The Jim Henson Foundation: Advancing the Art of Puppetry Since 1982

At the time of this writing, we're about a month away from the debut of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. As children of the 1980s (and 1970s), we are as susceptible to the pull of nostalgia the next person, and from what we've heard, there are many things about the movie to be excited about—the return of Han Solo and the Millennium Falcon, most notably.

But for every teaser, there are, alas, some false leads. Case in point: The dispelled rumor that the Jim Henson Company would be involved in creating puppet creatures for the new film. (It's too bad, because we've always had a soft spot for those "real" puppets as opposed to the not-entirely-life-like CGI alternatives.)

Not that the people entrusted with Henson's legacy haven't been busy. Take the Jim Henson Foundation, for example.

We stumbled upon the foundation after coming across news that it awarded a grant to develop a new musical entitled Pigeon Boys at New York City's York Theatre Company. The play examines the lives of three World War II soldiers who came together during a mission in Italy. Where puppetry was once relegated to the fringes of the "real" art world, the Jim Henson Foundation is bringing puppetry arts into the contemporary performing arts mainstream. The foundation's namesake passed away in 1990, but since 1982, the Jim Henson Foundation has awarded over 600 grants for the development of new works of contemporary American puppet theatre. 

As you can see here, in 2015 alone, the foundation awarded over a dozen $5,000 Project Grants for the creation and development of innovative works of puppet theater to be presented in the coming year. Examples include the San Diego-based Animal Cracker Conspiracy and its piece, Paper Cities, which "investigates man’s relationship with cities, with nature, and the impact of cities on nature," and Brooklyn's James Godwin, whose solo puppet performance The Flatiron Hex is a peek inside a "parallel world of weird magick and an impending super-storm."

A second grant category, known as $2,000 Seed Grants, are for the "development and workshopping of pieces in earlier stages of creation." The foundation awarded 12 Seed Grants in 2015. Lastly, Family Grants of $3,000 fund the development of "new and innovative work specifically for children, families, and teenagers." Six Family Grants were awarded last year.

The 2016 grant cycle is winding down—the foundation will announce winners on December 7, 2015—so interested organizations should start planning ahead for 2017. The foundation will begin accepting letters of inquiry in the spring of 2016. Click here for the full grant application guidelines.

Until then, we'll leave you to ruminate on the fact that back in the day, George Lucas approached Jim Henson to work on Yoda for The Empire Strikes Back. According to Lucas, "I went to Jim [Henson] and said, 'Do you want to do this?' And he said, 'Well, I'm busy, I'm doing this, and doing that, I'm making a movie and all that — I really can't."

Yoda was eventually built with the help of veteran Henson designers and, of course, voiced by longtime Henson collaborator Frank Oz—ah, but what could have been!