The Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry and the UConn Puppet Arts Program continued its semester tradition, presenting the 2019 UConn Fall Puppet Slam on Friday at von der Mehden recital hall. The event featured myriad performances from students, graduates and local puppeteers.
When attending a puppet slam, one of the things the audience learns quickly is that anything can be a puppet. This was obvious with the first performance, entitled “The Eggs” by graduate student Neda Izadi, where Izadi drew faces on eggs and told a love story through a pair of eggs. At first it was romantic but quickly turned comedic when Izadi threw one of the eggs on the floor, scooped up its remains and cracked the other egg into a bowl. As Izadi continued to make scrambled eggs, the audience cracked up.
To continue the unexpected use of puppets, UConn alumna Anatar Marmol-Gagne presented “You Don’t Know Me.” Although the performance was more burlesque at first as she danced on a chair and teased the audience, it quickly shifted to comedy when she turned around and revealed a doll that hung from her neck and whose arms were linked to her hands. Marmol-Gagne continued to strip the doll in a coy fashion, garnering cheers from the audience. Her other performance, “Calle Allende,” happened later on in the show and was an excerpt from a larger show that explored themes of grief and sorrow. The performance was inspired by an excerpt from Frida Kahlo’s diary and a later painting of hers, “The Two Fridas.”
“I really liked ‘Calle Allende’ because it was really dark and actually evokes emotion in me,” Eben Prostak, a ninth-semester chemical engineering major, said. “[While] all the other ones made me feel happy and joyful, this one was a nice change of pace for me. When art makes me feel something strongly, I think that’s the best.”
The Lilypad Puppet Theatre, a non-profit theatre based out of Ithaca, NY, had a couple performances during the slam but “Mr. Blue and His Radio” had audiences laughing the most. It’s about a puppet named Mr. Blue who has a great love for his radio. Whenever the puppet changed the radio, the guitarist on stage would play a different song. It quickly became chaotic when the performance broke the fourth wall and the puppet realized that he was being controlled by a human being.
“I was so excited by it and I was laughing the entire time,” Elise Vanase, a fifth-semester puppetry major, said.
Another piece, titled “Pandas,” by Robert Ian Cutler, William Smith and Johanna Dunphy, was comedic and created a different interpretation by using the narration from a wildlife documentary. There’s just something about watching one adorable panda puppet bash another, equally adorable panda puppet over the head with a folding chair that is unexpectedly amusing to the audience.
“I was kind of floored. I was really surprised. I don’t know what I was expecting going into it,” Prostak said.
Aside from puppetry, animation shorts from digital media and design students were featured during the slam. There were two other animation shorts by Maggie Flanagan, titled “Trick or Treat” and “Mushroom Hunt” that used stop motion animation.
“A lot of these things showcase a good mix of what different puppet shows have to offer. In recent years, we started doing more video pieces which I think is a nice way to show that puppetry doesn’t have to just be for the stage,” Folker said.
Brandon Barzola is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.