Tag Archives: marionettes

Closing the Chapter on The Lost Marionettes

Poster BW FBAs 2013 closes, The Underground Multiplex closes a chapter with the Lost Marionettes. Through the Kickstarter campaign, we raised great awareness of the artwork of Ralph Kipniss with the hopes that the publicity will help him and Marilyn Giedraitis find further gigs. Although we did not reach the financial goals, we were able to raise money to help out Ralph in his time of need.

There are promising leads for 2014, and we will most certainly keep you updated on further developments. Our thanks to those who donated and for our readers for their support!

And our special thanks to Ralph Kipniss and Marilyn Giedraitis for their graciousness and generosity! We are confident the marionettes will find their way out to a permanent home for all of Chicago (and the world) to see.

And thanks to all of you out there across the globe for the support and love.  Can’t wait to share a new crop of exciting adventures with all of you in the year ahead! XOX

Producer’s Testimonial from Tyler Pistorius: Why He Supports Rescuing the Lost Marionettes of Ralph Kipniss

Update: Oops! Didn’t realize this was already posted. No matter. A repost is just as good.
Right now, the campaign to rescue the lost marionettes is less than 70 hours tylerPaway from the deadline. I suppose now’s as good a time as any to tell you why I took part in such an unusual endeavor in the first place.

I initially said yes to helping my friends, Joseph Lewis and Lew Ojeda because I saw this as an opportunity to take part in a documentary film production. Needless to say, the documentary is still in production, but there were many events that have transpired since the beginning that had me in a constant state of surprise. I didn’t expect that I would be moved to tears upon seeing a video of Ralph giving life to a little marionette on his porch. I didn’t expect how tragic Ralph’s circumstances were. Losing a friend and partner, having a puppet parlor go up in flames, not being able to see 60 years of a life’s work because it’s locked up in a vacant apartment in Chicago, and despite being an absolute pro at marionette performance, receiving little to no help. I didn’t expect that I would think about my grandparents every time I saw Ralph, who can’t see any of this because they’re not here anymore. The day I went into the building to film the lost marionettes, I didn’t expect that there would be so many (anywhere between 1,000-3,000). I didn’t expect that my footage of the lost marionettes would be shown on CNBC. I didn’t expect that our story about Ralph Kipniss would receive coverage from the Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Reader, and various news outlets across the country. I most certainly didn’t expect that someone like Neil Gaiman would take time out of his life to watch some 4-minute long video I made, let alone pledge and endorse this campaign. (I still find that to be completely surreal.) But most of all, I didn’t expect what this could do if the campaign is successful.

I, along with Joe, Lew, Demetra and a band of like-minded individuals have put in a lot of work and made several videos. This campaign means more to me than any project I’ve ever done, and that’s saying a lot. At this point, I’ve done all that I can do.

This campaign still has a chance. Donations are at $10,000 and climbing! That said, it has a long way to go ($25,000), and it will take a miracle. If this neil-gaiman XOXcampaign fails, whoever pledges get to keep their money. If it succeeds, here’s what could happen. This campaign is not just about some guy’s doll collection. This goes beyond Ralph Kipniss. There could be a story in Chicago news that isn’t about murder, rape, schools closing, privatizing education, or Ventra. It would be about a community of people coming together, in a time of economic peril, to do something good. It would keep an incredible amount of hand-crafted, hand-painted wooden works of art from going in the garbage. It would help preserve Chicago’s heritage. It would preserve Ralph’s legacy that can be passed down to others. It would preserve an art form for future generations. An art form that has been around for hundreds, if not thousands of years, by different cultures for different means.

If this succeeds, this could be world headline news. One thing is for certain. Anybody who donates will be a hero. Is all of that not worth $1?

Contribute to the Kickstarter campaign by clicking here.

Dear Chicago: Would You Like to Make World Headlines for Something Other Than Murders and School Closings? Here’s How

by Legendary Lew Ojeda

There are 4 people out there with $3900 who could help us right now to make world headlines for Chicago. I’m not kidding.

The Ralph Kipniss marionettes are believed to be the world’s largest collection of marionettes privately-made by a single artist. 

As you know by now, The Underground Multiplex has been running a

Ralph Kipniss with Wizard of Oz marionettes in the 1960s

Ralph Kipniss with Wizard of Oz marionettes in the 1960s

Kickstarter campaign to the save the life work of master marionette puppeteer Ralph Kipniss. As of this writing, we are just short of $16,000 of our goal, which is due at 9:49AM Central Standard Time November 13.

The story has been covered widely by Dave Hoekstra of The Chicago Sun-Times; by Gwynedd Stuart of The Chicago Reader; by Dominick Suzanne-Mayer of Heave Media; soon by Kwame Shorter of CHIRP Radio; and by LeeAnn Trotter of NBC 5 Chicago. Boing Boing has now posted about this campaign as well.   If you haven’t read about the incredible story of Ralph Kipniss and his marionettes, please do so. Here’s a video of Trotter’s NBC 5 news report:

The Associated Press has picked up the story and distributed it to the following news outlets

St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Stamford Advocate
Dallas-Fort Worth Star Telegram
Danbury News Times
Wichita Eagle
Miami Herald
Quad Cities Times
Kansas City Star
Arlington Star-Telegram
San Francisco Gate
Modesto Bee
Austin 360
Charlotte Observer
Houston Chronicle
and many others!

Our campaign has also been “faved” or shared by Neil Gaiman, William Gibson, Rabbit Room Productions, La Mama Theater and more!

This story has national attention. It also has the very strong possibility of going viral, so please share this on Twitter (we are @TheUGMultiplex), on Facebook and click the up arrow on this post at Reddit (it’s a quick register).

If our campaign is successful, Chicago will gain world attention for saving the largest collection of privately made marionettes known in the country and perhaps the world.


Chicago, you have your chance at history. Right now.

We have until Wednesday, Nov. 13 at 9:49AM. Click here to help.

Thank you!

Personal Testimonial from TUGM Producer Tyler Pistorius

Words from Tyler Pistorius:

“I took part in this campaign because I found the story of Ralph Kipniss and the discovery of the lost marionettes to be remarkable.  I saw this as a chance to not only grow and develop as a filmmaker under the tutelage of incredibly talented individuals, but also to take part in a film production.  As the project grew, it dawned on me how important it is to

(l-r) Tyler Pistorius, Maxwell Mattison, Ralph Kipniss

(l-r) Tyler Pistorius, Maxwell Mattison, Ralph Kipniss.
Ralph was talking about working with Burgess Meredith. He described how kind and sweet natured he was, yet I was constantly picturing Mickey from Rocky. Janis Joplin was playing on a jukebox from the 90s.

save and restore these marionettes.  It has been a challenging, profound, and rewarding experience on so many levels.

Mr. Kipniss’ private collection of handcrafted, hand-painted wooden marionettes is the largest of its kind in North America.  It ranges anywhere from 1,000-3,000 and they are in danger of extinction.  At this point in the campaign, we’ve produced several videos, received a $1,000 donation from a contributor, and gained press coverage from various news outlets, including making the front page of Chicago Sun-Times and a spot NBC Chicago.  The campaign is a week away from the deadline.  Everyone who has donated so far will be a part of history.  To quote my friend, Lew, ‘Marionette puppetry is the first form of animation used by different cultures for different means throughout all of civilization.  It is still a living and influential art form.’  Lending a hand to this campaign can save this one of a kind art discovery.”

Setting Up a Marionette Theater in Miniature is a Major Task

UPDATE NOTE: It’s been a fantastic week for us as we’ve made the front cover of The Chicago Sun-Times! Dave Hoekstra wrote an amazing piece laying out the importance of this discovery for Ralph and Marilyn, for Chicago and for the world of art. Read Dave’s story here.

I had just returned from an eight-day vacation in Rochester, NY. As usual the trip tired me out as I was dashing about visiting family and friends and having a fine time. It was a working holiday, however, as the Kickstarter campaign began while I was away from Chicago and we were off to try saving The Lost Marionettes of Ralph Kipniss.

Two days after returning to Chicago, I trekked to The Main Street Theatre in Michigan City, IN to help Ralph Kipniss and Marilyn Giedraitis with some technical duties thrust upon me literally at the last minute. They needed

not only helpers to build and to dismantle 15-ft. scaffolding, lighting and wooden sets but also to operate lighting and music during the 45 minute presentation of “Pinocchio.”

There’s really no way to comprehend all the work needed to stage a

Set up crew:

Set up crew (l-r): Edwin Delvalle, Maxwell Mattison, Dee Materis, Ralph Kipniss, Preston Wollner, Juan Aguilar, Marilyn Giedraitis. Taking photo: Joseph R. Lewis

production like this. The tear down and storing of all the staging and equipment took 5 hours last Saturday–and the tear down was the easier part. Luckily, Ralph and Marilyn were able to rely on two almost entirely different sets of crews for building and dismantling. They also had the help of their talented apprentices Preston Wollner and Juan Aguilar. Both did their best to fill me in on lighting cues, spotting the “Blue Fairy” and operating the iTunes directory for the soundtrack. Thankfully, Dee Materis was able to convince Jason Scovel, who’s had some expertise in stage equipment, to provide much needed additional muscle after the show.

After that rainy evening and while riding back home to Chicago thoroughly exhausted, I was able to appreciate all the hard work Ralph and Marilyn put in for the sake of audiences everywhere. Whether it was the dozen or so who showed up at Main Street Theatre or the 400 kids entertained by the dragon and Can Can marionettes the following week. The hard work is all for the smiles, laughter and applause. It’s a good reason to be tired.

Legendary Lew

National Art Treasure Discovered in Otherwise Empty Chicago Building

COLLECTION OF THOUSANDS OF MARIONETTES found after being abandoned for over 5 years

By ‘Legendary’ Lew Ojeda

During the summer of 2013,  award-winning local producer/director Joseph R. Lewis made a discovery significant to art history.   A neighbor of his had mentioned some old boxes filled with “dolls” housed in a dilapidated building.

Ralph Kipniss

Ralph Kipniss

What he found were several rooms overflowing with a variety of free-standing hand-painted scenery, staging equipment, props, and a considerable number of antique wooden chests. Stuffed inside the chests were, in fact, not dolls but finely detailed, elaborately costumed, exquisitely hand-carved marionettes. With his team at The Underground Multiplex, he decided to pursue the mystery of these marionettes.

Whatever Happened to Geppetto?

The search eventually led to Ralph Kipniss, the company founder and master puppeteer whose story is fascinating and tragic. Kipniss is the

Ralph Kipniss (l) and Lou Ennis (r) were partners for over 30 years

Ralph Kipniss (l) and Lou Ennis (r) were partners for over 30 years

last surviving member of a family of puppeteers stretching back to Czarist Russia.  His career spans a half-century, influenced by legendary puppetry masters Burr Tillstrom and Tony Sarg.  While still in high school, Ralph was working at Chicago’s historic Kungsholm Grand Miniature Opera.

Ralph met Lou Ennis in 1968 and formed their own marionette theater company. During his heyday, Kipniss and the marionettes appeared on the road with such show business legends as Sophie Tucker, Jimmy Durante, Jim Nabors, The Mandrell Sisters and Dolly Parton. His artistry was the subject of numerous newspaper and magazine articles.

Despite the billing with show business legends, the cost of maintaining a travelling marionette theater was immense. Imagine The Warner Brothers Studios deciding to gather all lighting, equipment, sets, cast, crew and take it on the road for 30 different stops yearly, and you’ll get

Ralph Kipniss with marionettes (Attribution: Daily Herald)

Ralph Kipniss with marionettes (Attribution: Daily Herald)

an idea of the scope of this task. Kipniss and Ennis had to pull in ticket sales of $20,000-$30,000 weekly to stay in the black. The financial stress, made worse by the lack of adequate government arts funding, eventually forced the pair to end the massive touring and open a theater on Chicago’s Ravenswood neighborhood.

With their new theater–dubbed The Puppet Parlor–came more issues: the leap in technology of computers further pushed the false notion of marionettes as an “antiquated” art form meant only for small children. The rift between marionette puppetry and all subsequent forms of multimedia seemed to widen.   In addition, the value of arts education in America plummeted.   Despite mounting pressures, Ralph and Lou were determined to keep entertaining audiences.

 The Tragedies

They trekked on until 2005 when a series of tragedies struck. In April, Lou fell and suffered a stroke. Ralph was by his bedside constantly, but still had to conduct his marionette shows. While shaken from his

Damage from The Puppet Parlor Theatre fire

Damage from The Puppet Parlor Theatre fire

partner’s dire illness, Ralph received word one night that The Puppet Parlor was on fire. The theater, along with many puppets, scenery and backdrops, was fatally damaged by smoke and water. A month later, Lou died.

Heart-broken and bankrupt, Ralph was forced to abandon the remainder of his life’s work— a collection including thousands of hand carved wooden marionettes made over his fifty year career with his partner Lou—in an otherwise empty building in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood.

Where it stands now

We’re committed to having Ralph Kipniss regain possession of his life’s work. He’s eager to delight audiences once again with the masterpieces he’s created over a span of 50 years.  The Underground Multiplex willRalphKipnissLater continue to monitor the progress providing more on the life of this Chicago genius, the apprenticeship training, the vital importance  of marionette puppetry and the fight for greater funding of the arts.

If you’d like to contribute to our Kickstarter campaign to rescue the Lost Marionettes of Ralph Kipniss, click here or the Kickstarter link above. Please be sure to share this story with everyone you know. No creative genius should ever be without his life’s work.  Thank you!