One of the long-term projects I'd been thinking of developing over the years had been exploring the zone of puppoetics. Can a meaningful art form emerge that embraces puppetry, poetry and the literary arts, especially for a Southeast Asian American perspective.
The idea first emerged for me while observing the Joe Louis Puppet theater in Thailand where the puppets were used to retell tales from the Ramayana and other Thai epics.
Lao puppet shows are either traditional tales or incorporate public service announcements like "Don't touch the leftover bombs." Personally, I'd like to see more contemporary and meaningful works emerge within a contemporary context.
Lao American and Hmong American puppet traditions in the US have not really taken off to date.
I find this odd, considering the presence of Heart of the Beast Theater and other related arts organizations in Minnesota, where a significant number of Hmong and Lao artists reside.
To be fair, the Center for Hmong Arts and Talent has one set of giant puppets which are used, but considering there's over 80,000 Lao, Hmong and other Southeast Asian Americans in Minnesota, there could be so much more and such a vibrant and interesting scene.
But again, this also goes back to the ongoing problem that there isn't enough infrastructure in place right now to allow deep artistic risk for most of our would be artists.
A special nod and thanks, then, to Gordon Smuder, of Minnesota's hilarious Transylvania TV for pointing out www.puppetproject.com which provides a starting point for people interested in making great and innovative fabric and foam puppet characters. Some great examples of the versatility of these patterns can be spotted here. Hopefully, it won't be too long before we see some more Hmong and Lao American puppet work!
In the meantime, enjoy some of Transylvania TV: