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Out of the Shadows: The Henson Festivals and Their Impact on Contemporary Puppet Theater

ISBN: 9780578665344
Binding: Hardcover
Author: Leslee Asch
Pages: 248
Trim: 8.5” x 8.5” inches
Published: 7/8/2020

What is the first name that comes to mind when you hear the word puppet? Likely, it’s Jim Henson. Many books and thousands of pages have been written about Jim Henson’s life and work. This will, however, be the first book to focus solely on his love of the field of puppetry, an important and as yet unexplored aspect of Jim Henson’s lasting legacy. The Jim Henson Foundation’s International Puppet Festivals brought puppet theater into mainstream American theater. 

Jim Henson knew that in order to introduce U.S. audiences to puppet theater our American companies would need to be seen with the best in the world. Thus, a festival! To realize Jim Henson’s vision for a puppetry festival in New York, the author served as producing director, working with Jim’s daughter Cheryl, who served as executive producer, to produce five award-winning festivals that would equal the European festivals and put U.S. puppet artists on the international stage.

Between 1992 and 2000, The Jim Henson Foundation presented five International Festivals of Puppet Theater in New York City, and developed a national touring program. The festivals presented 136 different productions from 31 countries in 24 theaters throughout New York City. Over 120,000 people attended New York performances; nearly 400,000 saw exhibitions; 100,000 more attended Festival on Tour performances; and millions of people read about the festivals.

Out of the Shadows examines the festivals and their continued legacy, including a look at the contemporary puppet theater landscape. This year, 2020, is the 20th Anniversary of the last Henson Festival and the 30th Anniversary of Jim Henson’s death. It is time to reflect back.


Leslee Asch is an Independent Curator and Writer. She worked for Jim Henson and the Jim Henson Company for over twenty years. She began her career as a puppet builder, and went on to serve as Director of Exhibitions for Jim Henson Productions, curating and managing exhibitions world-wide. She also served as Executive Director of the Jim Henson Foundation and Producing Director of the Henson International Festivals of Puppet Theater. 

She is a recognized expert in the field and has published articles and catalogs on the subject, including The Art of Contemporary Puppet Theater for the Katonah Museum of Art. She developed a performing arts series integrating the performing and visual arts while serving as Executive Director of Silvermine Arts Center. As a member of the Flinn Gallery Committee, she continues to curate exhibitions.

She is a member of Author’s Guild, National League of Pen Women, ArtTable, Cultural Alliance of Fairfield County, UNIMA-USA, and Puppeteers of America.

"I want to thank Leslee for writing this book so that future readers can know the joy that we took in finding so many amazing productions from around the world to bring to New York audiences.  Together, we introduced the art of puppet theater to a generation of theatergoers and puppeteers, many of whom were inspired to create innovative new work of their own. 

My father would be thrilled!"

—Cheryl Henson, from her Foreword