Summer Days at the Studio

IMG_4225It’s been four years since we started Wit’s End Puppets and for all that time, we’ve been operating primarily out of a house in the southwest quadrant of Washington DC. Each person on the team had her own workspace at home, but meetings and large building projects, from covering flats with recycled paper, to gluing together a 60ft cranky, happened in the living room of that house.

This summer, we said goodbye and moved our boxes, puppet sets and building materials to a new studio in the Brookland neighborhood. At first, the space looked like it does in the photo above. It took a lot of time and effort, but we’ve finally made progress and everything is (mostly) organized. Here you can see the two sides of the room, with materials and tool storage and plenty of surfaces to work on. Here’s to another four years of creativity and passion, collaboration and puppet magic!img_4530


Say Hello to our New Studio


Welcome to our new studio space! It was bittersweet to leave the house in southwest DC where we had our start, but change is in the air. A move is an opportunity to organize, to re-furbish and streamline our process–or at least we hope that’s what it will be! As you can see, the space is something of a shambles right now. It’s going to take awhile to get everything in place and looking how we would like it. To motivate ourselves, I’m going to be posting a picture every day on Twitter, to document how long it takes for the pile of materials and tools to become a working studio. Follow along and watch it change!

Seasons of Puppets

IMG_2307Here at Wit’s End Puppets, we build and create puppets all year long. The weather has recently become hot and muggy in DC, making me wish I had planned a little better and scheduled the spray painting for now, rather than back in January when it was 18 degrees out! Just for fun, a quick rundown of our preferred times for specific puppet-making activities.

Winter: It’s certainly not 20 inches of snow kind of weather in DC but it does get pretty cold out. Great time for staying inside and doing some wood carving, maybe sewing puppets with fabric. So why do we always seem to be spray-painting in the backyard during these months?

Spring: This is a much better time for sawing, spray-painting or anything that involves the outdoors. Due to limited space, we’re often going back and forth between the upstairs studio, downstairs living room and outside patio and this is a nice time to keep the doors open and let the dog run around (though not in the paint).

Summer: Ugh. Summer in DC is the WORST. Hot and humid, with bugs and pollen galore, there are many days when we just don’t want to move. Summer should be a time for sketching, painting a little and generally daydreaming, but that isn’t how it always works out.

Fall: Another good in-between time, fall is a season for working on paper-mache heads and cutting out shadow puppets. If we have lots of down-time while waiting for hot glue to set on pieces of polyfoam, there are all the new fall TV shows to distract us.

All kidding aside, puppet making is our passion and no matter the weather, we’re not quitting any time soon. We hope you’ll join us for one of our shows and see what we’ve created!

Meet Emily Marsh

We’re super excited to welcome Emily Marsh to the Wit’s End team as a puppeteer! She will be performing in Saudade at the Atlas INTERSECTIONS Festival at the end of February.

_AB17224Emily MarshPrintEmily Marsh is a singer, actor, puppeteer, and teaching artist based on the east coast. In 2013 she graduated with a BFA in theatre performance from Virginia Commonwealth University. Emily also received training at the Dah Theatre International School, an experimental theatre company based out of Belgrade, Serbia. As a puppeteer Emily has performed all over the midwest as a part of Madcap Puppets, a puppet company based out of Cincinnati OH. She has also performed with Brooklyn Puppetry Arts and interned with Lone Wolf Tribe, a puppetry companies based out of NYC.

IMG_2253As an actor Emily has performed both internationally (Cibiu International Theatre Festival) as well as locally (Imagination Stage, Capital Fringe Festival, KP Educational Theatre) Favorite credits have included Emily’s self-produced solo show Transfixed By the Dahlia performed as part of the United Solo Festival in NYC, and Beirut at Shafer St. Playhouse in Richmond VA. Emily is very excited to be a part of Wit’s End Puppet’s premiere performance of Saudade. When Emily isn’t playing pretend or wiggle dolls, she enjoys causing a ruckus and eating breakfast for dinner.

Building SAUDADE #1

We’re in full puppet-building mode right now for Saudade, our next original puppet play which will premiere as part of the Atlas INTERSECTIONS Festival in DC at the end of February.


This piece is all shadow puppets, which are being designed by Katherine Fahey, a crankie artist from Baltimore whose work we’ve been in love with for awhile. Here’s Katherine at one of our design meetings, looking mischievous:

IMG_2141 Saudade will use a setup similar to our piece Coyote Places the Stars in the sense that it uses multiple screens, but visually it will be much, much bigger. You can see Genna here, posing with the PVC frame she’s been working on to support all the screens:


While not a traditional linear story, this play draws on the experiences of immigrants to the DC area, many of whom I had the pleasure of interviewing last summer through a partnership with REEP, an adult education program that is part of the Arlington Public Schools. Now I’m finally getting to cut out puppets of characters inspired by these incredible people, who bring so much to our communities here in the DC area. We’re looking forward to sharing their stories with you, too.


Recent Workshops

IMG_1653In the past month, we’ve had several different workshops in DC and Virginia, teaching students ages 4-16 to design, build and perform their own puppets. Here are some pictures of what they created. As always, if you are interested in learning more about our workshops or bringing us to your school, check out our Education page.

The photo to the left was taken at the American Immigration Council’s Take Your Child to Work Day event. The puppets below were created in a workshop with the 2nd and 3rd grades at Tuckahoe Elementary School in Arlington, Virginia.

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Building a Puppet Ballet: Interview with Genna Davidson

This week, our managing director Patricia Germann spoke with Wit’s End artist Genna Davidson about her recent work constructing puppets for Pointless Theatre Company’s newest show, Sleeping Beauty: A Puppet Ballet, which is currently running as part of CulturalDC’s Mead Theatre Lab program.

Patricia Germann:  What puppets did you work on?

Genna Davidson:  I primarily worked on Sleeping Beauty, the Prince, and the Witch who turns into a dragon.  I worked on all of them, actually, but those are the primary ones.

Puppets in rehearsal. Photo by Genna Davidson.

Puppets in rehearsal. Photo by Genna Davidson.

PG: I recall that Pointless did a version of Sleeping Beauty before. Did they learn lessons from the last production, in terms of how they wanted them to move, or how they wanted them to be built?

GD: They needed the puppets to be way lighter.  Because for the first production of the show they had made them all out of papier-mâché and wood; they were super heavy.  They also wanted the puppets to have a lot of flexibility – but not limitless flexibility, because that makes them hard to control.  So I contributed the bodies, the structures, the new innards and forms of the puppets focusing on building with lighter materials.

PG: You had told me before that the company went to ballet classes.  Did that experience affect how you were building the puppets, or modifying them during the rehearsal process? 

GD: One thing we learned is that these puppets – because it’s ballet – they stand mostly in turnout. When I made the Prince, I made his legs with feet and knees pointed forward. At some point, we realized this means the puppeteer has to always be turning the feet out.  It would be much easier to just have them built in turnout, and then the puppeteer can turn them in as needed, which is almost never.  So I adjusted them on the Prince, and then when I made Sleeping Beauty, I made her legs in turnout. 

Sleeping Beauty in performance. Photo by Gene Carl Feldman.

Sleeping Beauty in performance. Photo by Gene Carl Feldman.

PG: Were the puppets pretty durable?  I’m thinking back to our own experiences with having to repair puppets over a run.

GD: From every project that we do, I learn more and more.  I’ve been very happy with some of the joints of these puppets, in particular the ones which I chose to make elastic from the get-go because of wanting to allow the puppeteers to extend through the ballet movements and then settle back; more breath.  So at important junctures, they have thick fabric-covered elastic joints.

Their spines are really cool. They’re made out of dishwasher drainer hose, which is connected to PVC with hose clamps and plumbing parts.  So there’s lots of plumbing inside!  The drainer hose allows for lots of flexibility, so that the spine can actually arch backwards and forwards.

I had to rig the head in such a way to allow for rotation to the right and left independent of the neck which can only get easy movement arching forward and backward.  Imagine a wooden dowel coming out of the  bottom of the head and inserting within a hollow cylinder, the spine. The heads can spin 360 degrees, but the reason that the head is staying inside of…or one part of the neck is staying inside the other part of the neck…is that I ran a piece of elastic along the outside of the spine all the way underneath the pelvis of the puppet and back up again to that dowel coming out of the head.  And that has been – knock on wood – really pretty durable.

PG: We haven’t really talked about the witch-to-dragon transformation.

GD: Basically you have to see it to understand it and I don’t want to give it away.

PG: Did they have a design for that going in, or did you come up with that transformation?

GD: No, I came up with the design.

The witch, built by Genna. Photo by Gene Carl Feldman.

The witch, built by Genna. Photo by Gene Carl Feldman.

PG: Wow, that’s really cool.

GD: Yeah, that one in particular was my feat of magic – but I wish we had had more time to rehearse the transformation.  It took me so long to construct that we were basically in tech and didn’t have long to choreograph it. [The transformation] works well, but I would have liked to suggest some other choreographed movement.  For a couple days, we were worried we’d have to cut the transformation onstage and leave it to happen offstage, which would have been really disappointing.

The one thing we couldn’t make happen was her face turning into a dragon.  We ended up just bringing on this mask and putting it on her face, basically.  It’s done in a way that works, but we had wanted to have the mask incorporated somehow into her as a witch, so that when the transformation happens, it would be like, “Oh, it was there the whole time!”  That was something we had to let go.

I do want to mention Kyra Corradin, who did the sculpting of all the heads.  Even the puppets who were primarily mine in body, she did those heads, and they’re really beautiful.

PG: You were telling me earlier about the challenges of trying to fit a controller into a head that was already built.

GD: Kyra had built these heads and made them hollow because it would make them lighter…but because she has built these kinds of puppets before, she didn’t think about how to build the head control mechanisms into the puppets.  But actually it worked out well because these heads are really well shaped, beautiful and completely hollow. Though it was tricky to get the mechanisms inside and not damage the sculptural work, it was worth it.  If we had had to build the head around the control mechanism, I’m not sure we would have been able to achieve that hollow, light head that she created. So not knowing is a benefit sometimes.

Pointless Theatre Company’s Sleeping Beauty: A Puppet Ballet runs through May 3, 2014, at the Mead Theatre Lab at Flashpoint.  For tickets and more information, visit

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

Sneak Peek

A description of the bean-nighe, one of the folklore characters we're researching.

A description of the bean-nighe, one of the folklore characters we’re researching.

Our next devised piece is inspired by the vast treasure trove of British and Celtic folklore and especially the supernatural creatures usually known as fairies. Thanks to a number of cultural factors (most prominently, Disney), we have a tendency to think of fairies as tiny and pretty, with sparkles, wings and magic wands. According to tradition however, they are far stranger and more dangerous. For centuries, people feared the fairies, calling them a number of euphemistic names (the Good Folk, the gentry, the Little Poeple) to avoid drawing their attention. To be suspected of dealing with fairies or being related to them led to persecution and on occasion, injury and death. Where did these beliefs come from? What are the rules for dealing with fairies and what happens when we break them? What does that say about our fears, hopes and wishes as humans? These are all questions we will be exploring as we begin to build puppets and create performance material in preparation for a workshop in June. We hope you will join us for the journey!

Puppets & Film: An Interview with Ilya Tovbis


Puppeteer Michael Meschke’s life and work are the focus of the recent documentary The Man Who Made Angels Fly (2013), which will be in DC this weekend as part of the 2014 Washington Jewish Film Festival.  Patricia Germann, Wit’s End’s Managing Director, caught up with Festival Director Ilya Tovbis to learn more about the film and its selection for the festival.

Patricia Germann: What led you to select this film for the festival?

Ilya Tovbis: The base qualifier to be in the festival is purely quality and diversity of vision.  So on that characteristic it really stood out.  I think it’s a tremendous documentary, and a unique one at that.  It’s done without almost any interviews, and very little sound that’s not coming directly from what’s happening.  A lot of the film is just the puppeteering happening on stage, and you’re meant to gather that the weighty subjects being discussed, or the Greek tragedies, or the philosophy that’s on stage… You gather what importance they are to Michael Meschke himself.  At times he and his wife talk, but it’s kind of a prime example of the “show, don’t tell” mentality and of a documentary where – especially for me, who’s not a subject matter in puppeteers or the craft – it allowed me to understand it from a very human perspective, and that was immediately attracting.  I think the cinematography is tremendous, the use of light and air, and just space and the pacing of the whole documentary is absolutely fabulous.

PG: It really did come across in the trailer that the puppetry and the puppets support the storytelling aspect of the film.

IT: More so than that, they’re really the prime characters, and I think the reason he agreed to be on film was that he’d be allowed to sort of speak through them and speak through his art more than one-to-one with a moderator before the camera.

PG: You mentioned that you’re coming from a background that is not in puppetry, and I’m wondering what in particular non-puppeteers would get out of this film.

IT: For me, it piqued my interest in puppetry and is something that I hope to look into more post-festival.

PG: That’s wonderful to hear!

IT: A lot of what I saw on screen I would love to see in person, and I just had never considered going to such a show.  So in terms of piquing interest, it’s amazing. Also, his life is a fascinating account.  It’s certainly not exclusive to him, but it is a pretty unique story in that he grew up thinking that he was Christian.  He had some nominal notion of his past and heritage, but he actually found out that he was Jewish as he was being set upon by a mob of people.  He and his mom hid in a church, and he asked her, “Why are these people after us?” and she said, “Well, you happen to be Jewish.” And that’s informed a lot of his artwork.  From a Jewish Film Festival perspective, that’s a tremendous story of finding one’s identity and doing with it something unique. I think that’s why he does the puppetry and why he takes on the stories that he does.  A lot of these stories are grand myths, and it’s evil fighting good, and it’s getting at the root of what humans are and what our universal struggles are.  I think that’s clearly rooted in his personal history.


Michael Meschke, puppeteer.

PG: Is there anything else that you wanted to share about this film, or that you think would be of particular interest to the puppetry community?

IT: One thing that’s important for us about this film within the context of the festival is that it’s part of our spotlight on Polish cinema and where that particularly intersects with his stories – Again, this notion of finding out you’re Jewish a little bit later on.  That was quite common in Poland, which is just beginning to grapple with its Jewish history, and it’s become a real topic of conversation recently.  You’re seeing that again in cinema, and a lot of that is about the ‘hidden’ identity and people discovering that they’re Jewish and that their family hid it from them as a means of perseverance and moving forward.  So from that standpoint, it’s in a larger framework of films, but it also is very unique and set apart from the other ones that we have like Mamele and Ida and Aftermath, that all make up that Polish focus.

PG: I’m remembering now from the description that there are a number of different countries credited in the production of this film.

IT: Yes, so it’s a co-production: the filmmaker is Polish and quite a number of the crew are Polish, and also the UK and France – the subject lived there [in France] for a while and much of it happens there.  When you have a number of countries credited, it means that considerable funding or cast/crew (in this case crew, since there isn’t really a cast, being a documentary film) come from those countries, and as film has been globalizing, you notice more and more that those list are getting longer.  It used to be a huge deal if 2 countries collaborated on a film, but it’s becoming increasingly common as the borders come down.

The Man Who Made Angels Fly screens March 1-2 as part of the 2014 Washington Jewish Film Festival. Tickets $12 each. Learn more at

Interview edited for length and clarity.

Announcing INTERSECTIONS 2014!

IntersectionslogoWe are thrilled to announce that BOTH our collaborative projects this year will be presented as part of the Atlas INTERSECTIONS Festival 2014!

Under the Canopy by Arts on the Horizon and Fabulas Mayas, co-produced with GALA Hispanic Theatre will each have multiple performances as part of the fifth year of INTERSECTIONS. This festival seeks to connect the broadest possible audience with the most exciting new ways of making community-inspiring art. With performances for all ages and audiences, from music to dance to circus to storytelling and new plays, there is truly something for everyone. Tickets go on sale January 9, so we hope you will join us at Atlas Performing Arts Center on H St. NE from February 21-March 8 to see our shows and some of the other amazing work at the festival. As we get closer, we will have more information here or you can also check out the festival website.