Stagecraft Podcast: Puppetry ‘Genius’ Basil Twist Talks Broadway vs. Downtown

Basil Twist, the puppeteer and MacArthur “Genius” Grant winner, began his career way, way downtown. He’s still working there — current example: the 20th anniversary production of his breakout show “Symphonie Fantastique” — but he’s also found his way to venues of all shapes and sizes all over the world.

That includes Broadway (“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “Oh, Hello on Broadway”), where the interdisciplinary nature of puppetry proves a challenge. “I always fall in between and mess all that up,” Twist said on the latest episode of Stagecraft, Variety‘s theater podcast. “There’s not a puppetry department, there’s not a puppetry union. And so, every puppet [for Broadway] is sort of: Is it a costume or is it a prop? And sometimes it’s a scenic thing.”

Even so, puppetry is no stranger to Broadway. “But a lot of the biggest successes are ones where the puppeteers are visible,” Twist notes, citing shows like “The Lion King,” “Avenue Q” and “War Horse.” Twist, for all his avant-garde tendencies, likes to stay behind the curtain.

“Symphonie Fantastique,” now playing at HERE Arts Center in downtown Manhattan through July 15, is far more abstract than your average puppet show, a swirl of fabric, fringe, bubbles and light choreographed to the Berlioz symphony. But it’s proven Twist’s most enduring creation.

“The show spoke to, obviously, a puppetry audience, but it spoke to a dance audience, and a visual arts audience, and a music audience,” he said. “And because it had this sort of psychedelic nature, there were these late night shows that we had, and this whole other crowd. And then of course there were children who would come to it. There were all these different audiences who came. It was this truly crossover piece in a every way.”

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