The streamers are hung, the punch has been spiked, and the cake is just begging to be eaten! Now all Bill has to do is wait for his guests to arrive. Bill’s 44th is an original comedic show created and puppeteered by Dorothy James & Andy Manjuck to create one very worried leading man - Bill. Many styles of puppetry, raucous balloons, and a cheeky piece of crudité all collide to examine the pitfalls of impatience, the wonder of loneliness, and the universal passage of time.
Bill’s 44th is a full-length (55 minutes), wordless, comedic puppet show performed with an original, recorded score.
Photos by Richard Termine
Bill's 44th was originally conceived in 2016 as a 5 minute slam-piece for Puppet Homecomings. The prompt: “They are coming,” inspired us to throw a birthday party where no one ever comes. But then, due to scheduling conflicts, we weren't able to attend the slam and we stuffed Bill's head (lovingly) into a box on a shelf.
Two years later we were asked by our friend Rowan Magee, who was curating one of the nights for Dixon Place’s Puppet Blok, if we wanted to revisit the idea. We did, and (10 minutes of) Bill was born! What followed next was a whirlwind that culminated in a 20 minute workshop at Dixon Place in 2019, where we shared the bill with the ingenious Shayna Strype, applying and receiving a Production Grant from The Jim Henson Foundation, planning a workshop performance at the New York State Puppet Festival, being a part of Puppet Lab at St. Ann’s Warehouse, and readying for a premiere at Dixon Place in 2020!
Of course, things changed. While many of our ideas came to a screeching halt, Bill's journey continued. Thanks to the New York State Puppet Festival in October of 2020 we were able to create Bill's 44th (A Zoom Birthday), a 30 minute 'zoom' show performed live in our apartment. And finally, in June of 2021, Bill found his way to his premiere at Dixon Place as part of a puppetry series alongside artists Shayna Strype, Justin Perkins, and Maria Camia.
Bill's 44th would like to thank The Jim Henson Foundation, Cheryl Henson, St. Ann's Warehouse, the New York State Puppet Festival, and Dixon Place, without their support the show would simply not exist.
New York Times [Critics' Pick]
“…buoyant, mesmerizing, joy-inducing…”
“…a poignant, comic puppet play…”
“This isn’t the birthday that Bill had hoped to have. But for the audience, his 44th is a gift.”
“In the very capable hands of Mr. Manjuck and Ms. James, the show is executed with winning confidence and uncanny self-awareness.”
“Shrewdly designed and delightfully staged…”
“so many eye popping revelations that will leave you scratching your head”
“This is one party you will not want to miss!”
Front Row Center
“...alternately charming and eerie, grounded and metaphysical...”
Co-creator & Puppeteer: Andy Manjuck is a Brooklyn-based artist. He is a company member of Wakka Wakka ("Baby Universe," "Saga," "Made in China," "The Immortal Jellyfish Girl"), and has worked with Robin Frohardt ("The Pigeoning," "The Plastic Bag Store"), Nick Lehane ("Chimpanzee," and "Fly Away" – a collaboration with Derek Fordjour's SELF MUST DIE exhibition, Petzel Gallery), Unknown Mortal Orchestra (“That Life,” Double Solitaire), Doug Fitch ("Petrushka" with the NY Philharmonic Orchestra, and Oregon Symphony), Apple TV+ ("Hello Tomorrow!"), BYUtv ("9 Years to Neptune"), and Betty Productions ("4th Islamic Solidarity Games Opening Ceremonies," Baku, Azerbaijan, "48th National Day Celebration," Abu Dhabi, UAE). He co-founded the arts collective Eat Drink Tell Your Friends ("Lectures," "Photo & Supply). He is the co-creator of Bill’s 44th, a wordless puppet show for adults which was named a New York Times Critic’s Pick and has performed in NYC at Dixon Place and in Chicago at the Chopin Theater as a part of the 2022 Chicago International Puppetry Festival. He has also taught and designed at the Peabody Institute at John Hopkin's University. www.andymanjuck.com
Co-creator & Puppeteer: Dorothy James is a Brooklyn based puppeteer and maker of tiny things. She has puppeteered for Wakka Wakka (Made in China, 59E59 Theaters, FigurTeatret i Nordland; The Immortal Jellyfish Girl, FigurTeatret), Nick Lehane and Derek Fordjour (SELF MUST DIE: Fly Away, Petzel Gallery), Basil Twist (Hansel & Gretel, Michigan Opera Theatre), Molly Smith (Snow Child, Arena Stage), AchesonWalsh & Radio City (The New York Spectacular…) Unknown Mortal Orchestra (“That Life”), BBC (Moon and Me), Amazon (Patriot), and Apple TV+ (Hello Tomorrow!). As a creator, Dorothy uses table top, shadow, rod, and paper cut puppetry to create otherworldly narratives that meld the grotesque with a sense of innocence. She is the co-creator of Bill’s 44th, a wordless puppet show for adults which was named a New York Times Critic’s Pick and has performed in NYC at Dixon Place and in Chicago at the Chopin Theater as a part of the 2022 Chicago International Puppetry Festival. Her paper cut stop-motion film Lethologica was an official selection of Chicago’s Big Teeth Small Shorts Film Festival and the Upstate NY Horror Festival. www.dorothy-james.com
Composer: Eamon Fogarty is a composer, songwriter, singer, and multi-instrumentalist from New Hampshire, currently living in Austin TX. He’s released several albums of songs under his own name, most recently 2019’s “Blue Values.” His work is informed by a winding path through jazz, choral music, free improvisation, and folk song. www.eamonfogarty.com.
Creative Collaborator & Puppeteer: Jon Riddleberger is a NYC-based actor, puppeteer, filmmaker and teacher. His work can be seen on-screen in the Clifford the Big Red Dog feature film, the BAFTA-nominated television show Moon and Me, and as puppeteer and puppet captain in the new Apple TV show Hello Tomorrow! Jon puppeteered the horses in the North American and Japanese tour of War Horse and continues to work with The Handspring Puppet Company on their production of Il Ritorno D'Ulisse directed by William Kentridge. He has worked many times with Dead Puppet Society most notably performing Laser Beak Man at the Sydney Opera House. Jon performed in Derek Fordjour and Nick Lehane’s collaborative piece, Fly Away, which has been turned into a film. His award-winning film “The Memory Trade” was produced by Heather Henson’s Handmade Puppet Dreams and has been seen in festivals around the country. He is currently in development for a new puppet series titled friend. Jon recently served as director of puppetry for Keelay Gipson’s new play demons. in a development workshop at New York Stage and Film and will be continuing his work on the full production at The Bushwick Starr this spring. Jon is an adjunct teacher at NYU Tisch where he teaches puppetry to the drama students. You can find out more at: www.jonriddleberger.com
Consulting Director: Nick O’Leary is a New York based director of theater and live events. Born and raised in New England, he has developed new work with The American Repertory Theater (MA), Guerilla Opera (MA), Actors Theatre of Louisville (KY), Dacha Theatre (WA), The Playable Theatre Project (MA), The Museum of the Moving Image (NY), Sinking Ship Creations (NY), and more. Nick is also a designer and creator of games, interactive experiences and other playable works. More at www.nickoleary.com.
Lighting Designer: M. Jordan Wiggins is a lighting designer, programmer, and production manager for all areas of live entertainment. Recent works include lighting design for Ballet Pensacola’s Nutcracker, Fei Tian School of Dance at Middletown College, and Lincoln Center Education. Jordan has worked internationally designing for corporate events, dance, live music, cultural showcases, themed entertainment and acrobats. He is an alumni of the Savannah College of Art and Design and is the alumni chair for the Stagecraft Institute of Las Vegas. Selected works at www.mjordanwiggins.com.
Dramaturg: Helena Pennington is a new play dramaturg and literary administrator. Her work gravitates towards the intersection of theater and other live performance styles, including puppet arts, music theater, and immersive or environmental work. She is currently a member of the artistic development staff at Manhattan Theatre Club. Helena’s literary and dramaturgical work has also been seen at Playwrights Horizons, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, Actors Theatre of Louisville, the O’Neill National Playwrights Conference and National Music Theater Conference, HERE Arts Center, and more. www.helenapennington.com.
Technical Director: Peter Russo has worked professionally in theater for 30 years as an actor, puppeteer, scenic carpenter, stagehand, electrician, technical director, and teacher. He is a founding member of Story Pirates, a group dedicated to celebrating the words and ideas of young people, and a company member of Wakka Wakka, with whom he has performed in at least 7 different productions. Back when he was still a “face actor” in the early aughts, he was in some pretty cool stuff that was nominated for awards and things. He was also in four different unions, including Local 79 Mason Tenders & Laborers, and briefly, the U. S. Merchant Marine. Education: B.S. in Speech and Communication, Northwestern University (Music Theater Certificate).
Creative Producer: Leigh Walter is a director, producer and manager based in NYC. She has worked at Lincoln Center, Park Avenue Armory, The Public, Ars Nova, New York Theatre Workshop, St. Ann’s Warehouse, HERE Arts Center, Dixon Place and La MaMa among a myriad of other theaters, warehouses, bars, museums, houses, streets and parks. Her work is focused on developing new theatre, with significant experience and passion for immersive/non- traditional productions and puppetry. This work has also included large-scale musicals, performance art, immersive children’s theatre, dance, opera, puppet folk-musicals and everything in-between. She is a proud company member of Trusty Sidekick. B.F.A. Directing, Nebraska Wesleyan University. leighwalter.com.
Production Coordinator: Taryn Uhe is a New York based stage manager, director and writer. Recently she has worked with Cherry Lane Theatre, Pip’s Island, Company of Fools, Minor Theatre Company, Abrons Arts Center and more. Her work usually gravitates toward new and developing plays but has also included musicals, puppetry, immersive children’s theatre, burlesque and fashion. tarynuhe.weebly.com.