New to the 2023 festival is the V.E.P program. Working with the festival theme of Generations, we have programmed small pop-up surprises, world-class performances, and other programs of interest to puppeteers. We believe these offerings and opportunities will surprise and delight attendees and create long cherished memories of the festival. Subscribe to the festival social media and keep your eyes out for teasers, hints, and announcements.

Friday, July 21st: 2:00 pm - 3:00 pm

Puppets and Autism: A Special Connection

a Panel Discussion hosted by the Jim Henson Foundation

Puppetry has a special ability to connect with neurodivergent audiences and can be used as an effective learning tool and bridge for communication and motivation. An invited panel hosts a lively discussion with Jim Henson Foundation President Cheryl Henson, Foundation Manager and co-artistic director of WonderSpark Puppets Z. Briggs, Center for Puppetry Arts Education Director Aretta Baumgartner, Artistic Director of Drama of Works and creator of "Puppet Club" for neurodiverse puppeteers Gretchen Van Lente, puppeteer of Julia on Sesame Street and Artistic Director of Puppet Pie Stacey Gordon, and puppeteer and puppet-builder Kieran Braun. 1 Hour.

Friday, July 21st: 5:00 pm - 7:00 pm


The Jim Henson Foundation presents:

American Puppet Theater Today: The Photography of Richard Termine

Please join us for a reception that will be held on Friday, July 21 from 5pm-7pm in the gallery and piano room in the

Michelle Smith Performing Arts Library

New York-based photographer Richard Termine has documented American Puppet Theater for over 30 years. Termine’s work captures the animated gesture of the puppet in still images. Over 100 images and objects in this exhibition illustrate the dynamic range of Puppet Theater being created by a vibrant community of artists in the New York City area, as well as some of the excellent work presented at National Puppet Festivals across the United States. 

<< All album photos 3/5 photos

Tuesday, July 18th, 9:00pm "Opening Performance"

"Aanika's Elephants" - Annie Evans

Aanika’s Elephants is the story of a young African girl who meets a baby elephant (Little) at the orphanage where her father works. They grow together the way only two young girls can, even if one has a trunk. When Aanika’s father dies, she becomes the ward of an abusive uncle. She flees into the African Savannah making one final farewell to Little. Camping that night in the bush the way her father taught her, she is frightened by crashing branches and discovers Little has followed her. They become a herd of two, working together to survive and steer clear of humanity. Adopted by a small herd of elephants, Aanika learns their very beautiful, civil ways. She is finally tested when she must save her new family from poachers.

In a time when children are feeling so much division and stress, Aanika’s Elephants is play about compassion, love and conservation. It’s a story that shows how family can be anything — a beloved, widowed father or even a herd of elephants. The audience can use their imaginations to fill in the large rattan-framed elephants, adorable baby elephant and people represented by just hats and gloves. With music, a variety of puppets and humor, Aanika’s Elephants entertains and educates both adults and children on the plight of the elephant and our world.

View a Teaser Clip

About The Company

Annie Evans: (writer/producer) Has written children’s television for the past twenty-five years, most notably for Sesame Street (13 Emmy Awards) as well as for shows on Nickelodeon, PBS, Discovery Channel, Disney Channel and Animal Planet. She has taught writing for children around the world and story edited for Sesame Street co-productions in Bangladesh, India and Indonesia. She is also a playwright having had plays produced at such theatres as New York Stage and Film Company, Manhattan Class Company and the Circle Repertory Lab. She is a graduate of Brown University.

Pam Arciero: (director) Pam Arciero performs for film, television and theater, notably as a puppeteer with Sesame Street (Grundgetta Grouch, Oscar's girlfriend, and assorted characters) and with the Muppets for over 35 years. Pam is a director of live theater, television, and film. She choreographs and directs live walkaround (the big versions of the puppets) shows for Sesame Workshop in such far-flung places as Jamaica, Turks and Caicos, Barcelona, and Saudi Arabia, as well as Sesame Place and Sea World, USA. She is the Artistic Director of the National Puppetry Conference at the O'Neill Theater Center. Pam holds a master’s degree in Puppetry Arts from the University of Connecticut and a Bachelor's Degree in Dance and Dramatic Arts from the University of Hawaii.

Martin P. Robinson: (puppet designer/builder) Broadway: Little Shop of Horrors (designer/performer); The Frogs (designer). Off Broadway: Little Shop of Horrors (Drama Desk, L.A. Drama Critics, Villager Awards); Go, Diego Go! National Tour (puppet designer); Film: Muppets Take Manhattan, Follow That Bird, Elmo in Grouchland, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Producers.  TV: Sesame Street– 41 years playing Mr. Snuffleupagus, Telly Monster, Slimey, etc. Currently playing Mr. Primm on the new Sesame Street/Apple TV show “Helpsters.”

Saturday July 22nd: 11:00 am - 1:00 pm

Sam and Friends The Story of Jim Henson's First Television Show

Presentation and Book Signing by Craig Shemin


Craig Shemin, author of Sam and Friends: The Story of Jim Henson’s First Television Show, began his career with a fourteen-year stint at The Jim Henson Company, where he wrote for the TV series Telling Stories with Tomie DePaola, Donna’s Day and The Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss (WGA nomination). He also wrote Muppets Inside, the award-winning computer game, co-wrote the Webby-nominated web series The Muppets Kitchen, assisted Miss Piggy with her cookbook, In the Kitchen with Miss Piggy and worked on numerous Muppet TV appearances and other projects. His more recent Muppet work includes Carnegie Hall’s Jim Henson’s Musical World and The Jim Henson Retrospectacle In Concert in New Zealand.

Now President of the Jim Henson Legacy, a non-profit organization dedicated to celebrating the work of Jim Henson, and a noted Henson historian, Shemin is the author of The Muppets Character Encyclopedia and he produced and directed the award-winning documentary Behind the Scenes in Frogtown Hollow, about the making of Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas. He also curates the Henson screening events at Museum of the Moving Image and, in 2022, he produced Disney’s D23 Expo’s There’s Magic in the Air, a special

performance and panel marking the 30th Anniversary of The Muppet Christmas Carol.

Outside of the world of Jim Henson, his television work includes the recent PBS/Amazon series Clifford the Big Red Dog and Nick Jr.’s Abby Hatcher. He created and wrote Disney’s Lou and Lou: Safety Patrol and wrote the Emmy-nominated Tasty Time with ZeFronk, also for Disney. He directed a series of streaming holiday specials featuring Spookley the Square Pumpkin and his writing credits also include Nick Jr.’s Dora and Friends: Into the City, Oobi and Gullah Gullah Island and the Cartoon Network series Courage the Cowardly Dog, He writes and directs the L.O.S. Kids live concert series for New York City’s Little Orchestra Society. His adaptation of Babes in Toyland played Lincoln Center for three holiday seasons and his updated version of Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel made its debut there in 2014. He is married to the delightful Tony-nominated performer Stephanie D’Abruzzo.

Program Language: English      Program: Community Day & Very Engaging Puppetry


Sunday, July 23rd:  11:00 am - 3:00 pm

NEW- IMAGINATION UNLIMITED: THE JIM HENSON Exhibition at the Maryland Center for History and Culture in Baltimore

A Bus Tour before you travel home...

Following Festival Check-out, interested attendees are invited to board a bus to see the Imagination Unlimited: The Jim Henson Exhibition at the Maryland Center for History and Culture in Baltimore. Info on their website can be found here: Upcoming Exhibitions – Maryland Center for History and Culture (

Photo: Courtesy of The Jim Henson Company


11:00am:  Bus Departs University of Maryland (UofM)

12:00pm - 2:00pm: Tour Exhibit

2:15pm: Bus Departs Museum for UofM 

3:00pm: Estimated Arrival at UofM**

Cost: $15 (+ fees) - The Festival will arrange entry ticket purchase for the group and will contact individuals to collect payment closer to the event.

Already registered? email The Festival team to reserve your spot. New registrations will be able to select this as an "add-on" in the menu.

**Please note that the trip between the University and Baltimore is subject to traffic and we cannot guarantee arrival times.

The museum does not have a café but is located next door.

Members of the public may register for this activity. There will be no housing or further activities produced by the National Puppetry Festival on Sunday 7/23. Those wishing to stay overnight may take advantage of discounted rates with our partner The Hotel at the University of Maryland. Limited rooms are available. Guests may book rooms through the online portal: or, with the Central Reservations Desk at 301-277-7777 EXT 7101

Courtesy of The Jim Henson Company. Photo by John E. Barrett.

Puppeteers of America
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