History, science and 20’s music were all highlights of the puppet show ‘The Snowflake Man,’ the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry’s final show in their fall series, performed by Sarah Frechette of the puppetry company PuppetKabob.
The show tells the tale of Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley, a self-taught farmer from Vermont who first photographed the snowflake in the 1920’s and deduced that all snowflakes are unique.
The story is told through the character of Florence, played by Frechette, who visits Bentley in his Vermont home and listens to how he used micrography (photography on a microscopic scale) to capture an image of a snowflake.
Frechette used Czech-style marionettes, with strings controlling the limbs and a small rod used to manipulate the puppet’s head movement. The stage, creatively enough, was a suitcase that opened into a pop-up book, with each page acting as the various scenes in the play, and small props added by Frechette to make the display more three-dimensional.
The play blended science and history, as Bentley discussed how a snowflake is formed in the clouds above, why they’re all unique and the techniques he used to capture each individual crystal.
Frechette interacted with her audience throughout the play, notably during a scene where Bentley is at a lecture about his photography. Calling out for questions from the crowd, Frechette, through the Bentley puppet, answered queries, such as the difference between a snowflake and a snow crystal (flakes are large conglomerations of snow crystals, while crystals are the individual hexagons) and what Bentley did during the spring (he took photos of nature, such as spider webs).
Frechette, a graduate of the University of Vermont and a University of Connecticut puppet arts alumnus, crafted each puppet herself, using a wooden body as a base and shaping the faces out of oven-bake clay, she said. She also crafted them to be historically accurate -- with the exception of Bentley’s hat, which Frechette said was actually from a Ken doll.
The puppeteer has worked on the clothes for Laika’s stop-motion animation film ParaNorman, with the props used on the miniature puppets sets being made by a fellow Laika artist.
Frechette said that she was inspired by her grandfather, who met Bentley and purchased three snowflake micrographs from him, to write the show. Toward the end, Frechette actually brought out the images for the audience to see.
“My grandfather always bragged about his pictures,” Frechette said. “I wanted to create a show not only bragged about [Vermont], but also captured his memory.”
Audience members said that they enjoyed both the educational and entertainment value of the show.
“It’s a delightful mix of science, art biography puppetry and photography,” Anna Lindemann, a professor of digital media at UConn, said. “It’s incredible to see teaching and fun integrated.”
Many either came to the performance with their families as part of the Storrs Center Winter Welcome or attended after hearing about the show through their local newspaper.
“It’s very unique,” audience member Howard Craig, a Groton resident. said. “It was for children and adults alike, and it wasn’t over anyone’s head.”
Marlese Lessing is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. She tweets @marlese_lessing.