In all its editions, the IPFF recognizes the trajectory and contributions of key figures in the cultural fabric of puppeteers. As a result of these contributions, the world of puppets and entertainment reaches, more and more, the place of importance that it deserves to have in our society. Committed to look and promote the future and innovation in the world of puppetry, the IPFF is also proud to recognize the work of the following awardees:

2023 - Ralph Lee

The 3rd International Puppet Fringe Festival celebrates the life and legacy of NY’s Master Puppeteer, RALPH LEE (1935 – 2023) founder of NYC’s Halloween Parade & Artistic Director of the Mettawee River Theatre Company.

Ralph Lee first created puppets as a child growing up in Middlebury, Vermont. He graduated from Amherst College in 1957, and studied dance and theater in Europe for two years on a Fulbright Scholarship. Upon returning to the United States, Mr. Lee acted on Broadway, off-Broadway, in regional theaters and with the Open Theatre. During that period he started creating masks, unusual props, puppets and larger-than-life figures for theater and dance companies, including the New York Shakespeare Festival, Lincoln Center Repertory Theatre, the Living Theatre, the Erick Hawkins Dance Company, Shari Lewis and Saturday Night Live (he created the Land Shark).

In 1974 Ralph Lee co-founded the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade, which he directed through 1985. The parade featured Mr. Lee’s masked creatures and giant puppets. For his work on the parade Mr. Lee received a 1975 Village Voice OBIE Award and a 1985 Citation from the Municipal Arts Society. In 1993 he was inducted into the CityLore People’s Hall of Fame. Over the years, Halloween projects have included a massive extravaganza at the New York Botanical Garden as well as appearances at Grand Central Station, the World Financial Center and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and installations on the High Line. Current Halloween events include Processions of the Ghouls at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.

In 1976 Ralph Lee became Artistic Director of the Mettawee River Theatre Company, which has been a center of his creative activity ever since. In addition to annual tours to rural communities in upstate New York and New England, Mettawee has presented Ralph Lee’s work at the Henson Foundation’s International Festival of Puppet Theater (1994 & 2000), Lincoln Center Out-of-Doors, the New York Botanical Garden, LaMaMa ETC, INTAR, and on tour in Alaska and California, as well as annual runs of outdoor performances at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, since 1984.

In 2003 Ralph Lee received Guggenheim Fellowship in drama. Additional awards to Mr. Lee include a 1996 Dance Theatre Workshop Bessie Award and a 1996 New York State Governor’s Arts Award. His Mettawee productions have been honored with two American Theatre Wing Design Awards, a 1991 Village Voice OBIE Award and two Citations for Excellence from UNIMA, the international puppetry organization. 

From 1989 – 2000 Ralph Lee made annual trips to San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico, to develop plays and a performing ensemble with the Mayan writers group Sna Jtz’ Ibajom. In January, 2001, he directed an adaptation of Sna’s 2000 play El Origen de Maiz, for the outreach program of the LaJolla Playhouse. Ralph is an artist-in-residence at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, where he has staged special events since 1984. He has produced parades and pageants for celebrations in Central Park, the Bronx Zoo, the New York Botanical Garden, the Ringling Museums in Sarasota, Florida and the International Festival of Arts and Ideas in New Haven, Connecticut. In 2011 and 2012 Mr. Lee traveled to Romania to collaborate in the creation and implementation of The Caravan of Dreams, a project designed to bring together children of Roma (gypsy) and Romanian communities.

From February – May, 1998, the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center presented a retrospective exhibition of Ralph Lee’s work that attracted record-breaking crowds. Mr. Lee’s work has also been exhibited at galleries in upstate New York, New England, Ohio and New York City. 

Mr. Lee has taught at Amherst College, Bennington College, Colgate University, Hampshire College, the Jewish Theological Seminary, Hamilton College, Smith College, Union Theological Seminary and the Boys and Girls Republic. He is currently on the faculty of New York University.

2021 - Vincent Anthony

The International Puppet Fringe Festival 2021 is dedicated to Vincent Anthony. He, founder and president of the board, has served as the Center for Puppetry Arts executive director since its inception in 1978. His previous experiences as a puppeteer for Nicolo Marionettes in New York and founder of the Vagabond Marionettes in Atlanta has contributed to the major successes for the Center over the past three decades. Under Anthony’s leadership, the Center has received a record 12 Citations of Excellence from UNIMA-USA, the U.S. division of Union Internationale de la Marionnette, the international organization for the art of puppetry. 

Anthony has also received a personal Citation of Excellence from UNIMA-USA; this Citation is puppetry’s most prestigious award. Among other awards, Anthony received the Governor’s Award in the Arts from the state of Georgia in 1982, a Distinguished Service Award from Emory University Theatre (1980), the President’s Award from Puppeteers of America, the national puppetry association (1989), the Lexus Leader of the Arts Award (2001) and the Georgia Arts & Entertainment Legacy Award (GAELA Award) (2007).

Through his tenure in the arts community, he has served on several review panels for the National Endowment for the Arts, Georgia Council for the Arts and Theatre Communications Group and is a past president of Puppeteers of America. He also served on the Steering Committee for the City of Atlanta Community Cultural Plan and has served as a member of the Delta Airlines Global Diversity Alliance since 2007 and member of the White House Disability Group since 2009. In addition, he has served on the Board of Directors of many arts groups including the Arts Festival of Atlanta, the Arts Advisory Board for Region Four of the General Service Administration and the Advisory Council for the Cultural Olympiad of the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games (ACOG).

He has been serving as General Secretary for UNIMA-USA since 1992 and has also served as Executive Committee Member (1996-2004) and Vice President (2000-2004) of UNIMA International, representing puppeteers in over 80 countries.

2018 - José López Alemán

Photo by Owain Astles

The inaugural Puppet Fringe Festival was dedicated to José López Alemán, a Puerto Rican artist and former Puppet Master for Teatro SEA who had worked in the puppetry industry for over 40 years.