Original Puppet Production ‘Unfolds’ a Woman’s Journey

Sarah Nolen '15 MFA, left, Ceili Clemens '01 (SFA), and Lucia Rich, a professional performer, operate the puppet 'Aya' during a rehearsal for 'Unfolding the Story: A Journey of Her Own' at the Studio Theater on Sept. 11, 2015. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)
Sarah Nolen '15 MFA, left, Ceili Clemens '01 (SFA), and Lucia Rich, a professional performer, operate the puppet 'Aya' during a rehearsal for 'Unfolding the Story: A Journey of Her Own' at the Studio Theater on Sept. 11, 2015. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

SHARELINES

Margarita Blush, assistant professor of performance, left, looks on as Ceili Clemens '01 (SFA), Sarah Nolen '15 MFA, and Lucia Rich, a professional performer, operate the puppet 'Aya' during a rehearsal for 'Unfolding the Story: A Journey of Her Own.' (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)
Margarita Blush, assistant professor of performance, left, looks on as Ceili Clemens ’01 (SFA), Sarah Nolen ’15 MFA, and Lucia Rich, a professional performer, operate the puppet ‘Aya’ during a rehearsal for ‘Unfolding the Story: A Journey of Her Own.’ (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

A Facebook posting with the image of a woman in silhouette being carried by birds, accompanied by a quote from French novelist and essayist Marcel Proust, provided puppeteer Margarita Blush with the inspiration for her new production, “Unfolding.”

The play opens Sept. 18 at the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry at UConn.

“We don’t receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take us for or spare us,” are Proust’s words that Blush, assistant professor of performance and directing in the School of Fine Arts, says focused her thoughts in developing her first new puppet theater production since joining the Puppet Arts program in 2013.

“Unfolding” is an original production exploring the themes of women’s wisdom and empowerment using hand-crafted puppets, live acting, innovative set design, and original music – a departure from the customary puppet theater technique of adapting a popular story from mythology or literature.

Margarita Blush, assistant professor of performance, left, looks on as Ceili Clemens '01 (SFA), Sarah Nolen '15 MFA, and Lucia Rich, a professional performer, operate the puppet 'Aya' during a rehearsal for 'Unfolding the Story: A Journey of Her Own.' (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)
‘Unfolding’ is an original production exploring the themes of women’s wisdom and empowerment. It was inspired by a quote from Marcel Proust. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

“I am at a completely new level in my professional career,” says Blush, who previously performed as an independent artist in puppet theater. “I wanted to create a piece based on the life of a woman.”

Blush is in her early 40s, and has been a mother for 16 years. “Looking back, I can see the patterns of what a woman goes through,” she says. “Each individual goes through a lot of things, but a lot of things are similar. I usually adapt a folk tale, taking something I like and adapting it through my own prism. This time I said I wanted it to be a completely original piece.”

A native of Bulgaria who was a student of the internationally renowned puppet theatre director Nikolina Georgieva at the Bulgarian National Academy for Theatre and Film Arts, Blush has produced works for adult audiences as well as for the family audiences most often associated with puppet theatre in the United States. The story in “Unfolding” is told by the Three Fates (Moirae) who are actors in the production. Puppets and shadow imagery represent the real and dream worlds of the woman at the center of the story.

Blush is using a workshop approach to develop the production, one more often associated with devised theater, in which all members of the production contribute their ideas as the story takes shape. It is a technique often practiced in the Puppet Arts program by students as they move through the creative process.

“It makes it challenging, but exhilarating. I’m going to list everybody in the program as creators of the piece,” Blush says. “I feel like this is a venture into a new realm for me as an artist.”

Sarah Nolen '15 MFA, left, Ceili Clemens '01 (SFA), and Lucia Rich, a professional performer, operate the puppet 'Aya' during a rehearsal for 'Unfolding the Story: A Journey of Her Own.' (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)
The production uses hand-crafted puppets, live acting, innovative set design, and original music. Puppets and shadow imagery represent the real and dream worlds of the woman at the center of the story. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

The production team includes alumni puppeteers and puppet builders Ceili Clemens ’01 (SFA) and Sarah Nolen ’15 MFA; puppeteer, dancer, and physical theater performer Lucia Rich; composer and musician Amir Khosrowpour; lighting designer Adam Lobelson; and dramaturge Lindsay Cummings, an assistant professor of theater studies in the School of Fine Arts.

Blush says she hopes to continue performing “Unfolding” in the future, with the goal of gaining a showcase at puppetry festivals around the United States. She also hopes to take it to international festivals, including the 2017 World Puppet Theatre Festival in Charleville-Mézières in France, a 10-day festival that has nearly 200 performances and attracts more than 150,000 spectators to the Champagne-Ardenne region of northern France.

“Unfolding” will be performed at the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry, 1 Royce Circle, Storrs. Tickets can be purchased for cash only one hour before performances at the Ballard Institute. Performances are Sept. 18 and Sept. 19 at 7:30 p.m. and Sept. 20 at 5 p.m. Other performances are Sept. 25 and Sept. 26 at 7:30 p.m., and Sept. 27 at 2 p.m. Following the Sept. 19 and 26 performances, there also will be a Talkback at 9 p.m. For more information call 860-486-8580 or go to the Ballard Institute website.