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Local artist brings 19th century cantor to life in ‘My Grandfather’s Prayers’

Artist Lisa Amie Sturz manipulates a puppet representing Cantor Izo Glickstein as she narrates ‘My Grandfather’s Prayers.’ Photo courtesy Red Herring Puppets
Cantor Izo Glickstein

Relocating her well established Red Herring Puppets studio from North Carolina to Tucson last year was a big move for Lisa Amie Sturz. She brings to the Old Pueblo 40 years of experience in building, performing, and directing puppetry for film and television, theater, museums, educational institutions, and special events. Her first multi-media performance to the Jewish community on Sunday, Feb. 16 is “My Grandfather’s Prayers.”

The story is based on the life of her grandfather, Cantor Izso Glickstein (1890-1947), a fourth-generation Jewish cantor and child prodigy. He was born in Ukraine, but his family fled the Russian pogroms to settle outside Budapest, where he became uber-cantor of Europe’s largest synagogue. He emigrated to America in 1923 and became a prominent figure in New England’s Jewish community. He was cantor at Temple Mishkan Tefila in Boston, had a weekly radio show to promote Hebrew music, and was Leonard Bernstein’s earliest musical mentor. At the time, Bernstein didn’t have a piano and practiced at the cantor’s home, Sturz explains.

Glickstein’s powerful voice carried ancient Jewish melodies with precise, wavering quartertones. “People would line up around the block to hear him sing,” Sturz says. “He was a voice from the old country, the voice of people who escaped and survived. This is not just a Jewish story; it’s much bigger than that.”

While she grew up knowing her grandfather was a cantor, he died before she was born. When Sturz was staying with a relative in Boston in 2007, her cousin shared some family archives. “She had scrapbooks that my grandfather’s sister Esther had kept, with hundreds of articles.” With copies of the archive materials, Sturz began the research that took her to London and Budapest. “It was exciting. This story touches people; we all have the craving to know where we came from. This was an opportunity for me to get more grounded and rooted in where I came from.

“In London, Uncle Mitch had digitized some of the old recordings. When I listened to that CD I just started sobbing. It brought me somewhere I’d never been before. In my version of the story I have a feeling of connection to him,” Sturz says of her grandfather. “Also as an artist, and on some levels, wanting to connect with him or have his approval.”

To tell the story, Sturz uses film and theatrical elements, monologue, animated props, shadow puppets, scrolling backgrounds, marionettes, digital compositing, and poetic text to explore her own ancestry, artistry, spirituality, and social responsibility. Recordings of the cantor singing are the backbone of the show.

Sturz started Red Herring Puppets in Los Angeles in 1988. She began creating original touring productions for schools, families, and adult audiences while working in film and television. In 1992, Red Herring Puppets moved to Asheville, North Carolina, and in spring 2019 Sturz began relocating to Tucson to be with family. She has opened a studio/performance space in the Tucson Mall upper level that offers performances, workshops, and handmade puppets for sale.

Sturz has worked with Jim Henson Productions, Lucasfilm, Walt Disney Imagineering, The Ice Capades, PBS, NBC, the Field Museum, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Silver Dollar City Theme Park, and many others. Film and television credits include “Howard the Duck,” “The Flintstones,” “Ninja Turtles III,” “Murphy Brown,” “Muppets from Space,” “Elmo in Grouchland,” “Puzzle Place,” “Roger Rabbit,” “Gremlins II,” “RoboCop,” and “Batman Returns.”

Her work has been featured at the Center for Puppetry Arts (Atlanta) Puppet Showplace (Boston), 1st International Puppet Fringe Festival (New York City), Black Cherry Puppet Theatre (Baltimore), and the Asheville Community Theatre. Sturz received a California Emmy, a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, and a UNIMA award — the highest honor in American Puppetry.

She holds a master’s degree in experimental theater and a master of fine arts in puppetry. She is certified to train artists as educators, has taught at California Polytechnic University, Grinnell College in Iowa, and Warren Wilson College in North Carolina, and led numerous residencies, professional training, and conferences.

The Feb. 16 performance is at 7-8:30 p.m. at the Tucson Jewish Community Center, 3800 E. River Road. It is intended for adults and older teens. A question and answer session will follow. Tickets are $10 and are available at