Carol Fijan, renowned Croatian-American puppeteer
The following is a portion of an article from the Long Island Section of
the New York Times. Among the people portrayed is Carol Fijan, a
renowned Croatian-American puppeteer. Carol's parents both came to the
US from Croatia in the early part of the 20th century, her father was
born in Zumberak. Her parents were active in various leftist movements
and Carol, who was born in New York, is a "red diaper baby." She
studied the drama at Hunter College but was prohibited from engaging in
her trade during the McCarthyist period when she turned to puppetry
where she became well known in her field. I met Carol several years ago
while working on my master's thesis. Importantly, her puppet work is
not aimed at children but at adults.
In the 1980s donated a large amount of materials concerning activities
of Croatian New Yorkers during the 1930s and 1940s to the Institut za
migracije i narodnosti in Zagreb.
November 16, 2003
Good Hands at Work
By MARCELLE S. FISCHLER
Turn a key in a lock. Snap a photograph. Signal a simple "thumbs up."
There's magic in the human hand, even in these most basic of motions.
It's found in the 27 bones that give the hand structure and the 35
muscles that power it, 15 from the forearm that give strength and 20
within the hand itself that allow precise movements.
That's why it's so bewitching to contemplate the work of hands that have
special skills: a teacher communicating in sign language with the deaf,
a dentist gently manipulating a drill, a surgeon repairing a shattered
finger, a puppeteer bringing a character to life onstage.
"Good puppetry is like dance," Carol Fijan said. "You don't need words.
The movements say it all."
Ms. Fijan, 85, is a master puppeteer, working with hand puppets rather
than marionettes. With a finger she can make a puppet nod, sneeze or
wave hello. With two fingers she can make it clap its hands. Using the
wrist, she makes a puppet say no, seem bashful, turn around and take a
bow. When she adds arm movements, the puppets skip, hop, jump and fall.
Like a musical instrument created by a performer, a puppet takes
practice and skill to bring it to life. "I don't like people to think
you can put on a puppet and in a few lessons manipulate it, any more
than you can take a violin and in a few lessons play at Carnegie Hall,"
said Ms. Fijan (pronounced FEE-jan).
She has been a puppeteer for 65 years, performing at festivals and
giving workshops nationwide. She charges $1,000 to rib someone for 15
minutes at a puppetry roast.
Ms. Fijan uses faceless puppets made of cloth to teach puppetry to
teenagers and adults in the theater set up in the basement of her Great
Neck home. Her adult students include a psychiatrist who wants to use
puppets with her patients, a rabbi who wants to use them to teach Jewish
history and a union representative who wants to use them for political
Ms. Fijan is the co-author of two books: "Making Puppets Come Alive: How
to Learn and Teach Hand Puppetry," written with Larry Engler (Dover,
1997), and "Directing Puppet Theater Step by Step," with Frank Ballard
(Resource Publications, 1990). Five years ago she helped start the
National Day of Puppetry, held the last Saturday in April, and in 1966,
she helped found the Puppet Guild of Long Island, which still meets
monthly at her home.
Bob Boehm, the president of the 30-member guild, said that Ms. Fijan was
recognized nationally as an puppetry instructor. As he put it: "She has
the overall expertise with the training of puppeteers and directing of
Ms. Fijan studied drama and music, but her interest in puppetry was
piqued when she saw it used as a form of political satire. "You can
laugh, you can learn, but it's not preachy," she said.
Over the years she has used puppets to produce everything from Greek
tragedies to Shakespeare. "The puppet is an instrument, and you have to
learn how to manipulate it," Ms. Fijan said, giving an impromptu show
using high, squeaky voices with her favorite puppets, Taffy and
Cornelia. "The person who does the puppetry is not the important one.
The puppet is the main character."
Making Puppets Come Alive : How to Learn and Teach Hand Puppetry by Larry Engler (Author), Carol Fijan (Author) (Paperback)