Shake on the Lake earns national recognition NEA grant awarded for 2021 festival

New York State Puppet Festival Photograph Koryu Nishikawa V performs at the 2018 New York State Puppet Festival. The festival, which has received a National Endowment for the Arts grant, is expected to return in 2021 along with Nishikawa. This year’s festival was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

PERRY — Though Shake on the Lake may be small, they make a big splash.

On Friday, Shake on the Lake announced it had received national recognition for its New York State Puppet Festival. The organization and its puppet festival was awarded one of 1,015 National Endowment of the Arts Artworks grants given nationally.

Pilar McKay, co-founder of Shake on the Lake with Josh Rice, said they were thrilled when they received the award, saying the NEA application was a lot of hard work.

“This is the first time we’ve won national recognition for our work, so we’re really excited to see where this can take us,” she said.

Shake on the Lake, which began as an outdoor summer Shakespeare Festival, will get $10,000 from the NEA grant which will go toward the New York State Puppet Festival. The grant will help cover costs associated with the puppet festival, bringing Shake one step closer to creating a world-class festival, McKay said.

The New York State Puppet Festival first ran in 2018 and was slated to run again this year, but with the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival has been postponed to 2021.

McKay said the New York State Puppet Festival was the brain child of Rice, who was trained in puppetry and performed around the world.

“When Shake on the Lake grew and he received an actual award to the Wyoming County Rural Arts initiative to start develop his own original art, he really wanted to put on a puppet festival in Perry where he could bring artists from around the world and around the country to put on their works here,” she explained.

“Puppetry is just an amazing art form that so many cultures around the world have their own form of it,” she said. “When you bring it together in a festival setting, you can see how artists start to get inspired by the other forms of puppetry that are out there.”

McKay said in the rest of the world puppetry is considered an art form for all ages, while in the United States Americans think of it just as the children’s art from a children’s theater point of view.

When seeing how different cultures put on their plays, its obvious how puppetry can appeal to so many different audiences, McKay said.

The inaugural New York State Puppet Festival brought 2,300 people to Perry over the course of 10 days. The event was significant for a town that has a population of around 3,500. Not only because it attracted a large audience, but because the festival also brought artists from Japan and throughout the United States to Perry.

McKay said the puppet festival was made possible through the Wyoming County Rural Arts Initiative, the Arts Council of Wyoming County and the Perry Main Street Association.

Puppet programming in 2021 will be funded in part with a New York State Council on the Arts Decentralization Community Arts Grant administered by the Arts Council for Wyoming County.

Featured artists for the 2021 New York State Puppet Festival include:

n Trusty Sidekick Theatre Company and their puppet theater piece, Campfire, designed specifically for neuroatypical audiences, to be performed at the Autism Nature Trail in Letchworth State Park

n Shank’s Mare by fifth-generation Japanese puppet master of cart-puppet form Koryu Nishikawa V and Tom Lee

n Bread & Puppet Theater visual art exhibition at the Arts Council for Wyoming County Gallery

n Emerging global and local puppet artists


For more information on Shake on the Lake visit and for news updates on the New York State Puppet Festival visit

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