Tag Archives: Ralph Kipniss

Chicago’s Dave Hoekstra Nominated for Prestigious Journalism Award for Covering Story First Presented by TUGM

HoekstraThe Underground Multiplex congratulates Dave Hoekstra, formerly of The Chicago Sun-Times, for his nomination of the prestigious Lisagor Award for  “BEST ARTS REPORTING AND CRITICISM:Daily Newspaper, News Service or Bureau, circulation more than 250,000.”

The news feature was “Souls on a String,” which made the front page of Chicago Sun-Times Sunday edition back on October 27, 2013. It told the story of lifetime marionette creator/puppeteer Ralph Kipniss and what happened to a half-century of his creations. Hoekstra’s coverage was a result of my report originating here on this blog.

Read Dave Hoekstra’s excellent coverage here.

Read Legendary Lew’s original report on The Underground Multiplex here.

BTW, the search for a home for Kipniss’ marionettes continues. Anyone with any leads for a permanent home can contact us at theundergroundmultiplex@gmail.com.

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

The Lost Marionettes of Ralph Kipniss: What the Story Is and Is Not

pinocchioThe Underground Multiplex recently broke the story of how we uncovered a vast art treasure from a master marionette puppeteer named Ralph Kipniss. This amazing story has so far received mention in Gapers Block and DNAInfo Chicago and will soon gain more attention via The Chicago Reader and The Chicago Sun Times. I’m grateful to them and to all the support so far from Kickstarter contributors, friends and family who have all told us how engrossing this story is. Many people have come forward to express interest in helping out.

One type of response we’ve already been getting, especially after the story on DNAInfo, is the question of why the authorities are not involved in simply going in and taking the possessions. The article does a good job in explaining the conflict involved. However, I want to mention two very vital points that are key to understanding the complexity of this undertaking.

Even IF authorities were to come in and force the items out, the questionRalphKipnissLater then remains: what do you do with 2000 marionettes, scenery, lighting, backdrops, costumes, etc? The immediate expulsion of all those irreplaceable masterpieces and other items without the proper time and effort to find the right place for storage would actually make this matter worse. That’s why a vital part of the Kickstarter goal is to find the proper temporary storage for the marionettes and work on finding an eventual home for all of them.

The landlord/tenant dispute of the Kipniss story is a just a symptom of the much larger problem. Budgets for the arts and arts education in this country are abysmal.  Ralph Kipniss spent a great deal of his life struggling financially to keep his company afloat, while other RalphandLouCATW2comparable ones in Europe received enough government funding to finance a theater and allow its artists to subsist. The Sulzberg Theater in Vienna (to take one example) even makes enough to be able to travel overseas (they’ll be performing in NYC in December). Proper funding here could have helped alleviate many of the financial issues along with some of the health care costs of attending to his partner Lou Ennis.

So the best way to help get the puppets home to Master Geppetto is to contribute to the Kickstarter campaign.  With your help we can reach not only the set goal, but the stretch goal as well, which would allow us to assist even further.  Then, contact your elected officials and urge them to increase funding for the arts. We don’t need anymore tragedies like Ralph’s story.

Lew Ojeda
Co-Founder, The Underground Multiplex