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The life work of a master marionette puppeteer is threatened with extinction unless it can be salvaged for future generations.

“This is a remarkable discovery. This collection has great potential to revive the magic of marionette theater and the general wonderment of the genre.” -Lisa Stone, Curator at The Art Institute of Chicago

“A modern-day Geppetto” -Chicago Tribune

UPDATE 8: The final plea video from me, Lew Ojeda:

UPDATE 7: The final push video to bring it all home. Filmed by Tyler Pistorius and Joseph R. Lewis with help from Brenda, Maxwell, Ben, Dee and me. Share and help us get there. We can do it! I thank you so much for your support!

UPDATE 6: "I'm pledging to support the abandoned marionette Kickstarter. Because otherwise what's the point of Kickstarter?"                                                       --award-winning author Neil Gaiman

Thank you all for your support thus far! We've reached the 20% goal and we're on our way! Keep telling everyone about this!

We've also added a new reward! For a $50 pledge, you can receive (along with the goodies from the lower amount pledges) a DVD of the Emmy-nominated Chicago children's TV show "EWTV" from The Elephant and Worm Educational Theater Company!

Emmy Nominated EWTV TV show on DVD!
Emmy Nominated EWTV TV show on DVD!

UPDATE 5: Eight days to go and we're working in ranges from business attire to bathrobes. Making contacts with important people who can definitely help out! Here we are hard at it:

UPDATE 4: We are still plugging away and making contacts. Thank you all for your help so far! Please remind everyone about this story. Ralph is now destitute, so this means a great deal. Here is a video I made giving a quick overview of the use of marionettes throughout history:

We also had the first in-depth audio interview about the project with HEAVEMedia's host, Dominick Suzanne-Mayer. You'll hear Joseph R. Lewis, Tyler Pistorius and me:

UPDATE 3: We made NBC5 Chicago news! LeeAnn Trotter covered the story of The Lost Marionettes of Ralph Kipniss. The online print piece is here: http://tiny.cc/lj0r5w

Here is a recording of the TV news report. When there is a better rendering of the story, I will post that version here.

UPDATE 2: Here's a video, courtesy of Chicago Sun-Times, with Ralph Kipniss in his basement with some of the 300 surviving marionettes he's been able to save or create at his current home. There are upwards of 3000 still needing to be rescued.

UPDATE: The Chicago Sun-Times has now reported on this story and campaign. You can read the fantastic article about Ralph's plight and watch a video featuring him by clicking this link. This campaign has now reached news outlets across the country! Thanks for all your support and keep sharing! For further updates head to theundergroundmultiplex.tumblr.com

Help Save a National Art Treasure from Extinction

In June 2013, producer/director Joseph R. Lewis made a discovery significant to art history. Knowing Mr. Lewis produced an Emmy-nominated children’s TV show, a neighbor suggested he would be interested in some old boxes filled with “dolls” housed in a dilapidated building. 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 business cohort, Lew Ojeda (co-founder with Lewis of The Underground Multiplex), they 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 was fascinating and tragic. Kipniss is the last surviving member of a family of puppeteers stretching back to Czarist Russia. His career spans a half-century, influenced by the legendary Burr Tillstrom and leading to his own traveling marionette show in the 1960s. During his heyday, Kipniss and the marionettes appeared 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.

Ralph Kipniss
Ralph Kipniss

The Dedicated Artist

Entertaining and informing children and adults throughout history, marionette puppetry sadly remains a neglected art form in America. By the 1980s, a lack of funding pulled Ralph off the touring circuit and he settled into a theater home—The Puppet Parlor-- in Chicago. There, accompanied by his partner Lou Ennis, Ralph continued to delight children of all ages with his offerings of kids’ classic stories and bawdy adult entertainment.

Ralph and Lou with The Puppet Parlor Theater
Ralph and Lou with The Puppet Parlor Theater

The Tragedies

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

Result of the The Puppet Parlor Theater Fire
Result of the The Puppet Parlor Theater Fire

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.

With your help, we can rescue the Lost Marionettes of Ralph Kipniss.

By raising $25,000 through this campaign, we will:

  • Rescue the remaining inventory of Ralph’s marionette company: scenery, backdrops, lighting, costumes and marionettes.
  • Find proper storage accessible to Ralph Kipniss and suitable for his collection.
  • Begin the search for a permanent home for Ralph’s collection here in Chicago, where it can be enjoyed and celebrated by future generations of children of all ages. 

By reaching our stretch goal of $50,000 through this campaign we will accomplish the above plus: 

LEGACY WORK

  • Produce a weekend of benefit performances featuring the Lost Marionettes of Ralph Kipniss.
  • Produce a web-series about Marionettes. Many thanks for all your support!   

Please spread the word about our campaign and help revitalize a crucial art form for future generations.

For further information about the story and mastery of Ralph Kipniss, check out The Underground Multiplex.

Risks and challenges Learn about accountability on Kickstarter

A campaign like this is a team effort. We have built a community of collaborators and volunteers committed to fighting this injustice with the large breadth of our collective skill-set and the combined depth of our experiences as award-winning media producers, activists, artists, advocates, and human beings. For more information on our past campaigns and productions, please visit us at theundergroundmultiplex.com .

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  • Pledge $5 or more
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    78 backers

    A special “Thank You” postcard with classic Kipniss photo mailed to donor.

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    42 backers

    All above + an MP3 playlist download of exclusive media related to the life of Ralph Kipniss.

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  • Pledge $25 or more
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    92 backers

    All above + Set of 5 Collector’s Edition trading cards featuring The Lost Marionettes of Ralph Kipniss. Listing on our donors page at theundergroundmultiplex.com.

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    25 backers All gone!

    All above + DVD of the Emmy Nominated TV show "EWTV" from The Elephant and Worm Educational Theater Company featured in the news report by The Chicago Sun-Times! An excellent gift for the whole family!

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    22 backers Limited (78 left of 100)

    All above + authentic vintage marionette playbill autographed by Ralph Kipniss.

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    1 backer Limited (49 left of 50)

    All above + choice of attendance to a master class of marionette artistry by Ralph Kipniss OR an autographed photobook featuring production stills, historical photographs, and portraits of Ralph’s collection.

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    1 backer Limited (4 left of 5)

    All above + authentic vintage giant-size playbill signed by Ralph Kipniss.

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    1 backer Limited (24 left of 25)

    All above + producer credit for web series, Limited Edition BLU RAY featuring all VIDZ produced by The Underground Multiplex about The Lost Marionettes of Ralph Kipniss. Including unreleased interviews, behind-the scenes footage, and a personalized “Thank You” video performance by Ralph Kipniss!

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    0 backers Limited (5 left of 5)

    All above + fancy dinner with Ralph Kipniss and the co-executive producers of the webseries and co-founders of The Underground Multiplex.

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Funding period

- (30 days)