Designer Chris Griffith Talks About Puppets

Chris Griffith (Z Puppets Rosenschnoz) returns to MJTC this holiday season with brand new puppets for a brand new production of Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins. Chris won an Ivey Award for his puppet designs in MJTC 's Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins (2008). Read what Chris has to say about the art of puppetry! 

two-headed goblin in  hershel and the hanukkah goblins  (2017)

two-headed goblin in hershel and the hanukkah goblins (2017)

"For twenty five years, I have been exploring the art of puppetry. As a builder and designer, I revel in creating circus troupes out of ping pong balls, monkeys out of fur coats, and papier-mache crocodiles. As a performer, I delight in giving inanimate objects the illusion of life.

We all know the goblins aren't alive, for instance, but we (the performers and the audience) agree for a minute to believe that they are. The puppeteer's job is to create in her imagination an image of that goblin that is so real and complete that we all forget they are not alive. If that image is strong enough, an eerie thing begins to happen: we start to see things that aren't actually there. Our imaginations fill in what's missing, and this is where puppetry gets very exciting. Did we just see an eyebrow raise up in surprise? Did that puppet just blink? A minute ago, the goblin was crying, but now the same face appears to be laughing.

"The puppeteer's energy mixes with the energy of the audience

to create the illusion of life in the puppets."

Puppetry is a collaboration between the puppeteer's and the audience's imaginations. The puppeteer's energy mixes with the energy of the audience to create the illusion of life in the puppets. My favorite performances are the ones where the performer's imagination meets the audience's imagination at the edge of the stage, and they explode in a magical moment of the puppet springing to life. When this happens, everybody in the room feels it on a primal level, and suddenly, the room is filled with real goblins.

If this is your first experience watching puppets in action, get ready! You are about to enter a world where anything is possible if you can only imagine it. Have a wonderful and festive season of light. Happy Hanukkah!"


Chris Griffith.jpg

Chris Griffith (Puppet Design) is a co-founder and Creative Director of Z Puppets Rosenschnoz. Additionally, Chris is a Teaching Artist with the Children’s Theatre Company, a clown and juggler, and an arts education consultant. Previously, he was a co-founder of Galumph Interactive Theater, Education Coordinator for In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre, and editor of The Puppetry Cookbook. His work has received awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, Minnesota State Arts Board, Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, Jim Henson Foundation, Puppeteers of America, Jerome Foundation. Chris received an Ivey Award for his puppet designs in MJTC’s Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins (2009).

Set Designer Michael Hoover Discusses Inspiration

Michael Hoover returns to MJTC to design Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins after designing several previous MJTC productions (most recently, Via Dolorosa). Here's what he had to say about his inspiration behind the set design: 

"The production takes place in the fictional Russian town of Helmsbergville.  The playwright describes it as "a worn-out village, the kind of village in which the houses droop off of hillsides and the people droop through the streets."  In my research I discovered a painting by the Russian artist Antonov Nikolay (see below).  The painting is simply titled “In Village”, and it provided the initial inspiration for the set design. 

antonov nikolay "in village" 

Set design, hershel and the hanukkah goblins, michael Hoover.

Another aspect of the design is that I hoped to keep the set pieces from feeling too heavy or clunky.  I challenged myself to try to create a setting using only sticks of lath board cobbled together.  The design then evolved into a morph of the painting onto the compilation of sticks, resulting in a playfully abstract little setting in front of which our story can be told!" 

Michael Hoover square.jpg

Michael designs sets locally for many theaters, including Uncle Vanya, Choir Boy and Proud to Present at the Guthrie Theater, Ragtime and Gypsy at Theater Latte Da and Idiot’s Delight at Girl Friday. In addition to his freelance career as a scenic designer, Michael is on staff as the Lead Scenic Artist at the Guthrie Theater.