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Great Small Works

The Toy Theater of Terror As Usual: Episodes 1–12


February 13 – March 11, 2012

Vernissage: Thursday, February 16, 5–7 p.m.

Exhibition description

A popular and simple means of staging dramatic spectacles in the Victorian living room, Toy Theater was the rage in homes across Europe and the Americas. During the countdown to the Gulf War in 1991, members of Great Small Works, inspired by Walter Benjamin's notion of culture in a permanent "state of emergency" and by the political photomontages of Weimar artist John Heartfield, began performing a surreal news serial, entitled The Toy Theater of Terror As Usual. Using excerpted texts and cut-out images from current newspapers, magazines, and philosophical works, the series, now in its twelfth episode, has dealt with issues ranging from the Gulf War and the Los Angeles riots to the condition of New York City real estate and American gun culture. Performed by five visible puppeteers hovering around a tabletop proscenium stage, Terror As Usual has become the company's signature piece. The exhibition at the FOFA presents miniature versions of the theatres, a graphic timeline of performances; and video documentation, and will conclude its run with a performance by the Great Small Works Troupe; John Bell, Trudi Cohen, Stephen Kaplin, Jenny Romaine, Roberto Rossi, and Mark Sussman, in conjunction with the Festival des Castelliers.

About the artists

GREAT SMALL WORKS was founded in 1995 as a collective of artists who keep theater at the heart of social life. Drawing on folk, avant-garde, and popular theater traditions to address contemporary issues, the company performs in theaters, clubs, schools, galleries, streets, and other community centers. Based in New York City, they produce performance works on a wide variety of scales, from outdoor pageants with giant puppets and hundreds of performers from diverse communities, to miniature “toy theater” spectacles. At a variety of New York venues, including Performance Space 122, Judson Memorial Church, and Theater for the New City, the company continues the twenty-eight year-old tradition of Spaghetti Dinners, variety evenings (founded on the Lower East Side in the late 1970s by veterans of Vermont’s Bread & Puppet Theater) that include music, live performance, political discourse, and vegetarian spaghetti. GREAT SMALL WORKS productions consistently reinvent ancient, popular theater techniques: Toy Theater, mask and object theater, circus, sideshow, and picture-show (cantastoria) to name a few. On any scale, GREAT SMALL WORKS productions seek to renew, cultivate, and strengthen the spirits of their audiences, promoting theater as a model for reanimating the public sphere and participating in democratic life.

GREAT SMALL WORKS has received a 2005 Puppeteers of America Jim Henson Award for Innovation in the Field of Puppetry, a 1997 Village Voice OBIE Award grant, a 1997 UNIMA Citation for excellence in puppetry, a NYFA Community Assets Grant, and New Theater Advancement support from the New York State Council for the Arts, as well as project-based support from the NEA, NYSCA, NYC-DCA, as well as private foundations and individuals.

GREAT SMALL WORKS is a non-profit corporation, whose members are John Bell, Trudi Cohen, Stephen Kaplin, Jenny Romaine, Roberto Rossi, and Mark Sussman. For information about booking the company for performances or workshops, please contact us.

JOHN BELL is a performer, writer, and teacher who started making theater seriously with Bread and Puppet Theater; he was a company member of that troupe for over a decade. While studying for his Ph.D. in theater history at Columbia University he began to create shows with the group of friends who became Great Small Works. He conceived and directed the Great Small Works production A Mammal's Notebook: The Erik Satie Cabaret, and with his wife Trudi Cohen and son Isaac Bell has created various Great Small Works projects in Boston, where the family lives. He is the author of Strings, Hands, Shadows: A Modern Puppet History, and edited Puppets, Masks, and Performing Objects; a forthcoming book project is American Puppet Modernism. He is a Contributing Editor to The Drama Review and the Historian of Puppetry International, for whom he edited the Fall/Winter 2006 issue devoted to puppet scripts. He is recognized internationally as an expert on the history of puppet theater.

TRUDI COHEN was a full-time member of Bread and Puppet Theater's resident company in Vermont for 10 years, and continues to participate in Bread and Puppet's annual outdoor summer programs. She has performed as puppeteer in numerous productions directed by Janie Geiser, Amy Trompetter and David Neumann. She wrote and directed a children's puppet play entitled Our Kitchen, which was performed as part of the 1998 Henson International Festival of Puppet Theater, was Director of Great Small Works' June 2005 Seventh International Toy Theater Festival, plays bass drum with the Boston-based Second Line Social Aid and Pleasure Society Brass Band, and was part of the organizing team for the October 2006 HONK! Festival of activist street bands.

STEPHEN KAPLIN holds a BFA from The University of Connecticut and an MA from NYU's Department of Performance Studies. He has designed, built and/or performed puppets for eight Broadway productions, including:The Tempest,directed by George Wolfe;Band in Berlin, directed by Pat Birch and Susan Feldman; and, Juan Darien, The Lion King, and The Green Bird, directed by Julie Taymor. He has also designed, built, and/or performed puppets for new theatre productions by Ping Chong, Lee Breuer, Theodora Skipitares, The Big Apple Circus, Circus Flora, Bread & Puppet Theater, Paul Zaloom and many others. His puppet designs for Ping Chong's Cathay: 3 Tales from China received a Henry Hewes Design Award. He is a founding member of Chinese Theatre Works.

JENNY ROMAINE has worked extensively as a stilt dancer, puppeteer, and performer with the Bread & Puppet Theater, Janie Geiser and Co., Amy Trompetter, Ninth Street Theater, and Great Small Works of which she is a founding member. She is the musical director (and sometime writer/ring performer) of Jennifer Miller's OBIE/Bessie Award winning outdoor traveling CIRCUS AMOK. Romaine’s recent directorial projects include the Richard Pryor Trunk Show with Sundree productions, the Spectacle of the Rising Tide Procession for the River to River Festival, NYC, The Betty Boop Suite with Trumpet Princess Susan Watts and animator mornography, and Happy Norouz from Lesser Panda with the performance band Lesser Panda ( w/ Kenny Wollesen, Michael Winograd, Jennifer Harris, Lee Frisari, Rachel Mattson, Jessica Lurie and painter Ahmad Azadi). Romaine also conceived/directed Great Small Works’ Memoirs of Glückel of Hameln, a critically acclaimed adaptation of the classic Yiddish text in collaboration with Song Diva Adrienne Cooper, composer Frank London and designers Alessandra Nichols and Clare Dolan. Romaine rejoices in the creation of curriculum and community based spectacles with youth and adults which she often directs. Some collaboraters have included the Lesbian Avengers, The Bread and Roses Integrated Arts High School, El Puente Academy, Island Academy (Rikers Island Youth Prison), Jews For Racial and Economic Justice, The Fifth Avenue Committee, Landmark High School, and EBC Bushwick High School in Brooklyn. She has also committed over 2 decades to the cultivation of new Yiddish culture, theater, and community based performance art. With an intergenerational posse of badaasss artists she draws on diverse Yiddish primary source material to create new art with contemporary meaning. Recent projects include The Sukkos Mob, an ambulatory crew of Yiddish-Iranian spectacle singers, An Answer on the Day You Call: A Rain Dance for the Dumbo Arts Festival, Kids and Yiddish the Folksbiene Yiddish Theater’s hit family show directed by Joanne Borts, The White Pajamas, a handpainted ethnography in the form of a paper theater show with Canadian memory painter Mayer Kirshenblatt, The Ballad of 1914: Visual Toyre series #3 on Conscription and the draft with Sarah Gordon and Susan Leviton, and numerous Purim Shpiln (spectacular masquerade balls) with the Workmen’s circle and collaboraters Danial Lang-Levitsky, Joe Dobkin, Galeet Dardashti, Jake Shulman-ment, DJ Rekha, Amichai Lau-Lavie, David Felix Sutcliffe, Pearl Gluck, and Michelle Miller. In the Yiddish world she has been a resident artist at The Ashkenaz Festival of New Yiddish Culture, Yiddishkayt LA (with DJ SoCalled), KlezKamp (founder, Youth Theater Workshop), Klezkanada, and others. Romaine was a sound archivist at the YIVO Institute for 12 years, received a New Play Commission in Jewish Theater from the National Foundation for Jewish Culture in 2003, and was awarded a New York Foundation for the Arts artists fellowship in Puppetry and Emergent Forms in 1998. She holds an MA in Performance Studies from the Tisch School of the Arts, NYU.

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 at a number of New York City Public Schools. For Great Small Works, he has directed and designed the toy theater play A Walk in the City, based on a text by Italo Calvino, and created puppets and visual elements for several outdoor processions for the D.U.M.B.O. Arts Festivals. A devoted student of the accordion, he is currently attending the Yale School of Architecture.

MARK SUSSMAN, directs, designs, teaches, and writes. Since 1985, he has worked in New York and on tour with Mabou Mines, Antenna Theater, Janie Geiser, Circus Amok, Ninth Street Theater, Paul Zaloom, and the Bread & Puppet Theater, often exploring the theatrical possibilities of both new and old technologies. In 1996-98, he adapted and directed the Great Small Works production of The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare, from the novel by G.K. Chesterton, at Performance Space 122. In Fall, 1999, he was a Visiting Artist at the Cotsen Center for Puppetry at CalArts, where he participated in creating Theater of the Ears / Théâtre des Oreilles, a solo performance for electronic marionette with text by Valère Novarina, which premiered at the Jim Henson International Festival of Puppet Theater in Fall, 2000 and toured France in Summer, 2001. With Ears co-director Allen S. Weiss and support from the Etant Donnés French-American Fund for Contemporary Art, he collaborated on a second project, Danse Macabre, which ran at the Halle St. Pierre, the museum of Outsider Art in Paris in 2004. He holds a Ph.D. from New York University’s Department of Performance Studies, where he received the Michael Kirby Memorial Award for distinguished doctoral dissertation. His essays have appeared in The Drama Review, (ai) performance for the planet, Connect, Stagebill, Cabinet, Radical Street Performance (Routledge, 1999), and Puppets, Masks, and Performing Objects (MIT, 2001), edited by John Bell. He has taught at Barnard College/Columbia University, New York University, CUNY, CalArts, Wesleyan University, the Parsons School of Design/New School University, and in the Performance Studies Summer Institute at NYU since 2002. He is Assistant Professor of Theatre at Concordia University in Montréal, Québec, where he lives during the academic year with MJ Thompson, Sam Sussman, and Finn Sussman. For Great Small Works, he is continuing work on Soil Desire People Dance, a collaboration with Roberto Rossi based on the writings of German author W.G. Sebald.

Related to the exhibition

Great Small Works: Toy Theatre Workshop for Adults

Saturday March 10, 2012, 10AM


As part of the festival Les Trois Jours de Casteliers and the exhibtion The Toy Theater of Terror As Usual:  Episodes 1-12 at FOFA Gallery.

Great Small Works: Terror As Usual: Episode 13

Saturday March 10, 2012, 8PM + 10PM

As part of the festival Les Trois Jours de Casteliers and The Toy Theater of Terror As Usual:  Episodes 1-12 exhibition at FOFA Gallery. 

This performance follows and preceeds the show Ni Fini Ni Infini

For information and tickets for the workshops and shows, please visit the festival's website here.


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