Puppet Production Explores 1911 Factory Fire

MFA Puppet Arts graduate student Ana Craciun-Lambru performs 'Dust' one of three world premiere shows part of MFA Puppet Arts Festival. (Gerry Goodstein Photo)
'Dust' is a reflection on the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, one of the worst industrial disasters in history. The production is part of UConn's puppet festival, March 24-April3.


As a youngster growing up in Romania, Ana Crăciun-Lambru ’16 MFA put strings on her dolls, turning them into marionettes and performing in her bedroom. She would go on to earn a degree in puppetry from The National University of Arts in Bucharest. While working as a freelance puppeteer, she found information about a Fulbright Scholarship opportunity and the Puppet Arts program at UConn.

Crăciun-Lambru’s new puppet production, “Dust,” is part of the Connecticut Repertory Theatre celebration of 50 years of Puppet Arts at UConn during The MFA Puppet Arts Festival, March 24 to April 3 at the Studio Theatre.

 From left, MFA puppeteers Kalob Martinez, Ana Crăciun-Lambru, and Gavin Cummins present a triple bill for the MFA Puppet Arts Festival onstage at the Studio Theatre March 24-April 3. (Gerry Goodstein for UConn)
From left, MFA puppeteers Kalob Martinez, Ana Crăciun-Lambru, and Gavin Cummins present a triple bill for the MFA Puppet Arts Festival onstage at the Studio Theatre March 24-April 3. (Gerry Goodstein Photo)

The three original one-act plays at CRT range in topic and style. “Dust” is inspired by the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City and incorporates shadow and object puppetry. “Ok, I Love You, Bye” by Gavin Cummins ’16 MFA is a one-person play using various styles of shadow puppetry. “El Beto” by Kalob Martinez ’16 MFA molds Macbeth into a story of lust and blood set in the midst of the Mexican Drug cartel.

A fourth original production, “ECHO” by Christopher Mullens ’16 MFA, will take place at the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry in conjunction with the CRT shows. ECHO is a multi-media immersive spectacle combining puppets, digital projection and original music in the re-telling of a classic Greek myth.

Crăciun-Lambru learned about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire last year just before the March 25 anniversary of the incident, which is one of the deadliest industrial disasters in U.S. history. The fire resulted in the deaths of 146 garment workers, mostly young immigrant women ages 16 to 23, who could not escape because doors to exits and stairs were locked. In the aftermath of the tragedy, legislation was created to require factory safety and the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union expanded its membership to fight for better working conditions.

While conducting research about the fire, Crăciun-Lambru discovered that among the victims were 20 young women from Romania. She thought about telling the story of one of the girls, but could not find information specifically about them as she studied testimony, articles, and photographs on a website dedicated to the fire at Cornell University. Several weeks later, Crăciun-Lambru learned about the death of her grandmother, whom she had not seen since arriving at UConn in 2013.

“I was shifting direction toward what it means to leave your family behind and what you sacrifice when you go to pursue a dream,” she says about the story. “The show isn’t necessarily about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. It’s a story within a story. I created the girl, Maria, as a relative of mine. It’s the journey of a woman, but I also have to find peace with myself for not being there when my grandmother passed away.”

In “Dust,” the main character revisits the attic of her grandmother’s house and loses herself in family memories. The Woman is the main character, with Maria her distant relative who came to America. Maia is the Doll who accompanies the Woman on her journey of self-discovery. Crăciun-Lambru tells the story using a variety of puppetry styles, creating imagery that invites the audience to use its imagination when, for example, a hat represents the owner of the garment factory.

As part of her research, Crăciun-Lambru learned about the Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition, an organization that educates the public about the incident and is working to establish a permanent memorial to those who died. The group requested information about “Dust,” and has added a link to the MFA performance at CRT on its website. She has also invited representatives of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union to the performance.

The CRT production of the MFA Puppet Arts Festival will be performed March 24 to April 3 at the Studio Theatre, 802 Bolton Road, Storrs. “ECHO” will be performed in conjunction with the Festival at the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry, One Royce Circle, Storrs. For more information on the MFA Festival, go to crt.uconn.edu and for “ECHO” to bimp.uconn.edu. There will be an additional free presentation of Krista Weltner’s MFA stop motion film project at 5 p.m. in the Studio Theatre on March 26 and April 1, 2, and 3.