The Worlds of Puppetry: A Review of a Preview

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(Author’s Note: This blog post was not designed with mobile in mind, so the formatting of text and photos may seem weird on a mobile device. Sorry for that!)

On November 14th, 2015, the Center for Puppetry Arts will be opening their brand new expansion: Worlds of Puppetry. Inside are two brand new exhibits: The Global Collection and The Jim Henson Collection. There has been a lot of excitement over this expansion, from before it was every officially announced. Once the date was in place, the Center went to work to revitalize the museum.

On Sunday, November 8th, I was given a chance to explore the new space, that few (outside of those involved) had seen. The building itself had gone under some major changes to the outside, and I had been seeing that evolve for months. But that was the day I got to step into the new stuff, and explore these worlds. I thought I would be ready for how enjoyable it was, and I was wrong. It was better than I had been told.

Upon entering the building from the same entrance, you start to see the changes immediately. The lobby has been transformed into something more modern in feel. The shop has been majorly expanded, which you can see from the parking lot. It is filled with all manners of puppet-related items, and was fun to explore before entering the exhibits themselves. At the start, I knew what was to come would be fun, because the shop immediately made the world a colorful space.

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From there, I progressed into the main lobby. Matching the aesthetic of the modern vibe, my eyes were instantly drawn to the exhibit entrance. This area, while beautiful, really was lacking in imagination. It is a traffic space, but I feel like something on the walls would be wonderful. Also, it was very silent in there, so the general mood in this space was the opposite of the exhibits themselves. It is still early, but I hope the Center adds elements to this space that engages those as they are in it. Based on what was to come, I am sure they will. This was just a preview, after all.

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Now, it was time to enter the Worlds of Puppetry. My excitement was building with every step. There is a lot of detail and fun in that doorway, so you will want to start taking your time right at the gate. Upon entering it, you are greeting with a display asking a very important question, one that is the core of everything here. I leave it to you to discover it and answer it. Behind this display is a projection of moving quotes. The one that popped up when I arrived was too perfect.

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I then had to make a very important decision. Do I choose left, into the Henson Collection, or right into the Global collection?

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A lot of people had already made their way into Jim’s space. I assumed, correctly, that no one had went to Global. I wanted to grab as many photos as I could, so to the right I went. As for those photos, I have about 130 in total. I will be sharing them all after Saturday, via my Facebook. From this point forward, I will be presenting highlights of each collection. I will show you the entrance to each, and share how I felt on my journey.

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Time to take on the world. As you can get a glimpse in the photo above, there is a beautiful world map, showing puppets who have a history with their respective locales. Around that entrance, you are immediately greeted with some familiar faces to the Center. Madame has her new home here, and nearby are other notable characters. You will want to explore the room starting to the left. The design choice for the layout here is a little weird, and that very first section is easily missed. On the other side of the map wall itself, you may find some familiar sights. Moving further into the space, you will find an interactive marionette piece, a couple of Kings of Lions, and even some shadow puppetry.

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There was on exhibit that really caught my eye, masks of Commedia Dell’Arte. I used to study this once upon a time, and remain very fascinated with. The idea of mask performance is what allowed me to be someone else on stage for the first time, wearing a full body puppet suit of Punch, of Punch and Judy fame. A few years after that, I would don the mask of Arlecchino, something that stayed with me for some time. The adult in me did not question for a second that the masks that were on display were not to be touched, so I thought nothing of it. That is until I was leaving, and saw a little girl wanting to wear the masks, and holding them to her face. It dawned on me that of course these were to be touched. There are a few interactive elements like this inside that require discovery. I am not sure if they should be pointed out by signs or not, but I hope no one misses them.

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And now, it was time. I made my way back to the entrance of the exhibits, back to the hub. I had already seen the entrance to my next destination, but it was time to go inside. I was greeted by a lot of familiar faces.

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You know how sometimes you get chills when you see something so magical? It was like that, only warm. I was invited into this World by Jim himself, as well as some of his closest friends. In that moment, I counted myself among them, and entered. But as I did, Jim had something to say to everyone.

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Thank you, Jim. That is a wonderful life perspective.

The exhibit then opens into a recreation of his office. Many of the items here were actually his, and this was how the family said it was all setup. It was such a humble design, but at the same time so very Jim. Everything in this space mattered to him, including his favorite dog.

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The right amount of signs surround you, informing you of what each of these wonderful things meant to Jim. You will see hand-written notes, and sketches. You will see stories of the people who were there from the start. In this room, you can see how it all began. And you can see reminders from those who were there, all around you. And sometimes, you may see very important reminders.

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As you move into the next area, be sure you take a look at the stained glass window, of Jim and Frank (and Bert and Ernie). I am told this has been missed, but I do not see how. It is beautiful. The next section is the Workshop. In here are actual designs, and parts, that were used in creating an assortment of Muppets. The centerpiece to the room is Dog from The Storyteller (my personal favorite Henson stories). Be sure to look up, down, inside, and all around. This room has more attention to detail than any other space, and a lot of it is very subtle.

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Around this corner is a very familiar locale to many of us, the Sesame Street exhibit. Apparently the way to get there was to come here! Who knew?! It is a modest collection of the classic faces. I say modest in the sense that there are only a few display cases, but these cases are filled with memories. Bert, Ernie, Elmo, Oscar, Gover, Big Bird, and a handful (ahhhh, funny, funny) of others are here to remind you that everything’s a-okay.

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A personal note, Big Bird and Kermit (who is further in the exhibit) were the driving voices of creativity in my life. I have seen this display here before, but every time it fills me with such joy. I had the honor of interviewing Caroll this year at Dragon Con, and this was the first I had seen Big Bird since. It was a very emotional moment for me, and even is now as I type this.

Moving right along…

Beyond Sesame Street is a mock up studio, and it is very interactive. Get up there, and play with puppets! Take a seat and feel what it is like to be performing! This space yells interact with me!

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From one studio to the next, as following this section is the dedicated The Muppet Show space! The collection of puppets here are oddly appropriate, considering the recently “backlash” at the current show not being family friendly. There is a display showcasing the Sex and Violence puppets. Coincidence? Either way, Kermit is there to direct his crazy friends on the night of the big show, while Scooter has a list of the agenda behind him. Piggy Fozzie, Doctor Teeth, Robin, even Marvin Suggs await you here!

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Beyond the world of TMS are the many fantasy worlds of Henson. Ranging from Emmet Otter, to Fraggles, to Dark Crystal, to Labyrinth, these displays are sure to wow everyone. The Chamberlain used to be a regular display at the Center, but he has been retired for now. In his place is a VERY impressive collection of puppets from his world, ending in one of the most terrifying puppets ever created. TDC was a story of dark and light, and the exhibit really shines here. The Fraggles, full of colour, find themselves opposite the designs of TDC, and want you to dance your cares away! Sprocket is there, as well. All of Jim’s dogs have a home here, because around that corner you will find a display of Dog City and The Jim Henson Hour. There are a lot of familiar sights from Labyrinth, but in their new home, they are more stand out than ever before!

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There is so much more to see, and trust me when I say I barely scratched the surface of this exhibit. On your way, you are treated with a final message about the legacy of Jim Henson, as well as a board for others to draw puppet or create designs of their own to share with the world. Jim’s legacy is one of the defining reasons I am the person I am today. And everything I saw here is a shining beacon of that man. He was a creative force, and a positive influence on many. I hope that his legacy will continue for generations to come. With an exhibit like this, the chance of that is stronger than ever.

So, get your tickets (the top photo links to the purchase site) and come view this exhibit in its entirety. There is something for literally everyone here, and you owe it to yourself and future generations to see these magical Worlds of Puppetry.

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Thank you, Jim.
Thank you for everything that you have done.
Thank you for inspiring us all.
Thank you for my imagination.
Thank you.

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