Puppetry Museum Opens at Storrs Center

An exhibit of Frank Ballard's rod puppets at the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry at Storrs Center on Feb. 27, 2014. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

An exhibit of Frank Ballard’s rod puppets is one of three exhibitions on display for the opening of the new Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry at Storrs Center.  (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

The Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry, part of UConn’s world renowned Puppet Arts Program, will open in its new location as part of the program of Grand Opening activities for the UConn Co-op Bookstore and Le Petit Marche Café in Storrs Center on Saturday, March 1, from 1 to 4 p.m.

Activities for the Grand Opening event will include tours of the Museum and the Bookstore, refreshments provided by the café, a puppet performance, and book signings by several best-selling authors, including novelist Wally Lamb, children’s author and illustrator Barbara McClintock, and essayist Sam Pickering.

Bart Roccoberton, professor of dramatic arts, looks over an exhibit of hotography by Richard Termine '75 (SFA) on display at the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry at Storrs Center on Feb. 27, 2014. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

Bart Roccoberton, professor of dramatic arts, looks over an exhibit of photography by Richard Termine ’75 (SFA), ‘Puppets Through the Lens.’ BIMP’s new home includes expanded exhibition and performance space. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

The new home of the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry (BIMP), previously located on UConn’s Depot Campus, includes expanded exhibition and performance space that now is part of the Co-op’s award-winning trade book division, which regularly celebrates authors with readings and book-signings.

“It’s really fantastic. It’s everything we hoped for and more.” says John Bell, museum director, puppeteer, and theater historian. “The space is wonderful. I feel glad we filled it with strong exhibits of different kinds that are all connected to UConn puppetry and Frank Ballard’s work.”

Three exhibitions will open the Museum’s new space, including two that pay tribute to BIMP’s namesake, the legendary puppeteer Frank Ballard, who founded the Puppet Arts program:

  • “Spectacular Extravaganzas: The Rod Puppetry of Frank Ballard” demonstrates Ballard’s innovative use of rod puppets – of all different forms and sizes – in rich spectacles featuring scores of characters and lavish sets.
  • “The World of Puppetry: From the Collections of the Ballard Institute” is a representative sample from the Museum’s permanent collection of 2,500 marionettes, hand puppets, rod puppets, and shadow fingers from around the world.
  • “Puppets through the Lens: Photography by Richard Termine ’75 (SFA) is a gallery of work by an alumnus of the Puppet Arts program who is the performing arts photographer for the New York Times, Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, and as a documentarian of the puppet culture.
School of Fine Arts students perform at the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry at Storrs Center on Feb. 27, 2014. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

School of Fine Arts students perform ‘Reverse Cascade’ by MFA student Anna Fitzgerald, the inaugural production for the new black-box theater at the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

The puppet performance will be the debut of “Reverse Cascade,” an original, full-length found object puppet work with live music created by Anna Fitzgerald, a graduate student in the Puppet Arts program. “Reverse Cascade” is based on the life of Judy Finelli, a circus performer and record-setting juggler whose life changed dramatically after she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

“The wonderful synergy between UConn and Storrs Center has grown with the opening of every new business and service, and the UConn Co-op and the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry are both great additions to an already-thriving project,” says UConn President Susan Herbst. “We’re grateful for the vote of confidence that the Mansfield Downtown Partnership, LeylandAlliance, and EdR placed in our region by envisioning and carrying out the Storrs Center project, and excited that the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry is now part of it.”

Adds Mansfield Mayor Betsy Patterson, “We’ve always envisioned this project. We wanted it to be unique and a place of destination. There is nothing that could make it more unique than this Puppet Museum.  It fulfills everything that was in our vision.”

An exhibit of Frank Ballard's rod puppets at the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry at Storrs Center on Feb. 27, 2014. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

An exhibit of rod puppets by Frank Ballard, the namesake of BIMP. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

Brid Grant, dean of the School of Fine Arts, says the relocation of BIMP from UConn’s Depot campus to Storrs Center provides greater opportunities for community involvement with the University.

“One of the things that’s very important to me is being involved with the community. You need the community to support the arts for them to survive,” she says. “Being in this wonderful Storrs Center is a fantastic location because of the bookstore and coffee shop next door. I’m really hoping we’re going to get a lot of people who would never go to the Depot campus and who will get involved both in the educational process, which is hugely important, and in the entertainment aspect of it as well.”

Bart Roccoberton, professor of dramatic arts in puppetry in the School of Fine Arts, says the library that is part of BIMP includes books and videos representing American puppetry that will be valuable resources for students in the puppet arts program.

Frank Ballard's rod puppets from the 1975 performance of Kismet on display at the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry at Storrs Center on Feb. 27, 2014. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

Frank Ballard’s rod puppets from the 1975 performance of Kismet. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

“I’ve been pinching myself all year while this was being built,” he says. “Every time I’ve come over here it’s been like Christmas morning. There’s something new, exciting, and delightful. By having this space the puppet arts students have another place of pride. This is the effort that has been going on since 1987 by dozens of volunteers, alumni, faculty, and townspeople who have helped bring this to the place it is today. It’s world-class.”

Suzy Staubach, manager of the Co-op Bookstore, says visitors to the puppet museum will add to the increased traffic the bookstore’s Storrs Center location has experienced since its opening last fall.

“We’re seeing more people from the [Mansfield] community, and we’ve noticed a lot of retired faculty have been coming back,” she says. “We’re also seeing a lot of E.O. Smith High School students, so teenagers are reading. One group has started up a reading group.”

In addition to Lamb (She’s Come Undone and I Know This Much Is True), McClintock (Adele & Simon, Dahlia), and Pickering (Dreamtime: A Happy Book, The Splendour Falls), guest authors who will participate in the Grand Opening include David Johnson (Snow Sounds: An Onomatopoeic Story), Ellen Litman (The Last Chicken in America), Ron Mallett (Time Traveler), Wendell and Florence Minor (If You Were a Penguin, Christmas Tree!), Pegi Deitz Shea (Stitch in Time, Abe in Arms), and more.

Refreshments for the event will be served by the Le Petit Marche Café, the new retail café operated by UConn Dining Services located inside the Bookstore. The Café offers a variety of French-style crêpes, baguettes, flavored yogurts, and other French pastries.