Dirk Joseph’s String Theory Theater (STT) is a small puppet troupe composed of Dirk Joseph and his
daughters Sequoia (18) and Azaria (12). STT performance formats include hand puppets, rod puppets, crankies, shadow puppets, marionettes, and toy theater. They have been performing together since 2016. STT got their start at the Black Cherry Puppet Theater Puppet Slamwich events in Baltimore, sharing the stage with veteran and new puppeteers.

String Theory Theater’s performance themes range from children’s puppetry to adult satire. One of their most popular skits, Kitty’s Corner, is a hilarious performance for children and adults utilizing a talk-show interview format. On the other end of the spectrum is For the Love of Cats and Dogs, a satire about the dethroning of the tyrannical leader of the free world. For the Love of Cats and Dogs was nominated for the National Puppet Slam in 2018.

Over the last few years STT has performed in Maryland at Black Cherry Puppet Theater; The Creative Alliance; Takoma Park Community Center; Baltimore City Public Schools; Enoch Pratt Free Public Library System; and in private home shows; and at the Children’s Puppet Hour at BloomBars in Washington, D.C.
Artist statement
Though there are puppetry traditions in Africa, puppetry was generally not very popular in the African American communities I grew up in, with some exceptions of course. Puppetry is usually considered a sort of "niche" art form and is not taught in school as a foundation art skill. Puppetry's ability to bring together multiple creative disciplines and draw from a deep well of narrative sources is often under appreciated.

String Theory Theater's style of puppetry grew out of a persistent impulse to see my imagination take narrative form. As a child, I loved to read and create stories of my own. I enjoyed making my own toys and theater props more than I did receiving store-bought toys. When I did receive toys as gifts I invariably transformed them, customized them, or simply disassembled them to add the parts to my collection of elements I used to build visual stories. This tendency carried over into making art, into the classroom when I started teaching, and into play and storytelling with my own children. Supporting a family as an independent artist meant that I had to choose my creative endeavors carefully. I delved into many different artistic fields that seemed to allow for creative satisfaction and financial viability. Though I always dreamed that I would someday be involved in puppetry, I just couldn't find a way to justify the time and energy it would take to really do anything serious with it outside of the classroom. However, every time my students put on a puppet show or theatrical play in school, my own desire to be a puppeteer was stoked.

I finally had my first puppet performance at a puppet slam at Baltimore's Black Cherry Puppet Theater in 2015. I performed in a two-person group named the Drapetomaniacs, with artist Pierre Bennu. We created and performed three shows together over the next year. I then formed String Theory Theater with my two daughters. Though I have great respect for all the puppetry traditions I encounter, I don't follow any particular school of thought as to how puppets are made, or how scripts and scenes are executed. I have been exploring all of the different puppetry formats one by one. String Theory Theater has created shows with rod puppets, hand puppets, marionettes, crankies, and shadow puppets, and we sometimes mix different formats into a single show. We enjoy figuring it out along the way. I do usually weave a message into my narratives, and am often concerned with being too preachy, but I think that poking fun at conventions, and questioning the status quo is generally in the tradition of puppetry around the world. In that respect I may follow an aspect of public storytelling traditions.

As an artist of African decent, I have certainly encountered the question of whether a particular artistic expression of an African/African American artist can be properly considered "African" or "African American" art if it does not represent traits commonly associated with African aesthetics, or address concerns specific to African/African American humanity. The question clarified reveals at least two specific inquiries--one of relative content, and the other of relative origin. In both the question of origin and content, it is clear that the African diaspora is diverse in the extreme, and so also is its artistic expression, defying any stylistic and contextual categorization. Stylistic traits uniquely African do not have to be observable in artwork produced by an artist of the African diaspora in order for that art to be considered African diaspora art. Similarly, the content of art produced by an artist of the African diaspora does not need to fall only within the parameters of concerns specific to the African diaspora. All honest (personally true) artwork will carry with it the stamp of the artist's experience as a human on earth, as well as all of their associations with identity, race, gender, culture, tradition, etc. The human tendency to categorize allows us to make sense of the universe in a profound way, but it also allows us to emphasize divisions in favor of our side of the line. Art is a very useful device for transcending the limitations of categorization, and when it does, it is not in the observable form but in the connotation.
How did you learn your craft?
I honed my craft in my childhood through imaginative play and storytelling, then in the classroom teaching elementary, middle, and high-school-level visual art and theater. I also spent a lot of time creating puppets and storytelling with my two daughters as they were growing up.

Dirk Joseph Location
Baltimore, MD Date of birth
1967 Years active in puppetry
2015-present Types of puppets performed and built
Hand-and-rod puppets; shadow puppets; giant puppets; marionettes; masks Representative productions
Kitty's Corner (2016); For the Love of Cats and Dogs (2016); Collab Story (2018) Website ;