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, to miniature “toy theater” spectacles. At Performance Space 122, the company continues the twenty-three year tradition of Monthly Spaghetti Dinners, variety evenings founded in the late 1970s that include music, live performance, and vegetarian spaghetti. GREAT SMALL WORKS productions consistently reinvent ancient, popular theater techniques: toy theater (Papiertheater), 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 participating in democracy.

GREAT SMALL WORKS has received 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 support from 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.

The History of Great Small Works

During the countdown to the 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 — The Toy Theater of Terror As Usual, now in its eleventh episode. GREAT SMALL WORKS has continued to reinvent the 19th century Toy Theater form with new works and adaptations of classics — Toy Theater Faust and Olivier’s Hamlet, directed by John Bell and designed by Stephen Kaplin — for performance in living rooms, community centers, schools, libraries, prisons, and theaters. Sparking what has become a full scale revival movement, the members of GREAT SMALL WORKS curate and produce the biennial Toy Theater Festival, including the Temporary Toy Theater Museum, which features the work of seventy-five artists, many working in the medium for the first time. Festivals have taken place at Theater for the New City in 1993 and ‘94, the Los Kabayitos Puppet Theater in 1996 and ‘98, and the HERE Arts Center in 2000. 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, and the Rhode Island School of Design. 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 in Belfast, Maine, and the El Puente Community Center, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

GREAT SMALL WORKS also works on a large scale with 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 Arts Festival in downtown Brooklyn.

Full-length theater works currently in repertoire 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 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 production of ZANGEZI: A Supersaga in Twenty Planes, by the Russian Futurist Velimir Khlebnikov, is currently in the workshop stage.

Shorter works include ongoing episodes of the surreal news serial, The Toy Theater of Terror As Usual, created by the company using cut-outs from news sources and texts from the latest headlines; Olivier’s Hamlet and Toy Theater Faust, two miniature classics adapted for toy theater stages by John Bell and designer Stephen Kaplin; the noir handpuppet thriller New York Confidential; 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; and, The True Story of CHARAS, a cantastoria about real estate on the Lower East Side.

Contact & Booking Information

For information about upcoming productions or for booking the company for a performance
and/or workshop in your community, please contact us:

Mark Sussman tel. (718) 840-2823; fax. (718) 840-2825

Great Small Works / 315 West 86th St., Suite 4E / New York. NY 10024


Company Bios

JOHN BELL was a full-time member of Bread & Puppet Theater for 10 years, after which he studied Theater History at Columbia University, where he gained his Ph.D. in 1993. With Great Small Works, he performs, writes, and directs shows, especially those using various forms of puppet theater. He is also a veteran of Ninth Street Theater, where he directed a production of Darius Milhaud's Creation of the World with the Orchestra of St. Luke's at the Brooklyn Academy of Music Opera House. Bell continues to work with Bread & Puppet, especially as an organizing participant in the theater's summer circuses and festivals. He teaches Theater History and Practice at Emerson College in Boston, and has taught at New York University, Long Island University, and the Rhode Island School of Design. He is a leading expert on the history of puppet and object theater, and is a Contributing Editor of The Drama Review. His latest publication, of many, is Landscape and Desire: Bread & Puppet Pageants in the '90s. Most recently, he was the director and performer for A Mammal’s Notebook: The Erik Satie Cabaret.

worked for 10 years as a full-time member of Bread and Puppet Theater's resident company in Vermont, and continues to perform in that company's annual outdoor summer programs.  In New York City, she was a member of Ninth Street Theater from 1985-1995, and has performed in numerous productions directed by Amy Trompetter and Janie Geiser.  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. She organized Great Small Works' November 2000 Fifth International Toy Theater Festival, has worked as a legal secretary, and has conducted large choruses of untrained singers.

is a master puppet designer and builder. He 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 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 Lee Breuer, Theodora Skipitares, The Big Apple Circus, Circus Flora, Bread & Puppet Theater, Barbara Pollitt, Janie Geiser and Paul Zaloom. He is also a founding member of Chinese Theatre Works.

JENNY ROMAINE has worked extensively as a stilt dancer, puppeteer, and performer with the Bread and Puppet Theater, Janie Geiser and Co., Ninth Street Theater,and Amy Trompetter. She is a founding member of GSW. Romaine is also the music director of the OBIE/Bessie Award winning free outdoor traveling circus, Circus Amok. Romaine recently conceived, directed, and performed The Memoirs of Glückel of Hamelin, a music theater adaptation with puppets of the only pre-modern text by a woman in Yiddish, A collaborative project with composer Frank London of the Klezmatics, and Yiddish song-diva Adrienne Cooper. Romaine was featured in the sound opera Do Chinese Postmen Ring Twice Too? with Hans-Peter Litcher and Christian Marclay (Sarah Mandlblutt composer), and choreographed / performed the musical numbers in Gregg Bordowitz's film adaptation of The Suicide. Romaine has directed community based spectacles with Jews For Racial and Economic Justice, the Lesbian Avengers, Klezkanada (Montreal), Ashkenaz: A festival of New Yiddish Culture (Toronto), and has taught at Island Academy on Riker's Island (youth prison). Her other recent visual theater projects include Democracy in Wonderland, a show created with poet Andrea Atsuko Dunham and a team of multi-racial youth performers about the growth of the prison industry in the United States. Romaine was awarded a New York Foundation for the Arts Artist Fellowship in Puppetry and Emergent Forms in 1997, and was a fellow at the MacDowell Colony. She has an MA in Performance Studies from the Tisch School of the Arts, NYU..

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. He conducts intergenerational arts and performance workshops with Elders Share the Arts (ESTA), the Waterways Project, and at a number of New York City Public Schools. He studies and performs the accordion, and directs the Great Small Works Invisible Hand Orchestra, a street band.

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 Fall, 1999, he was a Visiting Artist at the Cotsen Center for Puppetry and the Arts at the California Institute of the Arts, where he participated in creating Theater of the Ears, 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. 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. 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 on performance and culture 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, and he currently teaches in the Architecture Department of the Parsons School of Design. For Great Small Works, he is beginning work on Velimir Khlebnikov’s Zangezi: A Supersaga in Twenty Planes. He will teach “Performance in New York City” for the NYU Performance Studies Department in Summer, 2002.