Collaboration with the Katonah Museum of Art

May 22, 2010 @ 1:53 PM. MTA Station in Katonah, NY.



On May 22, join us for a pageant of invasive species that will board a commuter train at various stations from Grand Central Terminal to Katonah, merging upon arrival with cacophonous street procession of puppets, costumes, and sound.

Commute of the Species was commissioned as part of the Katonah Museum of Art's exhibition The Art of Contemporary Puppet Theater. The performance will employ an accumulation of puppets on board a designated train to chronicle the arrival of non-native animal and animal species in the Hudson River Valley. This resulting site-specific puppetscape will transform the everyday commuter experience into an allegory of migration, habitat expansion, and unforeseen consequences – in effect, condensing 400 years of eco-history into a single one-hour train ride.

Commute of the Species will feature a core group of 30 puppets, representing various invasive animals and plants, from European starlings to zebra mussels. At 6 prearranged stops along the commuter rail line between NYC and Katonah, a contingent of puppeteers will embark and animate a variety of puppets and costumes. Over the course of the one-hour trip, the train will be gradually transformed into an living natural history museum, as each species appears in order of its historic arrival in the Hudson Valley. At the Katonah station, the entire menagerie will disembark, to be joined by other puppets large and small, who will lead a final procession through the streets of downtown Katonah, with commuters, Museum visitors, and intrigued passers-by in tow.


Join us as a performer or puppet captain on board the MTA.
Volunteer to animate a commuting puppet, embarking with your fellow invasives at a pre-arranged Metro-North Railroad stop on the Harlem Line (see itinerary below), emerging at Katonah to take to the streets. Performers will be asked to dress appropriately for their species. Team Captains will take part in a "training" session on Friday May 21, and will also be responsible for transporting their species puppets to the designated station on May 22 (each species group fits in a standard vehicle).

Come along for the ride!
Even if the "official" puppet positions are filled, you can still join us on board the train. Either come in costume, as your invasive species of choice, or just come and watch the procession move along the aisles (bonus points for naturalist outfits or bird-watching gear).

Join us in Katonah / Bring Your Own Species!
What is your favorite (or most reviled) Hudson Valley invasive species? Japanese Knot-weed? Chinese Mitten Crab? Everyone is welcome to join the Commute of the Species in Katonah. If you would like to create your own elements to add to the procession, just meet us at the Katonah train station on May 22.  You can research current and potential NYS invasive species at Cornell's excellent gateway website @ Or if you prefer to just show up for the procession, there may well be kudzu leaves or Asian long-horn beetles just looking for someone to animate them.

To participate, please fill out our online volunteer form. To learn more about the project, contact Karen Stein, Education Director, at or (914)232-9555 x2969.



The itinerary listed below describes each stop and corresponding species. Puppeteers will meet their group captains at a designated MTA train station at the specified call-time.  All puppeteers are asked to dress in business attire for their commute, and to remain "in character" for the duration of the performance (define this as you will . . . ) We will provide business cards, idenitfying key characteristics for each speciess, for performers to offer in response to questions by inquisitive passengers.

GRAND CENTRAL TERMINAL: Rock Pigeon (Columba livia) 12:15 call-time.
Brought to the New World in 1606, as domesticated livestock for French colonists in Nova Scotia, the ubiquitous pigeon has become, for better or worse, the iconic bird of modern urban life.
Rock pigeons are simple rod puppets and will gather in Grand Central Terminal prior to boarding the train. Gray and blue business attire is encouraged (bonus points for white paint splatters on the shoulders to simulate pigeon droppings), and impromptu coo-ing is also encouraged.

125th STREET: Gypsy Moth (Lymantria dispar) – 12:30 PM call-time.
Introduced by in 1868 by scientist Etienne Trouvalot as a hearty alternative to domestic silkworm breeds, the gypsy moth escaped and flourished. The species now decimates an estimated one million acres of foliage annually, causing widespread damage to old-growth forests throughout the Eastern US. Gypsy moths are articulated puppets carried overhead on a simple flapping mechanism. Performers should wear green business attire if possible (brown is OK too). Bonus points for attire that appears moth-eaten (start checking thrift stores for green polyester golf jackets!). Leaf-chewing en route is encouraged - let's defoliate!

WHITE PLAINS: Norway Rat (Rattus norvegicus) 12:45 PM call-time. Introduced as early as1755, the so-called Norway Rat prospered in the 19th century as urban and industrial development created an ideal habitat for the resourceful scavengers. Norway rats are asked to wear brown business attire. The rat costume consists of a headpiece and long tail, so hands are relatively free. Sniffing, nibbling, and the occasional inquisitive squeak are all par for the course.

VALHALLA: Water Chestnut (Trapa natans) – 1:00 PM call-time.
First cultured in 1877, in the laboratory of eminent Harvard botanist Asa Gray, water chestnuts soon escaped into the Charles River and have never looked back.  With seed pods that remain fertile for up to 12 years, and a spiny exoskeleton that repels predators, water chestnuts now clog inland waterways, choking off oxygen supplies for native fish, interfering with navigation and altering the chemistry of an entire ecosystem. Water chestnuts are sculpted lightweight head-pieces with verdant leafy parasols. Performers should wear gray business attire if possible.

CHAPPAQUA: European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) – 1:15 PM call-time.
Eighty of these birds were introduced into Central Park in 1890 by Eugene Schieffelin, who sought to import every bird species named in the works of Shakespeare. Today a single starling flock can exceed one million birds, causing aviation hazards, displacing native species, molesting livestock, and spreading corrosive excrement. European starlings are articulated puppets carried overhead on a simple flapping mechanism. Performers should wear black or dark business attire, especially with patterns. Starlings are encouraged to learn a few calls to foster flock identity en route. Click here for some samples to get you started. . .

MT. KISCO: Zebra Mussel (Dreissena polymorpha) – 1:15 PM call-time.
Arriving in 1988 as stowaways in the ballast water of transatlantic merchant vessels, zebra mussels have multiplied in US waterways with startling speed and are quickly encroaching upon the Hudson River.  Depleting both the oxygen and the micro-fauna of rivers and bays, zebra mussels devour the food and energy sources at the very base of the food chain, affecting every level of the ecosystem. Zebra mussels are articulated puppets carried overhead that open and close on a spring mechanism. Performers should wear yellow and brown business attire (or thick stripes if possible).

KATONAH: Chinese Mitten Crab (Eriocheir sinensis) – 1:30 PM call-time.
This recent arrival to the Hudson Valley is native to coastal estuaries in China and Korea.  Although only recently spotted in North American waterways, it may pose a serious threat to native crab fisheries, as well as damaging embankments and drainage systems through its burrowing activities. The Chinese mitten crab is a single giant puppet (eight feet wide with snapping foreclaws), operated by three people. It will meet its fellow invasives at the Katonah train station, leading the procession through the streets of the downtown business district.

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