wonderful rush. I'm looking forward to returning to the New Vic, this time with my daughter Samantha and husband Peter who worked with me on the puppets for Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.

Besides a theaterical puppet designer, Shawn Kettner is also the designer and owner of Patient Puppets Inc., a company that builds anatomically correct puppets that demonstrate medical conditions to kids in hospitals and clinics around the world,
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea Want to see Shawn's work in action? Join us for Twenty Thousand Leauges Under the Sea for the inventive retelling of Jules Verne's classic novel!
Posted by Beth Henderson
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