New Victory Blog

The New Victory Blog is a place to learn more about New York's theater for families and the shows we produce. Find out what we do and what we're passionate about—exploring the arts as a family.

Often we have artists return to the New Vic again and again. Sometimes they're actors, sometimes they're entire companies, but this time we have a puppeteer returning! Shawn Kettner's work was last seen in Comet in Moominland during our 2007-08 season. This year, she and the cast of the visually stunning Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea will be kicking off our season. 

We caught up with Shawn to hear how she first became interested in puppets, where the soul of the puppet lives and what exactly is the greatest part of creating puppets for the theater!


1. What does puppetry convey that live actors can't?

Puppetry frees the performer from the physical constraints of the human shape. A puppet can be anything; it can vary in texture, be any size or shape and is only limited by your imagination.

2. When did you start working with puppets and why?

At the age of 15, as an extension to my studies of kids' theater, I enrolled in a puppet making class at Manitoba Theatre Workshop. At 16, I became a teaching assistant and by 18 I was teaching five classes per week. Turns out I loved to teach! At 20, I decided to actually try putting together a show so I established a professional puppet company that toured in Canada.

3. What is your favorite part of making puppets? Do you have a favorite style of puppetry?

I love watching the puppets come to life in the workshop, and then placing them in the hands of professional puppeteers and watching their personalities emerge.

I prefer the style of hand puppetry; the soul of the puppet is the hand of the puppeteer.


Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea opens our 2016-17 season! Photo: Claus Anderson
4. What or who inspires your work?

My first inspiration came from my teachers and mentors, Christopher Hurley, Artistic Director of the Manitoba Puppet Theatre, and Deborah Baer Moses, a director/educator from Philadelphia and my kid's theater teacher. More recently I have been inspired by the work of The Handspring Puppet Company, the puppet designers and builders of Warhorse.
5. Can you tell us about the creative process of making a puppet?

Puppets are tools to tell a story. The process starts with the story or the play. The first question that needs to be looked at is, "What does the puppet need to do?" Then we can start thinking about how it should be constructed and how the puppet should look. It is important to start with the skeleton; the bones or mechanics of the puppet. The skinning or covering of the puppet is what the audience sees and is often designed in collaboration with directors and other designers.

It is a magical process to take simple materials and watch them come alive. The best part is adding the eyes and having the puppet look back at you and say, "Hi!" 


Comet in Moominland
Comet in Moominland from the Manitoba Theater for Young People during our 2007-08 Season. 
6. What was your favorite puppet to design?

That is a very hard question. I have made thousands of puppets over more than 40 years. The puppets from Comet in Moominland are very dear to me, but I also have a soft spot for George and Martha, two large hippo puppets I built for Carousel Players of St. Catherines, ON. 
7. The last show you were here for was Comet in Moominland. Tell us about that experience and what it's like to return to the New Vic!

What fun to get off the subway at Times Square and look up and see a poster with my Moomin puppet just down the street! It was a wonderful rush. I'm looking forward to returning to the New Vic, this time with my daughter Samantha and husband Peter who worked with me on the puppets for Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.

Besides a theaterical puppet designer, Shawn Kettner is also the designer and owner of Patient Puppets Inc., a company that builds anatomically correct puppets that demonstrate medical conditions to kids in hospitals and clinics around the world,
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea Want to see Shawn's work in action? Join us for Twenty Thousand Leauges Under the Sea for the inventive retelling of Jules Verne's classic novel!
Posted by Beth Henderson


Holly and her family!
Holly and her family on one of their cultural excursions!

It has always been important to me to make culture a real part of our family life. When my kids were babies, I realized that I had to take a brief hiatus from most spectator activities. So I turned to the kinds of art projects and activities they could enjoy in the comfort of our own home: music classes, dance parties, art projects and watching classics like Parent Trap and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang on TV. Whenever possible, we would attend outdoor art festivals where the kids could sample and participate to the extent they were able. I looked forward to the day when we could venture into theaters and museums, but we took baby steps. I knew the big day would come.

And indeed it did. Over the past few years, since my kids have ever so slightly matured, I have been bringing them to cultural events in New York City—all over the boroughs. Now we go into the city often. Here are a few strategies for integrating culture into your family life, based on my own experiences:

Less can be more 
  • Choose a hand full of theaters and museums that you know and trust, and focus on their offerings. The more you try to do, the less you'll actually do.

Plan ahead to save
  • Sign up for something like Cool Culture, which lets your family visit New York City’s best-loved cultural institutions!
  • Become a member of the organizations that you believe in so that you can schedule events in your calendar well in advance, as well as save money. At the New Vic, by ordering tickets for three or more productions at one time, you become a member and save 35% off your tickets.

Tap into what your children like
  • When my daughter was young, she was into the Disney princesses, so I took her to see The Little Mermaid on Broadway. This year she is into fairies and witches, so we went to see Wicked.
  • Go to museums that offer kids' tours or scavenger hunts, kids' sections or activities. It will make the art much more appealing to your children, and you'll have a better chance of being able to take in some of the exhibit yourself.
Holly's Daughter
Holly's daughter visiting the New Vic for The Enchanted Pig.
Introduce new things
  • We are actually regulars at The New Victory Theater, where we are amongst many moms, dads and kids eager for the special performances they present from around the world. For one of my daughter's first theaterical experiences, we went to see The Enchanted Pig at the New Vic. It was one of those "Aha!" moments for me about living near New York City and being able to introduce my children to the finest theatrical experiences in existence. My daughter was literally enchanted by the production.

Encourage their budding interests
  • When your kids are ready, start them on musical instruments—even toy instruments, until you feel they are old enough to start taking lessons. Going to a classical concert will take on a whole new meaning. We recently took our kids to Jazz at Lincoln CenterJazz for Young People. Now that my son is interested in playing the guitar and is taking piano lessons, his interest in these types of concerts is far greater than before.
  • The same goes for drama lessons! If your child seems to have a knack for acting, don't shy away from it. Nurture the passion and energy.

Know your family's limits
  • Space your events out. I know that my kids need to play too, so I never plan too much in a weekend. Going to one event and making it special goes a lot further than overwhelming your children and wearing them out.
  • Make sure your kids are well fed before the curtain rises to avoid any issues during the show.
  • If your child has a meltdown or can't make it through a show, take a step back and stop going until you see a change in behavior. Instead, read books, talk about plays and encourage music and theater at home.
Culture is important to my kids because it's important to their mom. I make it a part of our daily life, and using the tactics I mention above, they want it just as much as I do. Living in New York City, there are so many choices for a culture-loving family. It's important to take advantage of what we have on our doorstep.

This post was originally seen on our blog in 2011.
Holly Rosen Fink Holly Rosen Fink has a career that spans the world of television and publishing, including positions at Lifetime Television, Nickelodeon/MTV and John Wiley & Sons where she worked closely with Arthur and Pauline Frommer to promote their brand.  She is currently the founder and CEO of Pivoting Media, a marketing consultancy that focuses on mindful social media.

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