‘Women in Puppetry’ brings feminist empowerment and social activism to the Ballard

Women puppeteers gather to discuss their identity experience in the shared field. (Zoe Jensen/The Daily Campus)

“Sometimes I think there’s a difference between a female character and a character that happens to be female. I always would rather play a character that happens to be female.”

This quote, by Sesame Street and Avenue Q puppeteer Stephanie D’Abruzzo, stood out to me at last night’s “Women in Puppetry” forum at the Ballard. Sometimes the goal for a woman trying to cut it in puppetry, a field dominated by men for near its entire existence, isn’t to succeed as a female in puppetry, but to succeed as a puppeteer without the addendum of gender.

The talk also showcased fellow puppeteers Clare Dolan, co-creator of the traveling Banners and Cranks Festival, and Deymirie “Dey” Hernández Vázquez, from the Puerto Rican puppetry theater Papel Machete, each bringing their own stories of their work to an enamored audience.

The artists talked at length about how their personal experiences have inspired their art, and Hernández noted how social thought molds her work.

“In our group and within the representation of our projects, we didn’t set out to build feminist pieces. It was based out of reality and what we were seeing - a lot of single moms who showed up to our organizations with their kids. We wanted to make puppet shows that resonated with the people that we were engaged with,” Hernandez said.

Hailey Bendar, a University of Connecticut alum and aspiring puppeteer in Willimantic, talked to me about her experiences with puppetry and gender. “I’m enthusiastic about what I do. I’ve been trying to work and get contacts as a puppeteer, and sometimes it wears you down. Sometimes it feels almost impractical. At the same time, talks like this remind me that it is a thing you can do,” she said.

Current seventh-semester puppetry major Esme Roszel added to this sentiment; “As a woman in puppetry, it’s very exciting to see women out there who are doing it for a living and to speak on the subject.”

In the complicated times of our world, the overlap between puppetry and politics can be inevitable. Dolan shared a photo of a workshop she put together for art academy students in the occupied territories in the West Bank. Hernández talked of her work with AgitArte, an organization that aims to focus on working class artists and cultural solidarity.

D’Abruzzo talked to me about her role in John Oliver’s show “Last Week Tonight.” “[The show] did a great piece on incarceration. They had a couple of puppets, and it was very much a parody of Sesame Street. It was a parody of the Sesame Street, referring to their series on incarceration, because so many children have parents in the prison system. The John Oliver segment asked the question, ‘Isn’t it a shame that so many parents are imprisoned that Sesame Street has to reach out to these kids?’ So, at the end of the show, a couple of puppets sat with Oliver on a stoop and sung about the incarceration system. And it was kind of amazing.”

The Ballard’s next forum will take place on Nov. 15 titled “Night Fall: Community Puppetry in Hartford,” featuring puppeteer Anne Cubberly. If it’s anything like last night’s colorful display, it’s not to be missed.


Daniel Cohn is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at daniel.cohn@uconn.edu.