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.
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.
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.
Two of the most celebrated practitioners of the art of modern puppetry are Eric Bass and Ines Zeller Bass, whose three decades of innovative performance are now on display at the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry in “From Thought to Image: 30 Years of Sandglass Theater.”
Vermont-based Sandglass Theater was launched in 1982, following the couple’s initial collaborations after meeting at a puppetry festival in Germany. In the years since, their work has been recognized six times with the Citation of Excellence from the American Center of the Union Internationale de la Marionette (UNIMA-USA), the highest honor in American puppetry.
“Eric and Ines look upon puppetry in terms of its history around the world as a mature art form,” says John Bell, director of BIMP, associate professor of puppetry in the Department of Dramatic Arts and a historian of puppet arts. “As this exhibition demonstrates, they’ve gone into a lot of different areas. You’ve got this fascinating mix of different materials to make shows that are always getting at ideas.”
With the presentation of “Between Sand and Stars” from 2005, the puppeteers found inspiration in the memoir-novel of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince, to create dramatic tension in the space between puppets on the ground and aerialists above. The puppets from this production include the pilot sprawled on the ground after a crash landing and the composer Mozart, whose music is part of the performance.
“From Thought to Image: 30 Years of Sandglass Theater” continues through April 10 at the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry, One Royce Circle, Storrs. For more information go to the Institute’s website.
The Puppet Arts Program is one of the University of Connecticut’s rare treasures. The women’s basketball team consistently makes headlines, but the distance UConn conquers basketball is peanuts to how far it dominates puppetry. Fifth-semester puppet arts major John Cody, whose previous work has included an eight-foot-tall Captain Condom mascot, explains his passion for the art form:
Cody has previously done work “wrangling mascots” for DreamWorks’ “Penguins of Madagascar” at Yankee Stadium and the Bronx Zoo. The job’s duties, Cody said, included “helping the actors put on the costumes, making sure they don’t break, repairing them if they do break, and making sure kids don’t punch them.”
“What’s fun about mascots is they have this element of fantasy to reality,” Cody added. “It’s this totally bizarre thing: a giant penguin who can’t move his face or talk just in the middle of the Bronx Zoo.”
UConn’s Student Health Services approached Cody and puppet arts graduate student Anatar Marmol-Gagne to assemble their “Stall Street News” character Captain Condom. Cody designed a maquette (a miniature model) and then built the full-size mascot while learning along the way.
The University of Connecticut’s Puppet Arts program is the premier puppetry program in the United States. To share that expertise UConn’s School of Fine Arts, Department of Dramatic Arts, is offering a Puppet Arts Online Graduate Certificate that applies the art of puppetry to a wide range of professions, including visual and dramatic artists, teachers in formal and non-formal educational settings, recreation directors, and media and marketing specialists.
The Puppet Arts Online Graduate Certificate provides students with hands-on skills and experience constructing puppets, designing and directing a puppet production and applying puppet arts to a wide range of disciplines and professions. Opportunities for students to apply and share their learnings to discipline-specific applications – whether they are artists, educators, marketing artists, or other professionals – are provided throughout each course.
In the 50 years since legendary puppeteer Frank Ballard started teaching puppetry classes in UConn’s School of Fine Arts, alumni of the Puppet Arts Program have performed on Broadway, in films, on television, and on stages worldwide.
Many of these alums will return to campus this week among the more than 500 puppeteers from across the country and around the world who will attend professional workshops, participate in panel discussions, and present performances as part of the 2015 National Puppetry Festival, kicking off celebrations for the half-century of UConn puppet arts.