GREAT SMALL WORKS was founded in 1995 as a collective of artists who keep theater at the heart of social life. Drawing on folk, avant-garde, and popular theater traditions to address contemporary issues, the company performs in theaters, clubs, schools, galleries, streets, and other community centers. Based in New York City, they produce performance works on a wide variety of scales, from outdoor pageants with giant puppets and hundreds of performers from diverse communities, to miniature “toy theater” spectacles. At a variety of New York venues, including Performance Space 122, Judson Memorial Church, and Theater for the New City, the company continues the twenty-eight year-old tradition of Spaghetti Dinners, variety evenings (founded on the Lower East Side in the late 1970s by veterans of Vermont’s Bread & Puppet Theater) that include music, live performance, political discourse, and vegetarian spaghetti. GREAT SMALL WORKS productions consistently reinvent ancient, popular theater techniques: Toy Theater, mask and object theater, circus, sideshow, and picture-show (cantastoria) to name a few. On any scale, GREAT SMALL WORKS productions seek to renew, cultivate, and strengthen the spirits of their audiences, promoting theater as a model for reanimating the public sphere and participating in democratic life.

Temple Stream Theater, Temple, Maine, 2001

GREAT SMALL WORKS has received a 2005 Puppeteers of America Jim Henson Award for Innovation in the Field of Puppetry, a 1997 Village Voice OBIE Award grant, a 1997 UNIMA Citation for excellence in puppetry, a NYFA Community Assets Grant, and New Theater Advancement support from the New York State Council for the Arts, as well as project-based support from the NEA, NYSCA, NYC-DCA, as well as private foundations and individuals.

GREAT SMALL WORKS is a non-profit corporation, whose members are John Bell, Trudi Cohen, Stephen Kaplin, Jenny Romaine, Roberto Rossi, and Mark Sussman. For information about booking the company for performances or workshops, please contact us.

Some History...
During the countdown to the first Gulf War in 1991, members of GREAT SMALL WORKS, inspired by Walter Benjamin’s notion of a culture in a permanent “state of emergency,” began performing a surreal serial drama using excerpted texts and images cut from the daily newspapers and manipulated in a miniature proscenium stage. The Toy Theater of Terror As Usual is now in its eleventh episode, “Crusade?” GREAT SMALL WORKS has continued to reinvent the 19th Century Toy (or Paper) Theater format with new works and adaptations of classics for performance in living rooms, community centers, schools, libraries, prisons, and theaters: Toy Theater Faust and Olivier’s Hamlet, directed by John Bell and designed by Stephen Kaplin; A Walk in the City, adapted from a story by Italo Calvino, directed and designed by Roberto Rossi; Soil Desire People Dance, incorporating video projection and text adapted from the works of W.G. Sebald, directed and designed by Mark Sussman and Roberto Rossi; Three Books in the Garden, created by Trudi Cohen, John Bell, and Isaac Bell; and, The White Pajamas, directed by Jenny Romaine, created with Toronto-based memory painter Mayer Kirshenblatt.

Other shorter productions include B.B. in L.A., adapted from the Los Angeles journals of Bertolt Brecht and performed with objects and a live band; two shows for kids, Our Kitchen, created by Trudi Cohen and Kasper in Metropolis, created by Roberto Rossi and George Konnoff; two cantastorias, The History of Oil, with paintings by Janie Geiser, and The True Story of CHARAS, about Giuliani-era struggles for real estate on the Lower East Side; and Lyzer the Miser, from a story by Isaac Bashevis Singer, created by John Bell, Trudi Cohen, and Isaac Bell.

Sparking what has become a full scale revival movement, the members of GREAT SMALL WORKS continue to produce, design, and curate the International Toy Theater Festival & Temporary Toy Theater Museum, which feature the work of close to one hundred artists, many working in the medium for the first time alongside expert practitioners from around the world. Festivals have taken place at Theater for the New City in 1993 and ‘94, the Los Kabayitos Puppet Theater in 1996 and ‘98, the HERE Arts Center in 2000 and ’03, and at St. Ann’s Warehouse in 2005. Touring versions of the festival have been presented at the Jim Henson Foundation’s International Festival of Puppet Theater, the Museum of the City of New York, Fécamp Scène Nationale (France), the Hopkins Center at Dartmouth College, the Full-On Puppetry Festival in Philadelphia, the Rhode Island School of Design, Columbia University’s Department of Anthropology, and the Eyebeam Art & Technology Center. GREAT SMALL WORKS has also taught this inexpensive, popular form of theater production in workshops at the Gowanus Arts Exchange, the Bread & Roses School in Harlem, the Museum of Popular Culture in Coyoacan, Mexico City, New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, the National Theater Workshop for the Handicapped, EBC Bushwick High School, Island Academy (Riker's Island), Frederick Douglass Academy, the Brooklyn Children's Museum, and the El Puente Community Center, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The Eighth Toy Theater Festival is planned for Summer, 2008.

GREAT SMALL WORKS also works on a large scale with a diverse variety of community groups. In 1996, for the First International Festival of Arts and Ideas in New Haven, they created A History of Apizza in New Haven, an outdoor circus pageant. Hundreds of volunteer performers of all ages from New Haven’s diverse communities constructed giant puppets and masks, researched local history, wrote dialogue, learned to dance on stilts, and represented their city on the town green during the Festival. In 1998, the company created The Bread & Roses Pageant with students and teachers at the Bread & Roses Integrated Arts High School in Harlem. In 2001, following the destruction of the World Trade Center, the company created the Procession to End All Evil for the D.U.M.B.O Art Under the Bridge Festival in downtown Brooklyn, and has created new street processions annually in D.U.M.B.O since then, most recently The Spectacle of the Rising Tide in 2006. The company was also commissioned in 2006 to create The Rising Tide Parade for the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council as the opening event of the summer River to River Festival. The Rising Tide Parade featured the work of dozens of design collaborators, three mobile musical groups, and over ninety performers.

Full-length theater works include A Mammal’s Notebook: The Erik Satie Cabaret, directed by John Bell and created by the company in collaboration with internationally renowned pianist Margaret Leng Tan, presented at Mobius Artists Space in Boston and to sold-out houses at the LaMama Annex in December, 2001; The Memoirs of Glückel of Hameln, directed by Jenny Romaine, created in collaboration with Yiddish music stars Adrienne Cooper and Frank London; and The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare, adapted from the novel by G.K. Chesterton and directed and designed by Mark Sussman, presented at Performance Space 122 in 1997-’98. A new work, The Rapture Project, will open at the HERE Arts Center in January, 2007, following performances at the Philadelphia Fringe Festival, Temple Stream Theater in Maine, and the Charlestown Working Theater in Boston.

For currently scheduled performances, including tours and Spaghetti Dinners,
please refer to our Calendar of Events.

Images from many of the events and productions mentioned above

can be found in our Archives.

Company Biographies

John Bell, Trudi Cohen, Stephen Kaplin, Jenny Romaine, Roberto Rossi, Mark Sussman

JOHN BELL is a performer, writer, and teacher who started making theater seriously with Bread and Puppet Theater; he was a company member of that troupe for over a decade. While studying for his Ph.D. in theater history at Columbia University he began to create shows with the group of friends who became Great Small Works. He conceived and directed the Great Small Works production A Mammal's Notebook: The Erik Satie Cabaret, and with his wife Trudi Cohen and son Isaac Bell has created various Great Small Works projects in Boston, where the family lives. He is the author of Strings, Hands, Shadows: A Modern Puppet History, and edited Puppets, Masks, and Performing Objects; a forthcoming book project is American Puppet Modernism. He is a Contributing Editor to The Drama Review and the Historian of Puppetry International, for whom he edited the Fall/Winter 2006 issue devoted to puppet scripts. He is recognized internationally as an expert on the history of puppet theater.

TRUDI COHEN was a full-time member of Bread and Puppet Theater's resident company in Vermont for 10 years, and continues to participate in Bread and Puppet's annual outdoor summer programs. She has performed as puppeteer in numerous productions directed by Janie Geiser, Amy Trompetter and David Neumann. She wrote and directed a children's puppet play entitled Our Kitchen, which was performed as part of the 1998 Henson International Festival of Puppet Theater, was Director of Great Small Works' June 2005 Seventh International Toy Theater Festival, plays bass drum with the Boston-based Second Line Social Aid and Pleasure Society Brass Band, and was part of the organizing team for the October 2006 HONK! Festival of activist street bands.

STEPHEN KAPLIN holds a BFA from The University of Connecticut and an MA from NYU's Department of Performance Studies. He has designed, built and/or performed puppets for eight Broadway productions, including: The Tempest, directed by George Wolfe; Band in Berlin, directed by Pat Birch and Susan Feldman; and, Juan Darien, The Lion King, and The Green Bird, directed by Julie Taymor. He has also designed, built, and/or performed puppets for new theatre productions by Ping Chong, Lee Breuer, Theodora Skipitares, The Big Apple Circus, Circus Flora, Bread & Puppet Theater, Paul Zaloom and many others. His puppet designs for Ping Chong's Cathay: 3 Tales from China received a Henry Hewes Design Award. He is a founding member of Chinese Theatre Works.

JENNY ROMAINE has worked extensively as a stilt dancer, puppeteer, and performer with the Bread & Puppet Theater, Janie Geiser and Co., Amy Trompetter, Ninth Street Theater, and Great Small Works of which she is a founding member. She is the musical director (and sometime writer/ring performer) of Jennifer Miller's OBIE/Bessie Award winning outdoor traveling CIRCUS AMOK. Romaine’s recent directorial projects include the Richard Pryor Trunk Show with Sundree productions, the Spectacle of the Rising Tide Procession for the River to River Festival, NYC, The Betty Boop Suite with Trumpet Princess Susan Watts and animator mornography, and Happy Norouz from Lesser Panda with the performance band Lesser Panda ( w/ Kenny Wollesen, Michael Winograd, Jennifer Harris, Lee Frisari, Rachel Mattson, Jessica Lurie and painter Ahmad Azadi). Romaine also conceived/directed Great Small Works’ Memoirs of Glückel of Hameln, a critically acclaimed adaptation of the classic Yiddish text in collaboration with Song Diva Adrienne Cooper, composer Frank London and designers Alessandra Nichols and Clare Dolan. Romaine rejoices in the creation of curriculum and community based spectacles with youth and adults which she often directs. Some collaboraters have included the Lesbian Avengers, The Bread and Roses Integrated Arts High School, El Puente Academy, Island Academy (Rikers Island Youth Prison), Jews For Racial and Economic Justice, The Fifth Avenue Committee, Landmark High School, and EBC Bushwick High School in Brooklyn. She has also committed over 2 decades to the cultivation of new Yiddish culture, theater, and community based performance art. With an intergenerational posse of badaasss artists she draws on diverse Yiddish primary source material to create new art with contemporary meaning. Recent projects include The Sukkos Mob, an ambulatory crew of Yiddish-Iranian spectacle singers, An Answer on the Day You Call: A Rain Dance for the Dumbo Arts Festival, Kids and Yiddish the Folksbiene Yiddish Theater’s hit family show directed by Joanne Borts, The White Pajamas, a handpainted ethnography in the form of a paper theater show with Canadian memory painter Mayer Kirshenblatt, The Ballad of 1914: Visual Toyre series #3 on Conscription and the draft with Sarah Gordon and Susan Leviton, and numerous Purim Shpiln (spectacular masquerade balls) with the Workmen’s circle and collaboraters Danial Lang-Levitsky, Joe Dobkin, Galeet Dardashti, Jake Shulman-ment, DJ Rekha, Amichai Lau-Lavie, David Felix Sutcliffe, Pearl Gluck, and Michelle Miller. In the Yiddish world she has been a resident artist at The Ashkenaz Festival of New Yiddish Culture, Yiddishkayt LA (with DJ SoCalled), KlezKamp (founder, Youth Theater Workshop), Klezkanada, and others. Romaine was a sound archivist at the YIVO Institute for 12 years, received a New Play Commission in Jewish Theater from the National Foundation for Jewish Culture in 2003, and was awarded a New York Foundation for the Arts artists fellowship in Puppetry and Emergent Forms in 1998. She holds an MA in Performance Studies from the Tisch School of the Arts, NYU.

ROBERTO ROSSI has worked with Berlin's Theater Zerbrochene Fenster, Bread & Puppet Theater, and the Boston Puppeteers' Cooperative, as well as with directors Jan Fabre, Ingemar Lindh, and Amy Trompetter. For many years, he conducted intergenerational arts and performance workshops with Elders Share the Arts (ESTA), the Waterways Project, and at a number of New York City Public Schools. For Great Small Works, he has directed and designed the toy theater play A Walk in the City, based on a text by Italo Calvino, and created puppets and visual elements for several outdoor processions for the D.U.M.B.O. Arts Festivals. A devoted student of the accordion, he is currently attending the Yale School of Architecture.

MARK SUSSMAN, directs, designs, teaches, and writes. Since 1985, he has worked in New York and on tour with Mabou Mines, Antenna Theater, Janie Geiser, Circus Amok, Ninth Street Theater, Paul Zaloom, and the Bread & Puppet Theater, often exploring the theatrical possibilities of both new and old technologies. In 1996-98, he adapted and directed the Great Small Works production of The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare, from the novel by G.K. Chesterton, at Performance Space 122. In Fall, 1999, he was a Visiting Artist at the Cotsen Center for Puppetry at CalArts, where he participated in creating Theater of the Ears / Théâtre des Oreilles, a solo performance for electronic marionette with text by Valère Novarina, which premiered at the Jim Henson International Festival of Puppet Theater in Fall, 2000 and toured France in Summer, 2001. With Ears co-director Allen S. Weiss and support from the Etant Donnés French-American Fund for Contemporary Art, he collaborated on a second project, Danse Macabre, which ran at the Halle St. Pierre, the museum of Outsider Art in Paris in 2004. He holds a Ph.D. from New York University’s Department of Performance Studies, where he received the Michael Kirby Memorial Award for distinguished doctoral dissertation. His essays have appeared in The Drama Review, (ai) performance for the planet, Connect, Stagebill, Cabinet, Radical Street Performance (Routledge, 1999), and Puppets, Masks, and Performing Objects (MIT, 2001), edited by John Bell. He has taught at Barnard College/Columbia University, New York University, CUNY, CalArts, Wesleyan University, the Parsons School of Design/New School University, and in the Performance Studies Summer Institute at NYU since 2002. He is Assistant Professor of Theatre at Concordia University in Montréal, Québec, where he lives during the academic year with MJ Thompson, Sam Sussman, and Finn Sussman. For Great Small Works, he is continuing work on Soil Desire People Dance, a collaboration with Roberto Rossi based on the writings of German author W.G. Sebald.

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