Politics and puppets take the stage at the fall puppet slam

Puppet Slam featured the works of seasoned professionals Hilary Chaplain and Anatar Marmol-Gagne, as well as newly minted UConn undergraduate students. (Judah Shingleton/The Daily Campus)

In previous years, the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry’s Puppet Slams were held in the Studio Theatre in the music building, but the Fall 2018 Puppet Slam marked the transition to the von der Mehden Recital Hall.

As always, Puppet Slam was characterized by a variety of performances and an enthusiastic audience.

While the move to a bigger venue could have impacted the collaborative atmosphere between the performers and the audience, the cheering and participation of the crowd remained unchanged.

Puppet Slam featured the works of seasoned professionals Hilary Chaplain and Anatar Marmol-Gagne, as well as newly minted UConn undergraduate students.

Alexandra Edwards, a first-semester theatre studies major, appreciated how Puppet Slam brings together puppeteers of all experience levels.

“I like how they had the professionals and a mixture of the amateurs in between the professionals,” Edwards said. “It was nice seeing the contrast but also seeing how the amateurs were holding their own in the show.”

The puppets themselves were as varied as the performers.

Emilie Alber, a first-semester mechanical engineering major, appreciated the variety of puppets used throughout the night.

“All the different types of puppets, I didn’t expect that. They had hand puppets, the bear, marionettes and rod puppets,” Alber said.

“I also like the display of animation because I’m interested in that so that was really nice to see,” Edwards said. “The first animated video ‘A Gift From Space,’ that was great. The set was so beautifully crafted. It was just seamless, it was great.”

However, this fall’s Puppet Slam was more political and less abstract than the spring version.

The first overly political performance was put on by Chaplain, who performed two excerpts of “The Last Rat of Theresienstadt” in which a cook and a rat plan to put on a show in Theresienstadt, one of the model concentration camps. The two characters bond over their shared love of performing while being ostracized from society.

Kali Therrien’s “The Sock Puppet” the final performance of the night, was also politically relevant. Throughout the performance, Therrien talked to her sock puppet Socko about a bad experience in its past, alluding to a sexual assault. While Therrien didn’t say this explicitly, after she asked Socko to explain the situation she said this:

“What’s that Socko? You said don’t really like to tell this story because sometimes when you tell it, people don’t really believe you,” Therrien said to Socko.

After hearing Socko’s story, Therrien said, “You said you feel that that’s only stuff you read about in history books. Oh, Socko, you’re so innocent and pure. That’s the thing, history likes to repeat itself but it’s up to us to stop that cycle.”

While it may seem ridiculous or ingenuine to talk about sexual assault using a sock puppet with an organ for a voice, Therrien uses this absurdity to create a space to discuss a stigmatized topic with predominantly young audiences.

Art has always chafed against traditional boundaries and Therrien’s work is no exception, only she’s lending her voice to amplify other’s experiences and continue the discussion around sexual assault and gender-based violence.

The performance also highlighted Ballard Museum Director John Bell’s commentary between the performances. Throughout the night, Bell stressed the fact that almost all of the creators in the show were women.

“It was a woman dominated show, that’s really cool. Women don’t have a lot of representation in a lot of things. You usually see men as movie directors and stuff like that so it’s cool seeing women as being creators and as influential beings,” Jai Jax, a third-semester allied health major, said.

Bell prefaced this performance by alluding to the conversations which have dominated the media for the past year and particularly throughout the past week as Dr. Christine Blasey Ford gave her testimony at Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s supreme court confirmation hearings.

“I’m really happy that tonight especially that you got to see here the work of so many women so many women puppeteers who do such wonderful work. Listening to women is so important,” Bell said.


Alexis Taylor is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at alexis.taylor@uconn.edu.