A lot comes to mind when people think about Detroit: cars, Motown, segregation, blight, industry — the list goes on. While these subjects are highly visible parts of Detroit and its history, sometimes smaller, more niche interests in the city are forgotten in the many discussions about the city and its future.

Puppetry is one of those interests. Detroit is home to a small but resilient puppetry scene, one that has held up — even thrived — in the tough economic times the city has faced.

Detroit-based organization PuppetART runs a theater, museum and studio all dedicated to puppetry. The organization performs and commissions puppet theater from the community.

The organization’s show, “Dreamtigers,” is commissioned from another theater ensemble called The Hinterlands. “Dreamtigers” is based on the works of Latin American authors who write in the style of magical realism, such as Gabriel García Márquez and Octavio Paz.

Established in 1998, PuppetART was founded by theater performers from the former Soviet Union.

“Back in Russia, we worked in the theater mostly performing puppetry, so puppetry is our protection,” said Igor Gozman, one of the co-founders of PuppetART. “When we came here, we did theater work mostly for ourselves, but then we charged for a couple of performances. Eventually we acquired a place in Detroit.”

A community centered around puppetry in Detroit existed long before PuppetART was created. The Detroit Puppeteers Guild, a group that is still active, was founded in 1946.

“PuppetART connected with that community really well,” said Jillan Zylinski, a marketing and development associate.

The Hinterlands, a multidisciplinary performance company, has recently joined the Detroit puppetry community. Beginning in Kalamazoo in 2009, the group soon moved to Detroit and developed a relationship with PuppetART. Even though “Dreamtigers” is a commissioned show, PuppetART worked closely with the Hinterlands to ensure success.

PuppetART has a studio and museum in addition to its theater — all three are located in the same building on Grand River.

“The studio is really (for) our educational programming like our puppet-making workshops,” Zynlinski said. “The museum has puppets from old shows that have been preserved and puppets made from other puppeteers in the area.”

PuppetART usually runs about 10 productions each year, which tend to be family-friendly shows, as kids tend to be more attracted to the art form.

“We’ve done special things like an evening of puppetry for adults in the past,” Zynlinski said. “We still do performances that adults enjoy, but they are not specifically tailored to adults.”

The shows may be family-friendly in their content, but that doesn’t mean they are simple to perform. Puppeteers have to juggle performing with puppets of all different sizes, anywhere from seven-foot-tall, Festifool-like behemoths, to puppets that are hand-sized. On top of the challenges PuppetART faces as a puppet theater, it also has to do the same pre-show preparation a traditional theater does, such as set-design and sound.

“Our shows are very complex with the lighting and the set design. It’s not like a couple of sock puppets behind a table,” Zynlinksi said.

Though it’s very complex, PuppetART runs on a skeletal crew. There are around six puppeteers, as well as Zynlinski, who handles marketing and box office work. Community volunteers help out with technical work as well as ushering and other tasks on show nights.

Despite the hard times Detroit has faced, puppetry has persisted as a form of theater.

“There is definitely a market for what we do,” Zynlinksi said. “There is constantly a new crop of families with young children looking for stuff to do, and they come in and love it. Every art organization has struggled with the economy being the way it is, but it hasn’t made puppetry obsolete.”

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