The Ballard continued its streak of being one of Storrs’ best kept secrets on Saturday with the opening of its two spring exhibits, “Paul Vincent Davis and the Art of Puppet Theater” and “Shakespeare and Puppetry.” Lasting just over an hour and a half, the joint opening featured light refreshments and impressive attendance.
“Shakespeare and Puppetry” was highlighted first, with Dr. Jungmin Song explaining to the audience the several pieces adorning the walls. Song, a first-time curator for the Ballard, talked at length about the pieces, making it sound like every Shakespearean adaptation was a personal favorite of hers. Song drew laughter from the crowd when retelling the Ballard’s treacherous journey with United States Customs for this exhibit, having to explain the baffling puppets to security.
The opening shifted from theatrical to personal as the crowd funneled into the Ballard’s backroom to hear from the featured artist of the parallel exhibit, Paul Vincent Davis. Davis’ presence commanded the room, as the entire Ballard community listened with respect and admiration. His puppets gave character to the walls of the Ballard’s tall back room, and a wall-mounted TV played some of Davis’ past media appearances on loop. Davis waxed poetic on his time within the puppetry communities of New York City and Boston, the latter of which being where Davis spent much of his career as the Artist in Residence at Boston’s Puppet Showplace Theater.
Guests, students and faculty were delighted by the dual feature. “I have a minor in Shakespeare studies from my undergrad degree, so I thought it was really interesting to see that love and my love for puppetry combined,” said Alyssa Mathews, a first-year graduate student in puppet arts. “Seeing how different and varied every single piece was really cool. There’s so many different ways to do puppetry, and there’s so many different ways to do Shakespeare. I was particularly drawn to the ‘The Tempest’ shadow light production – I helped put it together a little bit, and I did a report on shadow light last term, so it was really awesome to be able to help out and see it.”
“I have a literary background, so I’m kind of new to drama and puppetry, but I really love seeing the uniqueness of these pieces, and how Shakespeare can be translated and retranslated in such strong ways, from marionette, to shadow, to cardboard,” said Mackenzie Doss, also a first-year graduate student in puppet arts. “I really loved the shadow puppet, but I was really attracted to the ‘Macbeth’ bird marionettes. I think with Shakespeare most people automatically think like, ‘it’s got to be human, they have to act in certain specific ways,’ and puppetry questions that mindset. It renews Shakespeare for me.”
UConn is the best in American academia at two things: Women’s basketball and puppetry. For the latter, Saturday’s openings furthered the university’s status. The exhibits will be on display through June 7.
Daniel Cohn is the associate managing editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.