GREAT SMALL WORKS has produced nine International Toy Theater Festivals, which have featured the work of hundreds of local and international theater and visual artists. Archived here are the programs from the four most recent festivals.

Click to see the full program from TTF '10

Click to see the full program from TTF '08

Click to see the full program from TTF '03

Click to see the full program from TTF '05
Festival flyer artwork: Erica Harris
Images from the above festivals
can be found in our Archives.

A Brief History of Toy Theater
A popular and simple means of staging dramatic spectacles in the Victorian living room, Toy Theater was the rage in homes across Europe and the Americas. As children, Oscar Wilde and Jane Austen, Laurence Olivier and Orson Welles all delighted in re-enacting their favorite literary works and West End dramas by staging them in two dimensions on a miniature proscenium stage. Combining the visual and performing arts, toy theater originated in 19th century revolutions in printing technologies. By the mid-20th century, the small box in the living room had been replaced by another; and toy theater became outmoded among all but a few practitioners. Since 1993, Great Small Works has been reviving and reinventing this form of storytelling that is fantastic in scope, easily affordable, and open to any content imaginable.
The Neptune Theatre, c1870. From Toy Theatres of the World by Peter Baldwin

During the countdown to the Gulf War in 1991, members of Great Small Works, inspired by Walter Benjamin's notion of culture in a permanent "state of emergency" and by the political photomontages of Weimar artist John Heartfield, began performing a surreal news serial, entitled The Toy Theater of Terror As Usual. Using excerpted texts and cut-out images from current newspapers, magazines, and philosophical works, the series, now in its eleventh episode, has dealt with issues ranging from the Gulf War and the Los Angeles riots to the condition of New York City real estate and American gun culture. Performed by five visible puppeteers hovering around a tabletop proscenium stage, Terror As Usual has become the company's signature piece.

Great Small Works has continued to reinvent the 19th century Toy Theater with original scripts and adaptations of classic plays: Olivier's Hamlet is a twenty-minute adaptation of Shakespeare's classic, intercut with excerpts from the autobiography of Laurence Olivier, with images from his film; and, Toy Theater Faust uses texts from Goethe, Marlowe, and the popular puppet plays that predate the classic literary Faust texts. The company frequently combines these classics along with new toy theater pieces to make programs for their biennial Toy Theater Festivals as well as on tour to community centers, libraries, schools, and theatrical venues. The company has also created toy theater pieces specifically for children, among them A Yankee Circus in Outer Space and Our Kitchen.

Sparking what has since become a full-scale revival movement, the company has produced seven Toy Theater Festivals, which have featured the work of hundreds of theater and visual artists. A crucial component of these festivals has been The Temporary Toy Theater Museum, which have included the work of hundreds of visual artists inspired by the miniature format. Festivals and exhibits have taken place at Theater for the New City (1993, 1994), the Los Kabayitos Puppet Theater at the Clemente Soto Velez Community Center (1996, 1998), the HERE Arts Center (2000, 2003) and St. Ann’s Warehouse (2005). An eighth festival is planned for Summer, 2008. Traveling versions of the festival have been presented at the Museum of the City of New York, the International Festival of Arts and Ideas in New Haven, Connecticut, the Hopkins Center at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, Fécamp Scène Nationale in France, the Jim Henson International Festival of Puppet Theater, the Full-On Puppetry Festival in Philadelphia, the Papierteatertreffen in Preetz, Germany, and at branch libraries in New York City.

In its Toy Theater Workshops, Great Small Works has invited participants to create their own toy theater productions. The company has worked with kids, graduate students, artists, teachers, performers, and activists to teach the form and to make it accessible to a wide variety of practitioners. Workshops have taken place at New York University's Department of Performance Studies, the Crossroads Middle School in Manhattan, Brooklyn grade schools, the Gowanus Arts Exchange, the Museo de Culturas Populares in Coyoacan, Mexico City, and the National Theater Workshop for the Handicapped in Belfast, Maine.
Images of past Temporary Toy Theater Museum exhibits

can be found in our Archives.

Since its creation, GREAT SMALL WORKS has been the producer of the Spaghetti Dinner Series, variety evenings of pasta, performance, and music. Founded by veterans of Vermont’s Bread & Puppet Theater and members of Ninth Street Theater in 1978, the Spaghetti Dinners began in a storefront on East Ninth Street as informal evenings for neighborhood residents and members of the downtown theater community, combining puppet theater, New Orleans brass band music, and healthy portions of spaghetti with fresh garlic. Today, the Spaghetti Dinner still works with the same formula – vegetarian spaghetti, new performances in all media (theater, puppetry, dance, film, spoken word, polemic,) and live music - all for a $12 ticket. (Not to mention delicious pugliese bread, donated by the Sullivan Street Bakery.)

Spaghetti Dinners are the perfect venue for emerging and veteran performing artists to show excerpts of new work, or shorter pieces. Great Small Works use the Dinners as a platform for the development of full-length plays in installments. And, they allow the company, its audience, and friends to celebrate the political and ritual calendars of New York by programming acts that reference and refigure seasonal holidays and the news events of the day. Recent Spaghetti Dinner themes have included the Jewish festival of Purim, Chinese New Year, Visions of a Post-Giuliani New York, Memorials, Live Radio & Sound Art, Mardi Gras, and Dada Christmas.

The Spaghetti Dinner depends on a loyal audience, and a crew of volunteers. For schedule information, or to volunteer, please contact GSW at (718) 840-2823 or check our Calendar of Events for upcoming Spaghetti Dinners.

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