‘The Doubtful Sprout’: Teaching Science Through Puppetry

Liz Joyce performing "The Doubtful Sprout" at the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry Saturday afternoon.  (Mustafe Mussa/The Daily Campus) 

The puppetry show, ‘The Doubtful Sprout,’ introduced audience members to the underground world of plant and soil science on Saturday as part of the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry Fall Puppet Performance Series.

Performed by Liz Joyce, director of the Long Island based Goat on a Boat Puppet Theatre, ‘The Doubtful Sprout’ tells the story of a newly grown sprout that doubts herself too much to grow.

With the help of a friendly earthworm, the sprout learns about the ecosystem and symbiotic relationships that occur between plants and the organisms living in the soil, becoming confident enough to grow and flower by the end of the play.

Joyce voiced a large variety of characters in the show, including the titular Sprout, her friend Worm, a mole and others in the large cast. She used a variety of puppetry techniques for the characters, including rod puppetry, stop-motion animation on a screen and mechanical puppetry.

Joyce used the storytelling techniques to teach her audience about self-confidence and how soil biology works, including how worms help process decomposing matter into soil, the role of bacteria in composting and the different nutrients and needs of plants.

The uniquely presented characters helped to convey Joyce’s message. Worm, Sprout’s friend and guide to the ‘world of the terraneans,’ is both helpful and cowardly when faced with his predator, Lux the Mole. A stop-motion animation sequence projected onto a screen showed the microscopic world of the ‘Bacteria Ballet’ as nitrobacter help plants obtain nitrogen from the soil.

Perhaps the most elaborate piece was the hand-puppeted Soil Queen, who arrived to give Sprout a pep talk and speak about the role of soil in plant growth.

The show also featured an original soundtrack, with lyrics sung by puppets to help convey their message, along with several jokes that appealed to both children and adults.

Joyce said that she was inspired by her gardening research to create ‘The Doubtful Sprout.’

“I was learning about soil health, how healthy soil makes healthy food,” Joyce said. “I started getting into the soil ecosystem. It’s a science lesson. It’s a world right under our feet.”

Joyce, who is a certified K-12 educator and has helped to write other health and food related plays, such as ‘Vegetable’s Destiny,’ emphasized the importance of education on the growth biology.

“I think it’s important to learn about food and health in a fast food world,” Joyce said. “[The kids] are learning where our food comes from. You hide the message in the story.”

Both adult and younger audience members enjoyed the messages presented by the performance.

“I think it’s great,” said Sheila Marchand, an Ellington resident who attended the play with her two grandchildren. “Her delivery…. how she imagined is very child-friendly and has an appeal to adults.”

Museum organizers and puppetry majors encourage students to attend the Ballad performances.

“We highly recommend students to come to these shows,” said third year graduate student Mark Blashford, who is studying puppetry. “It’s a great thing to do on Saturdays… [and] it’s a very inexpensive date.”


Marlese Lessing is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at marlese.lessing@uconn.edu. She tweets @marlese_lessing.