Tag Archives: puppetry

Happy Holidays from The Underground Multiplex

How appropriate for us is it to present to you as a holiday share this wonderfully strange Christmas short claiming “no Santa for animals.” Apparently, PetSmart didn’t exist back then. Happy Holidays!

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.

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!