The Studio Theatre was filled to capacity half an hour before the beginning of the 2017 University of Connecticut Winter Puppet Slam Friday evening.
The puppet slam featured works by professional puppeteers and troupes, including Lone Wolf Tribe, Dana Samborski, Better than Never Theatre Company, The Grizzly Boys, J. R. Uretsky and Feminist Conference. Alongside these professionals were performers from the School of Fine Arts Puppetry Arts undergraduate and graduate programs.
Several individuals within the professional troupes were also alumnae of the puppet arts program, such as Dana Samborksi performing his table top show, The Three Bears. This show was also his completed MFA project from 2016.
Also joining Samborski as an alumnae was Joe Therrien, performing with Sam Wilson as The Better than Never Theatre Company. Their performance was a toy theatre production often called a crankie, where there is a side-scrolling crank advancing an imprinted scroll of backdrops for a variety of scenes, which is turned by the artist to advance the show. The troupe performed an episode from a series entitled “The Sirens of Titan.” Performed at the slam was episode 47, “Tralfamadore.” The series is based off the writings of Kurt Vonnegut.
Therrien also performed with professional New York City puppeteer, Tom Cunningham. The two artists performed “The Sad and True Adventures of President Punch.” Punch is a stock character archetype that began in the sixteenth century. The character is a trickster and in the performance on Friday satirized the administration of Donald Trump. Cunningham and Therrien displayed caricatures of cabinet nominees Steve Bannon and Jeff Sessions that had many in audience laughing.
At one point there was a projection of a Hollywood-esque sign of “Punch,” atop The White House, similar to the Trump sign of Trump Tower.
“I thought some of the performances mixed politics and art really well,” Jillian Lyon, a sixth-semester political science and human rights major, said.
A performance exclusively from students of the puppet arts program told the story of two workers on the nine to five grind of a job. Performing were Zach Broome and Katayoun Amir-Aslani, both fourth-semester puppets arts majors, and Matt Sorensen, a second semester puppet arts graduate student.
The production featured the three puppeteers in masks of static expression, made by each performer. Their boss comes in, harasses them and then tries to show each one how to do their jobs. Amir-Aslani’s character corrects her boss and loses his cool in a theatrically exaggerated form, ultimately resulting in his two employees quitting on him.
“I think this puppet slam is the best show the school of fine arts puts forth. It was really crass and should be a more widely accessible art,” Benjamin Albano, a sixth semester electrical engineering and German studies major, said.
Matthew Gilbert is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.