UConn occupies a special place in American puppetry, and this week the University is at center stage of the puppet world.
Starting with the Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s production of A Dream Play which premiered on March 24, followed by two new exhibits honoring the legacy of the late puppeteer Frank Ballard at the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry, and concluding with a three-day international conference on puppetry and post-dramatic performance, there is no shortage of opportunity for fans of puppetry to indulge their passion for this particular art form.
A Dream Play
CRT’s production of A Dream Play runs through April 3 in the Studio Theatre in the Fine Arts complex. Written by Swedish playwright August Strindberg, this surrealistic play provides director Joseph Johan Therrien with an opportunity to tell the story of Agnes, the daughter of the Hindu god Indra, through a variety of hand puppets, rod puppets, masks, and other theatrical artifacts.
In his preface to the play, the playwright said, “Everything can happen, everything is possible and probable. Time and space do not exist.” CRT’s production puts Strindberg’s words to the test in this entertaining theatrical challenge.
Honoring Frank Ballard
Two new exhibitions honoring Frank Ballard opened on March 27 at the Ballard Institute. They are Frank Ballard: An Odyssey of a Life in Puppetry (curated by UConn puppet arts alumna Rolande Duprey) and Frank Ballard: Roots and Branches.
Ballard first taught classes in puppetry at UConn in 1964. His innovative puppet productions soon led to the creation of UConn’s puppet arts program, the only program in the United States offering both undergraduate and graduate degrees in puppetry training and education.
An Odyssey of a Life in Puppetryis a retrospective of the stories, designs, construction processes, and performance of Ballard’s many productions, and includes rare video footage from the museum’s archives. It features puppets and sets from The Bluebird, Two By Two, H.M.S. Pinafore, The Magic Flute, Peer Gynt, The Golden Cockerel, and others.
Roots and Branches explores the experiences that influenced Ballard, who was born in Alton, Ill. in 1929, to pursue a life in puppetry. It looks at influential figures in the world of puppetry, from the 1930s traveling shows of Romain and Ellen Proctor to the creative genius of Muppet creator Jim Henson. Ballard’s fascination with the Kungsholm Miniature Opera and Sidney Chrysler’s toy theater operas is explored, as well as the influences of a wide range of global puppet traditions he studied, including Karagöz, Javanese rod-puppet theater, and Chinese shadow theater.
The department of dramatic arts in the School of Fine Arts is sponsoring an international puppet research conference April 1-3. This is the first time such a conference has been held in the United States, and it is drawing participants from North and South America, Europe Africa, and Asia.
In addition to a series of demonstrations, workshops, and performances the conference will feature keynote addresses by Peter Schumann, founder and director of the acclaimed Bread & Puppet Theater; and Eileen Blumenthal, historian and professor of theater history & criticism at Rutgers University’s Mason Gross School of the Arts.
In addition to sessions restricted to those registered for the academic conference, there are a series of events that are also open to the public.