Audience participation, family fun and crafty innovation were the centers of the puppet show ‘Cardboard Explosion,’ the first in the spring series of puppets shows held at the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry at the University of Connecticut on Saturday.
A mixed crowd of adults and children as young as three crowded the showroom, with the afternoon show completely sold out.
Accented by a goofy sense of human and the occasional bout of kazoo music, puppeteer Brad Shur presented four short stories, all using cardboard and interaction with the audience to bring the show to life.
Each story revolved around the struggles of one or more characters as they attempted to achieve a goal. The first featured a cardboard box person attempting to find his pet as he faces off a dragon and the second revolved around a trio of superheroes fighting a giant mutant baby attacking a city. The third story focused on an animal protagonist attempting to achieve a goal and coming to arms with an antagonist and the fourth featured all of the previous stories coming together, with the formerly established characters interacting with each other.
For each story, Shur asked for the audience’s input on various aspects of each story, such as the name of the cardboard person and the type of pet he had, or the quest that the animal protagonist goes on. For one story, Shur invited three audience members to come up on stage to help build the superhero protagonists before the story began, and asked what superpowers they would have.
With an audience of younger children, this resulted in some interesting choices. At the afternoon show, a dragon is defeated by being distracted by a hand-turkey (quickly drawn by Shur on a cardboard square) and during the third, a panda comes to arms with a YouTuber over obtaining a slice of pizza. This was hilarious for both the adults and the children in the audience.
Shur, who is an artist-in-residence at the Puppet Showplace Theater in Brookline, Mass., said that he had been developing the show about a year and a half.
“I tried out different ideas,” he said. “This was the one that ended up being the most successful.”
Shur said that he went through multiple prototypes, testing out parts of the show at schools, summer camps and puppet slams.
The reason he chose cardboard for a medium, Shur said, is because of its ubiquity and versatility.
“I picked cardboard for a couple of reasons,” he said. “One of the biggest reasons is to get kids and and families in [on] making their own puppets. [As well], I wanted something I could work with quickly on stage.”
Audience members said they appreciated the improvisation and the novelty of the show.
“It was great family fun,” said Jason Adler, a Clinton, Conn. resident who came to see the show with his family. “It was a blast. [I enjoyed] the puppeteer's inclusion of audience participation.”
Others said they enjoyed the versatility of the show.
“My grandson had a great time,” said Lynn Mead, who traveled from Bristol to see the show. “It was something different to do for all ages.”