The Wonderland Puppet Theatre
In the summer of 1961, Nancy Schmale saw Bil and Cora Baird’s puppet play, “The Magic Onion” featured in Woman’s Day magazine and persuaded her neighbor, Alice Swann that they should put on the show even though neither of them had any experience performing with puppets. Swann and Schmale were neighbors in Concord Park, a subdivision that Civil Rights activist turned housing developer Moris Milgram had designed as an inter-racial community in the suburbs of Philadelphia. The two housewives (who had seven children between them) went on to perform at the1967 Canadian Centennial Puppeteers of America Festival in Waterloo, Ontario. The 2023 festival exhibit therefore celebrates puppetry as an inspiring means of realizing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s vision of “beloved community” with a display of puppets and archival documents tracing the development of the Wonderland Puppet Theatre.
Curated by Dr. Paulette Richards, the exhibit will include a reading from her new book, Object Performance in the Black Atlantic, workshops on digitizing personal archives, photographing puppets for posterity, and a panel discussion with children of the Concord Park puppeteers. Admission to the exhibit and ancillary programming is free and open to the public as part of our Community Days Program.
Workshops are free and open to the public but will be ticketed for capacity. Click Here to Visit Ticketing
For a full schedule: of hours: Click Here to Visit Community Days
Photo: Alice Swann and Nancy Schmale at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York City
Wednesday, July 19th, 2:30 pm - 3:30 pm
African American Puppet Modernism: Alice Swann and the Wonderland Puppet Theatre
by Dr. Paulette RichardsIn the summer of 1961, Nancy Schmale saw Bil and Cora Baird’s puppet play, “The Magic Onion” featured in Woman’s Day magazine and persuaded her neighbor, Alice Swann, that they should put on the show even though neither of them had any experience performing with puppets. They went on to found the Wonderland Puppet Theatre and performed together for over twenty years. Dr. Paulette Richards will present the chapter from her book, Object Performance in the Black Atlantic: The United States that covers the Wonderland Puppet Theatre.
Friday, July 21st, 3:00 pm - 5:00 pm
Digitizing Personal Archives I & II with Jeff Swann
Jeff Swann promised his mother that he would document the effort and love she put into her puppetry career. In this workshop he will review the equipment he used and the procedures he developed for digitizing the archive of scripts, correspondence, newspaper clippings, and other ephemera. This hands on workshop will also offer tips on digitizing legacy audio and video recordings. These workshops are presented by the Puppeteers of America Festival Exhibit
Program Language: English Program: Community Days (Open to the public) & Symposium
Saturday, July 22nd, 10:00 am - 12:00 pm
Panel Discussion with Concord Park Residents
Housing rights activist Morris Milgram developed Concord Park outside of Philadelphia as an interracial community at a time when covenants prohibiting the sale of homes to African Americans and other minority groups were routinely included in deeds. Children of the Wonderland Puppet Theatre puppeteers will discuss their experience growing up in a neighborhood that intentionally sought to fulfill Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s vision of Beloved Community and the role that the Wonderland Puppet Theatre played in unifying neighbors.