Puppets go avant-garde

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Puppetry is difficult, labor intensive and hopelessly unprofitable. Few arrive at it but by pure passion, and that passion is infectious, engaging audiences to a degree rarely encountered in, say, the gallery world. It may be, also, that there is something fundamentally poignant about puppets that, when skillfully harnessed, bewitches puppeteer and audience member alike: their miniature scale, their ties to childhood, their relation to the body, their imitation of life, their evocation of death.

“The idea that the puppet is just a fragile provisional being that you have to kind of hold together all the time seems relevant, somehow, to how I think of people,” says Susan Simpson, co-founder of L.A.'s puppetry hub Automata. “How they hold their own identities together and how they present and think of their own coherence or lack of coherence, or the effort that goes into any kind of coherence.”

It is the poignancy, she adds, “of watching something that is fragile but that with extreme effort maintains a sort of life. I continue to find that really moving and interesting.”

In Sunday’s Arts & Books section, Holly Myers explores this intriguing, semi-underground puppetry scene.