John Bell is a theater historian and puppeteer who performs with and writes about puppets, masks, and performing objects. As a founding member of the Obie- Award-winning Great Small Works theater company of Brooklyn, he has directed, designed, and performed in numerous spectacles of various scales, from the miniature worlds of toy theater to giant pageants and parades in the streets of New York City and other urban centers.
He began his performance work as a member of Peter Schumann’s Bread and Puppet Theater with whom he created and performed avant-garde political puppet shows of all sizes and contexts in North and South America, Eastern and Western Europe, and North Africa. He next studied theater history at Columbia University, earning his Ph.D. degree there with a dissertation on the rediscovery of performing objects on European stages from the 1890s to the 1930s.
John has taught theater history and performance studies at New York University, Rhode Island School of Design and Emerson College, and is currently the Director of the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry at the University of Connecticut. As a fellow at MIT’s Center for Advanced Visual Studies over the past four years he taught the history of technology and performance, and developed two theater productions: Definitely Maybe, a toy theater spectacle based on the science-fiction novel by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky; and Anti-Retrovirals and Water Refugees: A Living Newspaper on Haiti, developed with the MIT’s Music and Theater Arts Section. He is a Contributing Editor to both TDR: The Journal of Performance Studies and Puppetry International, the publication of the U.S. chapter of the Union International de la Marionette (UNIMA). His books about puppets and performing objects include Puppets, Masks, and Performing Objects (MIT Press); Strings, Hands, Shadows: A Modern Puppet History (Detroit Institute of Arts); and American Puppet Modernism: Essays on the Material World in Performance (Palgrave Macmillan).
John plays trombone with the Second Line Social Aid and Pleasure Society Brass Band of Cambridge, and is an organizer of the Honk! Festival of Activist Street Bands. He also directs the Honk! Festival Parade, which was named the “Best Street Performance of 2009” by the New England Art Awards.