Selected perspectives on the puppetry of Theodora Skipitares
Sexton, Lauren Hobbs
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Although interest in puppetry in America tends to come in “waves,” puppetry itself is an art form found throughout history and across many cultures. It is a form of expression that, depending on the culture, can be considered high art, popular, folk entertainment, or a bridge between these categories. This dissertation will not attempt to address all forms of puppetry in either a historic-geographic method, or by creating a taxonomy of manipulation methods. The purpose of this dissertation is rather to examine the work of Theodora Skipitares, an artist whose influence by and application of multiple artistic traditions is unique within contemporary American puppetry. Theodora Skipitares is one of a group of New York performers, such as Jim Henson, Peter Schumann, Julie Taymor, and Lee Breuer, whose work in adult puppet theatre and experimental theatre in the late twentieth century exemplified a new way of approaching performance and a revival of interest in puppetry. Like many of these artists, Skipitares draws influence from a variety of art forms, however it is the intersection of Skipitares’ specific range of influences that is the impetus for this dissertation. It is my opinion that Skipitares’ productions cannot be truly understood from within one artistic tradition or perspective and, therefore, they demand an analysis which acknowledges how selected discourses and traditions intersect in her work. Theodora Skipitares has been labeled a performance artist, a theatre conceptualist, and an innovative director, but rarely a puppeteer. Her productions represent the margins of what is an already marginal art form. The goal of my dissertation, therefore, has been to analyze specifically the puppetry of Theodora Skipitares, revealing how her work is situated within the traditions of American puppetry, performance art, experimental theatre, Japanese puppetry and Indian performance traditions. As this study is informed by materialist feminist perspectives on gender and representation, I will also consider how Skipitares’ work is situated within the frame of gender studies. Overall, each of these artistic influences and/or movements affected the way Skipitares chose to create her puppets and the way she in turn uses those puppets in performance.