In 1968, Jim Henson filmed a documentary about puppetry with the help of Frank Oz, Jerry Juhl, Don Sahilin, and some of his early Muppet friends. Shot in Hersey, Pennsylvania at the public television station WTTF-TV, it ran on NET, National Education Television (what would later become PBS), in 1970. The films covers many topics, including a brief but charming primer on world puppetry, a presentation of the different types of Muppets as well as other Henson creations, and a lovely demonstration of how to make simple puppets of your own. Above you’ll find Part 1. Click here for Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, and Part 7. If you’ve got about an hour to spare, I definitely recommend checking it out!
I came across these videos through a tip from Puppetry News, a website run by a fantastic puppeteer named Gary Friedman. In 1987, Gary, whose puppetry training included a stint under Jim Henson, started “Puppets Against Aids," an non-governmental organization designed to help increase AIDS awareness in various communities in South Africa. It quickly spread through other parts of Africa and into Canada, Europe, Australia, and the Pacific Islands. During the first post-apartheid election cycle, Gary was commissioned to make non-verbal commercials with his puppets to help teach people how to vote. They were so successful that he and his puppets were later commissioned to cover the election in full. Here is a video of one of his puppets interviewing Nelson Mandela on the campaign trail:
I was lucky enough to meet Gary at a conference about puppetry and politics held this past fall in London. Now based in Melbourne, Australia, Gary had flown out to give a talk about his 25 years of experience using puppets as a means for significant outreach into otherwise ignored, oppressed, and/or under-represented communities. Learning about Gary’s work re-affirmed for me the power of the puppetry to make unique, theatrical inroads into subjects that sometimes seem too large to tackle. Very inspiring.
Thanks again, Gary!