Puppetry Spotlight Shines on UConn

UConn occupies a special place in American puppetry, and this week the University is at center stage of the puppet world.

<p>CRT's production of A Dream Play features puppets in many varieties. Photo by Gerry Goodstein</p>

CRT's production of A Dream Play features puppets of many different varieties. Photo by Gerry Goodstein

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.

<p>Frank Ballard's innovative programs brought the art of puppetry alive. Photo by Sean Flynn</p>

Frank Ballard's innovative programs brought the art of puppetry alive. Photo by Sean Flynn

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 BluebirdTwo By TwoH.M.S. PinaforeThe Magic Flute, Peer GyntThe 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.

 

International Conference

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.

 

<p>Puppets take center stage at the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry. Photo by Sean Flynn</p>

Puppets take center stage at the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry. Photo by Sean Flynn

<p>The Ballard Museum on the Depot Campus has something intriguing around every corner Photo by Sean Flynn</p>

The Ballard Museum on the Depot Campus has something intriguing around every corner. Photo by Sean Flynn

<p>Puppets of endless variety await their turn in the spotlight. Photo by Sean Flynn</p>

Puppets of endless variety await their turn in the spotlight. Photo by Sean Flynn

<p>Elizabeth Kelly'14, a history major, helps prepare the exhibits honoring the late Frank Ballard at the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry. Photo by Sean Flynn</p>

Elizabeth Kelly '14, a history major, helps prepare the exhibits honoring the late Frank Ballard at the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry. Photo by Sean Flynn

<p>What is she thinking?  Photo by Sean Flynn</p>

What is she thinking? Photo by Sean Flynn