The undergraduate-produced puppet show “100 Birds” made its debut on stage on Saturday, drawing roars of laughter at the University of Connecticut’s Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry with its tongue-in-cheek humor and creative medium.
Written, directed and performed by eight-semester puppetry arts major John Cody, with co-star Katayoun Amir-Aslani, “100 Birds” tells the story of a middle school women’s basketball team attempting to raise funds to make it to the playoffs.
When team captain Jada Jones wishes on a shooting star, a flock of 100 intergalactic mathematician birds (yes, you read that right) descends to earth to help, building the world’s biggest pizza in order to raise awareness and funding for the team’s trip.
All the while, the ragtag team comes to clashes with the grotesque Dr. Allundrious Pepper, a former veterinarian with hatred for all things feathered, as he attempts to foil their plans throughout the show’s performance.
The show features original music by Evan Alderete, as well as a variety of puppet styles for the main characters, including rod-and-stick, marionette and hand-puppetry.
The title wasn’t lying, by the way. There are 103 puppet birds, to be exact, featured in the production, all designed by Cody and sculpted with the help of over a dozen puppet builders. The flock itself contains a variety of bird species, including an owl, a toucan, several parrots, a pair of pink flamingos, a bald eagle and an Eeyore-esque dodo.
While the crowd consisted mostly of young children on Saturday’s show, many of the jokes were more nuanced than slapstick. Self-referential humor was a key part of many of the gags, with callouts to standard tropes and fourth wall breaking being the main forte of its unusual comedy.
While some of the jokes fell through on the young audience, others sent the crowd reeling. Cody incorporated some improvisational comedy as well, having Dr. Pepper interact with the audience in his own, creepy way.
“I wanted it to be silly and funny and as entertaining as possible,” Cody said. “Most of my inspiration came from animations and cartoons, specifically “Homestar Runner.” It’s more of a show I’d want to see that happens to be for children.”
The show itself took about two years to write and produce, Cody said, including script development and puppet design. The show was funded by a $4,000 IDEA grant, along with expenses that Cody covered out of his own pocket, he said.
Though the project was ambitious and time-consuming for an undergraduate, Cody said that he wanted to produce “100 Birds” with the resources he had as a student.
“Any time I had, I was working on this,” Cody said. “I figured that there’s so many resources [at the Ballard] and it would be a shame not to use them. I have access to talented people and facilities that I won’t have ever again.”
The project itself was an excellent learning experience, Cody said, applying the knowledge he learned in his puppetry classes.
“I learned a lot about materials and building puppets. I did a lot of experimenting” he said.
Both the adults and the younger members of the audience enjoyed the show’s creativity and unusual humor.
“I thought it was hilarious,” Mansfield resident Sarah Fahy said. “This is definitely my favorite. There was a lot of grownup humor in it.”
Others lauded the quality of production.
“I was really impressed. It seemed beyond an undergraduate level of performance,” said Susan Long, a resident of Mansfield who attended the show with her daughter. “It was very professional. [My daughter] really enjoyed seeing all the different types of birds.”
Cody said that he plans to continue developing the show, which will have a second run with the Ballard’s Summer Puppet Performance Series. Overall, the production would not have been possible without the help of his fellow puppetry majors, Cody said, who helped build the puppets to gain experience.
“There’s a lot of people who are very generous with their time. It was a very ambitious project, but the stress of that pays off.”
Marlese Lessing is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. She tweets @marlese_lessing.