The Evolution of Jim Henson’s Puppetry: From Analogue Craft to Digital Franchising

Bristol, UK / ONLINE (9.-10.9.2022), 8. July 2022.

he deadline has been extended to July 8, 2022!

Friday 9^th and Saturday 10^th September, University of Bristol and online

A two-day research symposium

Symposium organizers: Prof. Rayna Denison (University of Bristol) and Dr. Cristina Formenti (University of Udine)

/“On the stroke of 5:15, I happened to be walking into the radio and television department of Harrods and there, on a third of the television sets in the place was Kermit, waving his green arms about. Everybody, customers and assistants alike, paused and edged towards him. […] Thank goodness that the show finished at 5:45 or they’d never have got the store shut.”/(/McGill, Evening Standard 1977/)

This two-day symposium addresses the legacy of Jim Henson’s puppetry. It will thus not only look back to the 1970s when the world came to a halt to watch Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy in /The Muppet Show/, but it will also explore the transformations undergone by Henson’s original creations under Disney in the digital age. As Jennifer Carlin and Annisa Graham (2013) argue, “Henson was the creative force behind a huge catalogue of television programs, films, and other productions.” And more than thirty years after the death of their creator, Henson’spuppets and muppets continue to enchant audiences globally, demonstrating the power of his imagination to connect to us across cultures, platforms, and generations.

With this symposium we seek to understand the artistry, variety, and popularity of Henson’s many creations, examining examples which range from his avant-garde filmmaking to his work in popular television and blockbusters. In doing so, the symposium will investigate both the original and wider landscapes of media that have spun out from Henson’s imaginative worlds, to influence contemporary puppetry and animation. From aesthetics and character development through to performance, voice acting, music, and social media we wish to underscore the many ways that Henson’s creative work has impacted popular culture around the world.

We are particularly interested also in papers exposing hownonfiction aesthetics and modes of representation have been exploited within titles starring Henson’s characters as well as in proposals focusing on howdiscourses around Henson’s approach to puppetry and his characters have instigated and shaped through filmic and televisual making-of documentaries on the production practices behind popular titles like /The Muppets Show/or /Sesame Street/. Finally, the symposium aims to investigate also issues of eco-criticism and eco-sustainability in relationship to Henson’s franchises and puppetry more generally.

We invite proposals for 20-minutes papers on topics including (but not limited to):

  * Character development
  * Henson’s characters under Disney ownership
  * Henson’s characters in the digital age
  * Co-productions and transmedia franchising of Henson properties
  * The Muppets, stardom, and social media
  * Parody and pastiche in Muppet performance
  * Ecocriticism and eco-sustainability in Henson’s franchises
  * Making-of documentaries and the shaping of discourses on Henson’s
    approach to puppetry
  * Genres and adaptation
  * Gender and sexuality
  * Ethics and philosophy
  * Reception and translation
  * Music and the Muppets
  * Voice acting and puppet performance
  * Artistic and craft aesthetics in puppet creation
  * Fandom and Muppets merchandising
  * Animation and Henson characters/properties
  * Intertextuality and the influence of Henson’s creations

Please submit your proposals as a word document to Cristina Formenti (cristina.formenti@uniud.it) and Rayna Denison (r.denison@bristol.ac.uk). Include a title, an abstract of up to 250 words, and a short biographical statement (max 100 words) as well as contact information and institutional affiliation where applicable. To facilitate participation from scholars based across the globe, the symposium will be held as a hybrid event, and it will be possible to present either in person or online. Please specify in your submissions the mode of participation of your choice.

*Deadline for submissions: June 24th, 2022.*

Acceptance/non-acceptance notifications will be sent by July 20th, 2022.

For all symposium-related inquiries, you can email Cristina Formenti (cristina.formenti@uniud.it) and Rayna Denison (r.denison@bristol.ac.uk) using as subject line “Jim Henson's puppetry symposium”.