Di Filippo Marionette at the National Capital Puppetry Festival
Di Filippo Marionette; Photo Courtesy of the National Capital Puppetry Guild

National Capital Virtual Puppetry Festival

Like so many art forms, the pandemic required theater artists to invent new ways of working within a virtual environment, but puppeteers were uniquely suited for the challenge. “Puppetry is a visual medium to start with. Puppeteers are already thinking of ideas as objects,” explains Alex Vernon over speakerphone. Sarah Olmsted Thomas expands upon the thought, noting that, because puppeteers wear so many hats, they were prepared to take on the camera. “Puppetry [breathes] life into objects that are otherwise lifeless—though just paper, wood, or foam, [they] see a character with personality and emotions.” Vernon and Thomas are known to local audiences as the puppet theater company Alex & Olmsted; they’re also two-fifths of the clown troupe Happenstance Theater. Together, they sit on the board of the National Capital Puppetry Guild (Thomas is vice president). Starting the evening of Aug. 19, the Guild will host its second National Capital Virtual Puppetry Festival. “We felt that we should take money in the Guild treasury and create employment opportunities for artists,” says Thomas, explaining how the festival originated in the first year of the pandemic. “We were taking a chance, but it brought in artists and enthusiasts from around the world.” The four-day event will feature performances and workshops from local artists as well as an international contingent hailing from Italy, Mexico, and Canada. Expect marionettes and hand puppets as well as toy theater and crankies. Workshops will range from performance to construction, diversity, educational, and therapeutic puppetry. Vernon hopes the Festival will present a “holistic approach to all aspects of puppetry.” The National Capital Virtual Puppetry Festival runs online Aug. 19 to 22. nationalcapitalpuppetry.org. Some performances are free, passes $20–25.