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Radical Puppetry: The Modicut Project
December 11, 2014


Admission: General $15 | YIVO Members $12
Box Office: | (212) 868-4444

Downtown puppet theater company Great Small Works and scholar Edward Portnoy (Rutgers University) team up to present the Modicut Project—a radical reinterpretation of Modicut, the first Yiddish language puppet theater in the U.S. (1925-1933). Created by two masterful visual artists and satirists, Zuni Maud and Yosl Cutler, Modicut was born out of the NYC puppetry renaissance in the 1920s and the explosion of Yiddish theater on the Lower East Side. Drawing on the modernist artistic movements of its day, Modicut created biting satires about traditional Jewish figures and contemporary politicians, producing Yiddish theater unlike anything anyone had seen. Join us for an evening of puppetry performance of original Modicut scripts, music, and presentations about Modicut and the political atmosphere that infused their work. The original Modicut puppets and scripts, now housed in the YIVO Archives, will be on display. For those interested, there will be a discussion following this program in the Great Hall.

Sponsored by YIVO, NYSCA, Scherman Foundation, and Puffin Foundation.

This event is part of the YIVO Artists and Scholars Series Fall 2014, which brings together some of the most innovative thinkers and artists working on East European Jewish life today for conversation and collaboration. Other Artists and Scholars programs take place on October 30 and November 20.


Edward Portnoy received his Ph.D. from the Jewish Theological Seminary. His dissertation was on cartoons of the Yiddish press. He also holds an M.A in Yiddish Studies from Columbia, having written on artists/writers Zuni Maud and Yosl Cutler. His articles on Jewish popular culture phenomena have appeared in The Drama Review, Polin, and The International Journal of Comic Art. In addition to speaking on Jewish popular culture throughout Europe and North America, he has consulted on museum exhibits at the Museum of the City of New York, Musée d'art et d'histoire du judaïsme in Paris, and the Joods Historisch Museum in Amsterdam. He is Academic Advisor for the Max Weinreich Center at YIVO.

Great Small Works was founded in 1995 by a collective of six artists, all veterans of Bread and Puppet Theater—John Bell, Trudi Cohen, Stephen Kaplin, Jenny Romaine, Roberto Rossi and Mark Sussman—to create theater of high artistic quality, and to keep theater at the heart of social life. The company draws on folk, puppet, avant-garde and popular theater traditions to address contemporary issues. GSW performs in theaters, schools, parks, libraries, museums, prisons, street corners, and other public spaces, producing work on many scales, from gigantic outdoor spectacles with scores of volunteers, to miniature shows in living rooms.

John Bell is the Director of the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry and an Associate Professor of Dramatic Arts at the University of Connecticut. He is a founding member of the Great Small Works theater collective; was a member of the Bread and Puppet Theater company from 1976 to 1986; and received his doctoral degree in theater history from Columbia University in 1993. He is the author of many books and articles about puppet theater, including American Puppet Modernism (Palgrave Macmillan), and Strings, Hands, Shadows: A Modern Puppet History (Detroit Institute of Arts). He also edited Puppets, Masks, and Performing Objects (MIT Press), and with Dassia Posner and Claudia Orenstein edited The Routledge Guide to Puppetry and Material Performance (forthcoming in 2014). He is also an editor of Puppetry International, the publication of the U.S. branch of the Union Internationale de la Marionnette; an organizer of the HONK! Festival of Activist Street Bands in Somerville, Massachusetts; and a member of the Second Line Social Aid and Pleasure Society Brass Band.

Trudi Cohen was a full-time member of Bread and Puppet Theater's resident company in Vermont for 10 years, and has performed as puppeteer in productions directed by Peter Schumann, Janie Geiser, Amy Trompetter and David Neumann. She was Director of Great Small Works' 2008, 2010 and 2013 International Toy Theater Festivals and has curated dozens of the company’s Spaghetti Dinner events. She plays bass drum with the Boston-based Second Line Social Aid and Pleasure Society Brass Band, and is a founding member of the HONK! Festival of activist street bands in Somerville, MA.

Stephen Kaplin is a graduate of the Puppetry Arts program of the University of Connecticut (1979) and of the NYU’s Performance Studies Department (1989). Puppet production, design and performance credits include: Alice in Wonderland (Eva LeGallienne, director), Juan Darien and The Lion King (Julie Taymor, director), Band in Berlin (Susan Feldman and Pat Birch, directors) The Tempest and The Haitian Chalk Circle (George Wolfe, director), and Peter and Wendy (Lee Breuer, director). His shadow and rod puppet designs for Ping Chong’s Cathay: 3 Tales from China won a Henry Hewes Design Award in 2006. Since 2001, Kaplin has been the co-artistic director of Chinese Theatre Works and a co-founding member of Great Small Works.

Jenny Romaine is a director, designer and puppeteer, a founding member of the OBIE winning Great Small Works collective, and music director of Jennifer Miller's Circus Amok. Romaine has led community-based projects in Canada, Argentina, Europe, Columbia, India, and throughout the United States. In the 1990's, in partnership with Yiddish scholar and artist Adrienne Cooper (z"l), Jenny inaugurated a radical Purim project which became the Aftselokhes Spectacle Committee. Romaine also directs the spectacle singing group, the Sukkos Mob (featured in the film Punk Jews). She earned a masters degree from NYU's department of Performance Studies and in 2013 was the first recipient of the Adrienne Cooper Award for Dreaming in Yiddish. Her life goal is to be worthy of this honor. A sound archivist at YIVO for 13 years, she has drawn for several decades on Yiddish primary source materials to create art that has exciting contemporary value. She is endlessly fascinated by the project of keeping theater at the heart of social life.

Roberto Rossi has worked with Berlin's Theater Zerbrochene Fenster, Bread & Puppet Theater, and the Boston Puppeteers' Cooperative, as well as with directors Jan Fabre, Ingemar Lindh, and Amy Trompetter. For many years, he conducted intergenerational arts and performance workshops with Elders Share the Arts (ESTA), the Waterways Project, and in New York City Public Schools. He has created puppets and visual elements for outdoor processions for the D.U.M.B.O. Arts Festivals and is a recent graduate of the Yale University School of Architecture.

Mark Sussman directs, designs, teaches and writes. Over the years, he has worked with Mabou Mines, Antenna Theater, Janie Geiser, Circus Amok, Ninth Street Theater and Bread and Puppet Theater. Sussman adapted and directed Great Small Works’ production of The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare, from the novel by G.K. Chesterton at P.S. 122. He is an artist/researcher with the Hexagram Institute and an associate artist of the Topological Media Lab, where he is currently at work on Soil Desire People Dance, an adaptation of the writings of W.G. Sebald exploring the intersection of Toy Theater and technology. His writing has appeared in The Drama Review, (ai) performance for the planet, Connect, Stagebill, Cabinet, Radical Street Performance (Routledge), and Puppets, Masks, and Performing Objects (MIT). He is currently preparing an anthology (edited with Susan Simpson at CalArts) provisionally titled Automaton to Zombie: a Dictionary of Performing Objects. He has taught performance theory and practice at Barnard College, New York University, Wesleyan University, CalArts and the Parsons School of Design, as well as in NYC Public Schools. He is Associate Professor and Assistant Dean of the Theater Department at Concordia University in Montreal.
Venue: YIVO Institute at the Center for Jewish History  |  15 West 16th Street - NYC   view map

For directions and parking information, click here.

All public programs are wheelchair accessible. A limited number of assistive listening devices are available for deaf and hard of hearing individuals upon request.