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Musical Creativity and Artistic Exploration in Puppet Theater

Exploring interdisciplinary collaboration across artistic fields in higher ed by creating a traveling puppet theater program for youth.


This project will expand a new puppet theater program in the Theater Department at SUNY New Paltz into a multi-disciplinary endeavor, collaborating with professional artists in visual art, theater, music, and digital media. They will create a prototype project in Fall 2018 to explore the creativity across genres that can be incorporated into an academic class for university students centered on community engagement in the arts.

This convergence of a composer (Phyllis Chen), a small ensemble of musicians (Christiana Fortune-Reader, Emlyn Johnson, Daniel Ketter, Alex Peh), a video artist (Rob Dietz), theater director (Ken Goldstein), and art/music educator (Lynn Grossman) will create a prototype of a 30-minute traveling puppet theater piece for children. They will explore the needs and logistics of collaborating across disciplines for a unique approach to storytelling using instruments and found sound, sock puppets and digital media projection to support a performance. They will address the demands of meaningful community engagement and performance formats for a more effective and inspiring performance for upper elementary and middle school children (ages 8-13).

This project has the intention of modeling a creative, interdisciplinary collaboration that is more representative of a artist’s career once students in the fine and performing arts graduate from their degree programs. They will create live performances, reaching wider audiences and confronting an underlying battle with the influx of technology and the accessibility of recorded music and handheld devices. This venture would provide the foundation to create a university program for students to work with professors to create the music, art, and theater direction for their own community-based puppet shows.

The team of professionals will convene at SUNY New Paltz in Summer/Fall 2018 for the first phase of this project. They will create, rehearse and perform a show on the campus of SUNY New Paltz as a prototype for the New Paltz students and the community. The artists will be expected to contribute to all parts of the development and implementation of the production of unique and innovative storytelling, including staging, digital set design, puppet creation, acting, singing, playing, and composing. They will also present it at community centers like Unison Arts and elementary schools in the Hudson Valley. Lastly, they will apply to tour with this program in Spring 2019, performing in the greater New York region on concert programs they have personal connections to such as venues like the Eastman School of Music, the University of Buffalo, SUNY Geneseo, and SUNY Potsdam in New York, as well as performing at gallery spaces and performance venues in New York City such as BRIC and the Abrons Art Center.

The second phase of this project will be to rely on this experience to inform the development of an upper-level cross-disciplinary course to be taught at SUNY New Paltz in Fall 2019, including music, theater, and art students. Based on their experiences in creating their own puppet performance, the professors at New Paltz will propose a course description, along with a syllabus and course materials.

Project Media

Music in the American Wild
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Features: Emlyn Johnson

This is a sample of the musicians’ work as members of Music in the American Wild. Eastman graduates, Emlyn Johnson and Daniel Ketter dreamed of a project of what it might be like to play music outside. Supported by the National Endowment of the Arts, they celebrated the Centennial of the National Park System in 2016 with two tours of eleven new compositions in ten different parks from the east coast to the west, inspired by nature and the parks themselves as a unique way to draw in new audiences.

Phyllis Chen: Miniature Music
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Features: Phyllis Chen

Phyllis Chen not only collects tiny toy pianos she also composes beautiful music with them. Classically-trained pianist Chen discovered toy pianos at 21 and fell in love with the quirky instrument. She’s now founded the UnCaged Toy Piano composition competition and festival, and aims to bring the toy piano to a wider audience.

Toy Piano Composer Phyllis Chen Reimagines the Classical Concert
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Features: Phyllis Chen, Alex Peh

Short video promo made at the Banff Centre for the Arts, 2016. Columba for prepared piano, by Phyllis Chen. Commissioned by FROMM foundation. Performed by Alex Peh

Start and End Dates



New Paltz, New York

Project Created By

New Paltz, New York
Christiana Fortune-Reader is a multi-faceted musician, passionate about the intersection of teaching, performing, community building, and arts advocacy. She is starting in the Music Department at New Paltz to teach violin, viola, and conduct the orchestra. She is coming from a teaching position at Illinois State University, where she also served as the Assistant Principal…

In Collaboration With

Astoria, New York
New Paltz, New York


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