'Puppet Survival' talks challenges of puppetry as a profession

The Ballard Museum director, John Bell, directs a Q&A with Liz Joyce, Jaime Keithline and Bonnie Hall on the various rewarding and challenging aspects of the puppet industry as a part of the Ballard Puppetry Museum's fall semester puppetry forums on Thursday, Oct. 13, 2017 in the Ballard Museum. (Alex Taylor/The Daily Campus)

On Friday, Oct. 12, the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry hosted three successful puppeteers to talk about the survival of an industry many people already thought was dead: puppetry. John Bell, Ballard Museum director, administered a Q&A between the audience and the guests, Liz Joyce, Jamie Keithline and Bonnie Hall.  

The second of four puppetry forums hosted by the museum focused on how the industry has adapted to survive an increasingly technologically-driven world.

The guests said after 2008, puppetry changed as a result of the downturn in the United States’ economic climate.

“The crash happened and everything kind of stopped… and it was difficult to figure out how to get things moving again,” Joyce said. Funding for puppetry came to a near halt alongside other arts funding. “Every year it just gets chopped away,” Joyce said.

In a broader sense, audiences have changed since the puppetry veterans began their careers. When they started, kids were not nearly as plugged in. Without a constant source of stimulation, kids became bored and went out to find entertainment in various ways, including attending puppetry shows.

Joyce said puppetry can function as a solution to this technological trend for adolescents. “I feel that puppetry has the power to shift the tide a little because it takes them off the screen and puts them in humanity again,” Joyce said. “It focuses them on something that has life.”

However, the night was not entirely somber, and the puppeteers offered advice to the next generation of puppeteers.

The trio stressed the importance of finding a balance in nearly every aspect of what they do. After a question about crafting performances for children, Hall stressed the importance of creating a show that meets the intellectual levels of many age groups and does not talk down to kids. “If you’re worried about whether the four-year-old is going to get everything in the show, you lose the fifth grader,” Hall said. “It’s good to have humor on a number of different levels.”

In addition to balancing within their work, they also stressed finding a balance between the business and creative parts of being a puppeteer. “You have to wear different hats, and being a business person is a different part of the brain than being an artist,” Joyce said.

She then described the importance of making time to write grant proposals, plan budgets and develop marketing strategies.

“The reward,” Joyce said, “is to do the other thing: (create).”

Joyce, Keithline and Hall took a more optimistic tone towards the talk’s end to inspire the young generation in the audience. Among them was Tracy Becker, the only first-semester puppetry major admitted to the class of 2021. “It’s something to work against, but it also has a sort of novelty that you don’t really get anywhere else,” Becker said when asked about the discouraging public sentiment towards puppetry. “It’s not something you really see everyday or find everywhere.”


Alex Taylor is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at alexis.taylor@uconn.edu.