May 31, 2007


Rose’s Shakespeare puppets take to the screen at Little Art

Jim Rose in his puppet making studio with a William Shakespeare marionette, one of his more expressive walkable marionettes. Horatio’s Hamlet, a film featuring his puppets, will screen as a benefit to the Little Art Theatre on Saturday, June 2, at 4 p.m.

With Punch and Judy painted on the fireplace damper and a sign for the Antioch College Puppet Theater Department hanging in the window, there is no mistaking the Yellow Springs home of local residents Jim and Judy Rose. Jim, who grew up in the Connecticut home of two of the country’s most well-known puppeteers, has carried the puppeteering tradition his parents began to area schools, to festivals and to national conferences and workshops. And most recently, Rose’s puppets have been featured on screen in a film adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

The 28-minute film Horatio’s Hamlet is the project of filmmaker Jay Woefel and Shakespearean actor Nick Baldasare, who had seen Rose’s handmade puppets at an art exhibition in Columbus and felt they could be used to illustrate Hamlet’s play within a play, known as “The Mouse Trap.” A preview of the film will screen at the Little Art Theatre on Saturday, June 2, at 4 p.m. The proceeds will benefit the local theater, which Baldasare frequented growing up in Dayton in the 1970s.

The puppets by Rose, who developed a passion for Shakespeare as an Antioch College student in the 1950s, figure prominently in some of the most beautiful scenes in the film, according to Baldasare.

“I can’t speak highly enough of Jim Rose and the degree to which he helped our film,” he said. “I saw his puppets in a Columbus art gallery years ago and fell in love with his work, and it seemed like a perfect idea to have him as the Player King.”

Rose’s life has been devoted to theater and puppets, both of which he takes quite seriously and considers to be an art form meant for adults as well as children. He has labored for the love of drama since the age of 13, when he first saw the power a small hand puppet could wield over a rapt audience in St. Louis during a Burr Tillstrom performance of “Kukla and Ollie.” Rose chose to teach theater at Antioch instead of traveling as a puppet performer only because he wanted to have a stable family life, he said. But in every other way, he is a consummate puppeteer.

The puppet-making studio next to his house, which mirrors Gepetto’s own, is replete with unpainted marionettes hanging from the ceiling, a woodshop, sewing machine, and shelves of carefully labeled brushes, string, styrofoam and velvet. He has made over 200 puppets and marionettes and performed with them in shows at Renaissance festivals and fairs across the country, including the annual Labor Day Weekend Fair at New Boston in Springfield, where he and his wife perform with Rose’s handmade Punch and Judy hand puppets every year.

Rose likes Punch, a “miscreant who rebels against any kind of authority,” including that of marriage, represented by his wife, Judy (distinctly separate from Rose’s wife). Punch descended from the 16th-century Italian comedia dell’arte tradition of buffoonery, and he carries his slap sticks to whack the police officer and throw babies out the window (including his own).

Rose, who might be referred to as a Punch professor, got his first experience building toys and post-World War II guns and airplanes in the puppet-making studios in his boyhood house in Waterford, Conn. His parents, Margo and Rufus Rose, who helped found the National Convention of the Puppeteers of America in 1936 and performed in the hit 1950s television series Howdy Doody, designed their home to double as a theater. Up to 150 people could be seated in the living room, where Rose became fascinated, he said, with the number of people “crazy enough” to come and do nothing but talk, eat and breathe puppetry.

But television changed the world of puppetry, and marionettes especially, because audiences could see the puppet strings so clearly, Rose said. Often he is asked if puppetry isn’t a dying art. His rejoinder, Rose said, is, “Puppetry has been dying for 6,000 years; I’m not worried.”

Puppetry is a form of acting, he said, except instead of donning a false nose and a little wig, the actors use puppets and marionettes to interpret a role and convey feeling with the added benefit of being able to do magical things such as levitate and transform from a woman into a balloon and float away.

When Baldasare and Woefel saw the versatility of puppets was right for their needs, they enlisted Rose along with students and faculty members from the Bowling Green University film department to tell the story of Hamlet from the viewpoint of Horatio. Rose plays the Player King while his marionettes reenact the poisoning scene in which Hamlet attempts to “catch the conscience of the King,” Claudius, who allegedly killed his brother for the crown.

Baldasare has adapted a series of Shakespeare plays with quotes from the texts and performed them to high school students in the Columbus area. The film was financed by Bowling Green, where some of it was shot in addition to locations at the Dayton Art Institute and in Woodland Cemetery.

The puppet scenes were natural for Rose, who built an array of Shakespeare puppets in the early ’90s, along with a stage, music and lighting, to perform his favorite monologues, such as the prologue to Henry V, where the actors enlist the audience’s imagination as an active player in the theatrical experience.

Rose is still building a series of seven more marionettes, now, in his studio, for no particular purpose except that he simply isn’t finished yet. He may take some of them to the workshops and festivals he and Judy still travel to each year in the RV parked in front of their house. There is no retirement for the 74-year-old Rose, who happily and ably took the torch from his parents and aims to carry it on.


The History of Yellow Springs