Company of the Unicorn

The Company of the Unicorn Puppet Theatre was a small (three person) touring theater company that was very popular, touring and performing extensively in Minnesota and Wisconsin at major theaters, universities and colleges, schools, parks, and numerous other and varied venues during the late 1960s and early 1970s. The company used rod puppets of original design and construction, generally two at a time interacting in dramas, with live original background music played on a variety of instruments by the musician. The performers were known publicly only by their stage names of “Star”, “Heron”, and “Lodepa”. Performances generally were 45 minutes to an hour in length, in a format something like a unified variety show. There was an opening invocation “I Am One, I Am Many” that was an original song with accompanying puppet performance, generally one featured drama, several shorter vignettes, occasional original songs performed solo or chorally, and a closing benediction which was a choral recitation and puppet enactment of the stunning William Butler Yeats poem “The Cloths of Heaven.” The effect of performances often was magical, in the theatrical sense, leaving audiences feeling transported.

During the late 1960s, many offices, businesses, and private individuals in the Twin Cities and surrounding areas were surprised and delighted by unplanned visits from the company- often costumed in their performing gowns, with their characteristic announcement, “Would you like to see a pupper show?”, always followed by the response, “Yes”, and then a remarkable highly professional performance five or ten minutes in length, complete with live music accompaniment to the gorgeous puppet mini-play.

The company appeared in brief television segments broadcast locally in Minneapolis and Chicago, but they did not have the time or resources to adjust their theatrical effect to the particular requirements of the television medium.

As with so many of the artistic group ventures of the 1960s, the Company of the Unicorn had a relatively short lifespan, leaving many wanting more. The group dissolved in the mounting economic recession of the 1970s, general declines in funding and patronage of the arts, and diverging personal lives. Their “Farewell Performance” was at the Tyrone Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, ironically following the debut performance of an unknown Elton John. This was a jolting shift of esthetics from the sublime art-puppet theatre, to the bombastic rock bacchanal, a shift that played out more broadly in society over the following years and decades, as the idealism and fellow-feeling of the alternative cultural movements of the Sixties were overwhelmed by the selfishness and growing money-focus of the Seventies, Eighties, and beyond. Star, Heron, and Lodepa continued with individual performances in puppetry, theater, and music, sometimes using the same stage names, and sometimes reverting to their born names. As the magic of their shows preceded VHS and other now widespread recording technologies, there is little record of the Company of the Unicorn apart from the memories of the thousands who were in their audiences or circles of friends from that increasingly distant era.