New puppetry course will satisfy gen ed requirements

The school of fine art added a new general education course for the fall semester called "World of Puppetry". It will satisfy the general education requirements for Content Areas One and Four. (Zhelun Lang/The Daily Campus)

The school of fine art added a new general education course for the fall semester called "World of Puppetry". It will satisfy the general education requirements for Content Areas One and Four. (Zhelun Lang/The Daily Campus)

“Introduction to World Puppetry” is a new general education course that will be offered in the fall semester at the University of Connecticut.

The course will satisfy the general education requirement for Content Areas One (Arts and Humanities) and Four (Diversity and Multiculturalism). Associate Professor and Director of the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry John Bell will teach the course.

The course is intended for all students from a variety of majors across UConn. The curriculum will review puppet, mask and object traditions across the world. Bell will teach how puppets relate to global culture, popular culture, history, literature, religion, technology, engineering, fine arts, sports and health. The course will review well-known forms such as Jim Henson’s Muppets, but also more specialized forms such as Chinese shadow theater, Sicilian marionettes and African mask traditions.

“One of the things we like about puppetry is that it is always interdisciplinary and international,” Bell said. “As a puppeteer I can build, design, perform, write texts, play music and publicize puppet shows…It’s always interesting because to engage in the form you’re immediately drawn to a wide range of different types of art, engineering and cultural contexts.”

Students will be asked to respond to puppet shows and performances as part of the curriculum. However, that doesn’t mean that students need to attend a true puppet show, Bell said.

Bell said a scene or two from a film like Star Wars would provide several examples of puppetry. Bell also said that puppetry is found in sporting games, either in a mascot form, or a part of the game.

“A lot of sports center on the movement of an object,” Bell said. “Puppets are objects and we’re just in a performance of an object. Just as in a puppet show, the performers and the audience are focused on this object that moves, like Kermit the Frog. When the UConn women’s basketball team plays, everyone’s focused on an object, the basketball. The world of performing objects, which includes puppetry but also many other things, is a really interesting way to think about the relationship between these forms.”

Bell said that the Ballard Museum will soon offer an exhibit featuring sports mascots.

“Like Jonathan the Husky; that’s a puppet that thousands of people have a very intense relationship with…People get really attached to those puppets, but if you ask them, they might not say they have a big interest in puppetry,” Bell said.

Additionally, students will be asked to read, write and discuss different forms of puppetry. Student will watch videos and make short animations, as well as spend around three weeks building and performing toy theater puppet shows. A midterm and a final exam will also be given.

Bell did not know the exact classroom capacity, but said he expects around 20 or 30 students to be able to register for fall 2017.


Claire Galvin  is a senior staff writer for The Daily Campus.   She can be reached via email at claire.galvin@uconn.edu.