American puppeteers, Martin and Olga Stevens presented their first puppet shows in 1934. From 1935 to 1940 they produced marionette (string puppet) plays: The Passion Play, The Nativity, Joan of Arc, and Cleopatra. English puppeteer, Walter Wilkinson, wrote of Joan of Arc: “for two hours they held the audience in thrall… I have never seen a serious marionette play better done… The characterization was distinct and appropriate.” In 1936, the Stevens toured with Rufus and Margo Rose using the Martin Stevens scripts for Treasure Island and Snow White.
In 1940, the Stevens built a studio-home-theatre called The Mousetrap at Middlebury, Indiana. “Steve”, as Martin was called, helped to train dozens of puppeteers including Dick Myers, George Latshaw, Kathy Piper, Fred Cowan, Jim Menke, Jean Reges Burn, and Canadian Ronnie Burkett. Charter members of the Puppeteers of America, the Stevens helped provide the energy and passion that sustained the organization through its early years.
After World War II, the Stevens produced Macbeth with rod puppets and The Taming of the Shrew with four hand puppets (glove puppets). The classic Martin Stevens’ hand-puppet play, The Toymaker (1949), was filmed twice, and a live performance graced the opening of the 1980 puppetry exhibit in Washington, DC, held during the UNIMA 13th World Puppetry Festival. Martin Stevens performed at eighteen national festivals.
The Stevens separated in 1957. Martin married Marge Kelly and, during the 1960s, they created over a dozen shows that toured schools. Olga Stevens became the executive secretary of Puppeteers of America in 1966. In 1972, she received the Puppeteers of America President’s Award. Martin Stevens received the President’s Award in 1981.
Martin Stevens is the author of Stevens’ Course in Puppetry, which remains a unique approach in training puppeteers, and an autobiography, Martin Stevens, An Augmented Autobiography.
(See United States of America.)
- Stevens, Martin. Martin Stevens, An Augmented Autobiography. Ed. Luman Coad. North Vancouver (BC): Charlemagne Press, 2002.
- Stevens, Martin. Stevens’ Course in Puppetry, North Vancouver (BC): Charlemagne Press, 1997.