Detroit’s Amazing Puppet History

Ok, so you read a lot about me in this blog.  One thing that I have yet to mention is my love for Russian culture.  Why would I mention that, you’d ask. And the answer is, I never thought I would have to.  It’s a weird piece of fact about me that most people don’t know.  But I studied Russian in college, and for years read only Russian history books for fun.  I know, I’m a nerd. But I’m cool with that.  A lot of the things that makes me love Russian history, the drama, intrigue, random weird facts, the soap opera like romances, are probably the same reasons why I love Detroit.  We have a strange relationship with prohibition and Canada, The Purple Gang, The Scott Fountain, the fires, Woodward Ave., all of these things give Detroit a history just as exciting as that of Russia.

Why do I write about it today though?  Well, I just attended a show at the PuppetART Theatre in downtown Detroit.  The story was “Kolobok”  the Russian version of the Gingerbread man.  It was amazing!  One the fact that I love Russian history was super cool.  And two because I learned so much about the Detroit / Puppet history!

Did you know that in 1929 a puppeteer by the name of Paul McPharlin created the Marionette Fellowship located near the corner of Woodward and Hancock!   In 1936 the Fellowship held the first National Puppetry Conference Festival in Detroit! The conference events were held at the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Hotel Webster Hall and the Artisian Guild. The Festival brought together prominent Puppeteers from all over the United States and Canada to celebrate puppets and share new works.  This event conference led to the formation of the Puppeteers of America the following year.

My love of Russia and my love of Detroit come together in the most unusual way today when I met Luda Mikheyenko, Irina Baranovskaya and Igor Gozman.  These 3 Russians met in 1990.  They have all been classically trained in Russia and are Master Puppeteers.  Igor, with his not so thick Russian accent, was a delight as he walked Martin and I around the Puppet Museum.  He told us about the great history of Detroit and Puppets, showed us some of the famous puppets in his collection.  Told us stories about how he used to take the puppets to schools around MI, and at one point a family came into the PuppetART Theatre and 3 generations had seen the same puppet and all remembered it!  How amazing is that! I don’t think I have stories like that… but I’m going to start!

We also met Irina, she makes all the puppets and sets by hand.  What an amazing woman!  The detail and perfection that goes into all of the puppets and set’s is really quite breathtaking! Kolobok is one of the few puppet shows that uses “floor puppets”.  But wow were those puppets ever amazing!  Above is photograph from the show, and while the photo portray’s the scene well, it doesn’t do justice to the detail and care put into each puppet!  The Fox in that photo has the most beautiful green emerald eyes! I could see them all the way in the back of the 70 person theatre.  Really beautiful!  But the marionettes that are hanging around the PuppetART Theatre are really a testament to the work and craftsmanship that Irina puts into these puppets.  I can not wait to see the performance next month, as they change the shows up each month.

And then Luda, she is the Business Director and Manager of Kolobok, she was manning the lights for the show, and the expressions on the kids faces when the lights went down  – priceless!  When the music changes and the actors rush off stage, the deep breathes and excited laughter fills the space – WOW!  All in Detroit!

I am so thrilled that I was able to see the show and hear a little of the Russian that I faintly remember learning from college.  It was a magical experience for me, and I’m almost 30.  I suggest that you take your kids, parents, cousins, friends, and strangers to the PuppetART Theatre.  The show was amazing, the history is as rare and unique, it’s Detroit but also bigger than Detroit.  It’s a place that I can’t express any better in words… But it is a must see.  We will have more pictures up soon, but please go and see it.  It’s amazing!

And Inside Detroit has partnered with PuppetART Theatre to provide one hour Urban Safari Walking Tours for kids and adults after the Thursday morning performances!  Also, Hard Rock Cafe has thrown in a 20% off coupon with your ticket into the show, and the Detroit Children’s Museum has offered  free admission until Sept 3rd to any PuppetART Theatre Thursday ticket holder!  And people say there is nothing to do in Detroit with your kids! Ha!!!

PuppetART was formed by a trio of Russian puppeteers, all theater professionals in 1995. They began as a touring company and performed throughout Michigan, and in other parts of the US. In 1998, the troupe established its own theater in downtown Detroit.

PuppetART is the only professional resident puppet theater in Southeast Michigan offering year round weekly performances in conjunction with hands-on puppet making workshops and museum tours. For more information or to book your group, please call our office at (313) 961-7777.  Find us on the web at  PuppetART is located at 25 E. Grand River in Detroit.


Detroit Children’s Museum:

Show your PuppetART Voucher any time between now and September 3. To receive one free child’s admission with each paid (313) 873-8100

Hard Rock Café:

Located within walking distance, Hard Rock Café will offer PuppetART ticket holders 20% off your entire food bill when you dine in on the day of the performance. If you decide to lunch at Hard Rock, park in the adjacent structure for free parking validation in the restaurant. 964-7625

Inside Detroit Tours:

This well-known Tour Company located just steps from PuppetART is offering deep discounts on a special family-friendly tour. On this one hour tour of Detroit, parents and kids alike will discover some of Downtown Detroit’s urban wildlife!  Detroit’s unique architecture is full of exotic animals. This urban safari engages tour goers by having them find lions, tigers, bears and more as we explore Downtown Detroit. The tour will leave from PuppetART after your puppet making workshop. Tickets are $3 for children and $7 for adults. (313) 962-4590

To book the Urban Safari Tour click here! –

I hope to see you on a tour soon!

Enjoy Detroit,


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