Spiral Q Puppet Theater

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Spiral Q Puppet Theater
Founded 1999
Headquarters 3114 Spring Garden St., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
Key people
Tracy Broyles, Executive Director
Christina Cantrill, President
Number of employees
Approx. 25
Website Official Site
Spiral Q performer in the 2007 Peoplehood Pageant

Spiral Q Puppet Theater is a puppet troupe that was founded in 1995 by Matthew "Mattyboy" Hart in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. After traveling the country he was inspired by the street performance work of the Radical Faeries and the Bread and Puppet Theater in Glover, Vermont. On his return to Philadelphia, Hart founded Spiral Q as a way to use his newfound interest in puppetry, street theatre and pageantry to promote social and political change.[1] To this day, Spiral Q seeks to bring the storytelling techniques of giant puppetry, pageantry, and toy theater to the urban backdrop of Philadelphia.


"The Sleeping Giant" from Spiral Q's 2007 Peoplehood Pageant

Initially, Spiral Q was a shadow puppet theater that staged performances throughout the community. Local activist groups came to Hart to make puppets, props and effigies for demonstrations and educational campaigns. Spiral Q's identity springs from this early work in Philadelphia's HIV/AIDS activist and queer communities, particularly with AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power (ACT UP). In 1997 and 1998 Hart organized the week-long Full-On Puppet Festival in Philadelphia. showcasing puppeteers from around the country. Spiral Q also organized an annual Day of the Dead parade on South Street up through 1999. Both the festival and the parade were set aside so that the organization could focus on community activism.

Workshops with a local children's garden led to another model of community performance with children and adults carrying giant puppets that they created in parades and pageants. In 2000 Spiral Q started an annual citywide parade and pageant called Peoplehood.[2] Each October the parade starts at the Paul Robeson House and ends in Clark Park. In addition to neighborhood parades and pageants such as Peoplehood, Philadelphians can get involved with Spiral Q through its Justice Works Program and Education Initiatives.

Since 2000, the theater has been located in the East Mantua section of West Philadelphia. Hart left the company he founded in 2003 to pursue other interests.

Community Programs[edit]


Spiral Q Puppet theater reaches out to the community and promotes connection and diversity through their Peoplehood program. Spiral Q involves numerous communities in the act of collaboration by instructing and facilitating in the making of a variety of puppets aimed at celebrating people and bringing them together. The organization bases its community building programs on core values established as a means of encouraging social justice. The theater identifies its core values as:[3] Inclusion/Challenging Discrimination, Freedom of Speech/ The right to be Seen and Heard, Collaboration, and Sustainability. Working from the belief that freedom of speech is both an inalienable individual right and a collective responsibility, Spiral Q strives to use the age-old arts of puppet-making and theatrical pageantry as vehicles for social change.[4]

The Q Awards[edit]

In 2009 Spiral Q began its annual tradition of granting the Q Awards. According to Spiral Q's executive director, Tracy Broyles, "The Q Awards recognize folks for protecting or advancing free speech in community organizing and standing up to discrimination…I hope this recognition makes more people aware of the important work they're doing and, even though it's just small thing, if it can fuel their energy, then all the better. And if it can help engage even more people in their work, then all the better."[5]
The 2010 Q Awards and recipients are as follows:
The Artist-activist award - photographer JJ Tiziou
The challenging discrimination award – ACT UP
The free speech award – defense attorney Larry Krasner
The sustainability award – Neighborhood Bike Works
The Collaboration award - West Kensington Ministry, Norris Square Civic Association, Men in Motion in the Community, Richard and Friends in the Community, al-Aqsa Islamic Society and the offices of state Sen. Christine Tartaglione (D-2nd Dist.) and city Councilmember Maria Quiñones-Sanchez (D-7th Dist.)[5]

Collaboration with Philagrafika[edit]

Spiral Q has announced plans to participate in Philagrafika 2010, with a project entitled, Silkscreen Resistance and Dissent. The intended project is an investigation of the use of printmaking techniques in the South African anti-apartheid movement of the 1980s and the application of these techniques in the contemporary moment. This application is to be enacted through the use of a mobile screen print studio housed in an RV, thereby bringing printmaking to the community at large.[6] According to Spiral Q's website, this project is in the research and development phase and will be developing over the next year.[7]

Justice Works[edit]

Justice Works is Spiral Q's program that supports social change. It does so by assisting organizations in creating materials such as puppets and banners to aid in the dissemination of messages in the context of public demonstrations.[8] According to program director Ted Enoch, Spiral Q will not assist any organization that employs hate speech or engages in the destruction of property. Spiral Q tries to select participants based upon compatibility with its core values and financial need.[9]


Spiral Q has collaborated with a number of schools and programs such as Huey School, Lea Elementary, the Norris Square Civic Association's after-school program at McKinley Elementary, Feltonville Intermediate, J.S. Jenks School, Reynolds and Vaux Schools, and the Communities in Schools (CIS) Initiatives at Peirce and William Dick Schools,[10] some of which have limited access to the arts, through programs and activities that teach the students the logistics of constructing a puppet as well as encourage student's right to be seen and heard. According to the Program Director at Spiral Q, the theater concerns itself primarily with showing students how their thoughts and ideas can be communicated through the construction of puppets. The theater encourages students by providing the vehicle through which they can express themselves.

The Puppets[edit]

Spiral Q helps children construct their vision of a puppet by providing as much recycled materials as are donated to them. Major elements of the puppet making process are the creation of a working marionette, introduction of new materials, and learning how to work as a team. Depending on the age group Spiral Q will teach this in a 16-week time frame. According to information provided by Spiral Q this is a time line that artists and theater facilitators might use.

1. Intro. to Q, students, routine, project and games
2. Where we come from and journals
3. Character development and story telling
4. Armature building and hand projections
5. Sculpting
6. Mache
7. Mache 2
8. Introduction to painting and color mixing
9. Priming and priming flats
10. Painting details and lettering
11. Painting details 2 and finish flats
12. Costume and hair 1
13. Costume and hair 2
14. Assembly and construction
15. Parade, performance and puppet wrangling
16. Perform parade

While teaching the students how to work as one, Spiral Q tries to convey to students how to be nice to one another and understand each other without stereotyping. According to papers distributed by Spiral Q, "The curriculum is designed to inspire and develop expressive tools, to encourage innovative thinking and experimentation, and to engage students as active citizens in shaping their communities." Spiral Q artists also create puppets for the use in festivals, cultural institutions, libraries, schools, museums, and theatres.

Living Loft Puppet Museum[edit]

Open by appointment only, the Living Loft Puppet Museum features many of the giant puppets used by the theater. Visitors may see six-foot human heads, birds, fish, costumes and other giant creations. There are also toy theater displays of Philadelphia landmarks. Tours include art-related activities and a history of the theater company.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Spiral Q Open Studios: June 12–16 for BioDemo" (Press release). BioDemocracy Mobilization. 2005-06-12. Retrieved 2009-04-14. 
  2. ^ Granero, Kristin (19 October 2007). "A parade that's big on puppets". Philadelphia Inquirer. [dead link][verification needed]
  3. ^ "Peoplehood Parade and Pageant". Retrieved 20 March 2010. 
  4. ^ [1]
  5. ^ a b "Puppet theater honors community leaders in V-Day gala". Retrieved 20 March 2010. 
  6. ^ "Spiral Q Puppet Theater: Silkscreen Resistance and Dissent". Retrieved 20 March 2010. 
  7. ^ "Spiral Q Puppet Theater". Retrieved 20 March 2010. 
  8. ^ "Justice Works". Retrieved 20 March 2010. 
  9. ^ "Spiral Q Puppet Theater". Animating Democracy. Retrieved 2016-04-30. 
  10. ^ "Education Initiative". Retrieved 20 March 2010. 

External links[edit]