A dramatic mythological recreation of the formation of the Earth alongside a horror film about a toy and a man with a ukulele singing the ABCs. What do all of these have in common? The answer is craftsmanship and unique storytelling employed through puppetry.
On Friday night, the Dodd Research Center hosted the annual UConn Winter Puppet Slam, showcasing talented puppeteers from all over. The night was hosted in a mock award show fashion, handing out awards for each segment as if they were contestants in very obscure categories. This added a bizarre yet comedic overtone to the show.
The first performance was “Give Him the Ooh La La,” by Felicia Cooper. Set to the tune of the song of the same name by Blossom Dearie, Cooper manipulated a feather pen, a toy soldier and a paper fan into three characters involved in a love triangle. Seeing the paper fan’s efforts to win the affection of the feather pen showed the creativity that these puppeteers are able to employ in imbuing life into simple everyday household items.
Following Cooper was Paul Spirito’s autobiographical mini-puppet show, “Lost in Biddeford.” Spirito used a small booklet with cut out photographs as backgrounds and small characters on sticks to tell his story, projecting his actions onto a screen by video-calling the performance from his camera to the laptop connected to the room’s projector. The story followed a young Spirito getting lost in the city after wandering away from an exercise course he was brought to by his mother. This segment had a great balance of humor and childhood nostalgia.
The third piece performed was the only prerecorded performance. This was former UCFilm president Ryan Glista’s film “Let’s Be Friends,” which was filmed last year. Glista’s film is about a young boy who is bullied for bringing his stuffed animal to school. Soon, the film takes a dark twist as the toy deals out revenge upon the bullies. The film’s strongest element is the incredible puppetry, performed by UConn student Kat Folker.
In one of the most entertaining portions of the program, professional puppeteer Harry LaCoste performed a selection of ukulele music with the aid of an audience member and a big, furry red puppet reminiscent of a Jim Henson creation. LaCoste, dressed up like an early 20th century vaudeville performer, had a boundless energy and charm which made his act a lot of fun. Still, LaCoste wasn’t afraid to inject a bit of crude humor for the college audience, striking a suitable balance between the audience’s maturity and inner child.
Following the silly antics of LaCoste’s “Uke Can Do It!” was a far more experimental piece, entitled “Creation.” Thought up by Neda Izadi and performed by various members of the UConn puppetry program, this segment told the story of the creation of the world in a way reminiscent of many cultures’ ancient myths. The centerpiece was a bedspread which served various functions, beginning as a swaddled child of the Mother Nature figure before turning into a map-like expanse of multiple environments and finally becoming the train of Mother Nature’s dress. While not as straightforward as the previous pieces, the artistry and symbolism in play were still impressive and beautifully rendered.
The second to last performance was “Mr. Lonely” by Rob Cutler and William Heining, which explored the difficulty faced by the Grim Reaper in making new friends (considering everyone he touches dies). The sardonic humor of the bit brought the audience to an uproar. The way that the puppeteers were also able to inject themselves into the act was also creative and funny.
The night’s activities were concluded with New York puppeteer Kate Brehm’s “To Be Concluded Indefinitely.” This was definitely the strangest of all the pieces in the show, using a baby floating through yellow frames to represent the cycle of birth and death in the universe. While the baby puppet itself was very impressive and some of the use of movement was interesting, the piece, in my opinion, went on too long to the point of being off-putting.
Evan Burns is campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.