Boo! Ballard Museum of Puppetry hosts Halloween-themed shadow puppet workshop

Picture retrieved from the School of Fine Arts, Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry website.

With Halloween just days away, many groups within the University of Connecticut community are working hard to bring students some holiday spirit. Last Friday, in the tradition of telling scary stories, the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry hosted an online Halloween shadow stories workshop. The workshop was hosted via Zoom and run by UConn puppet arts students Elise Vanase and Felicia Cooper. Each participant came to the event prepared with a Halloween-themed story they wanted to bring to life. Vanase and Cooper then instructed them on how to create and perform their own shadow puppet show based on the story of their choosing. The workshop covered a variety of skills related to the art of shadow puppetry, from building a simple cardboard shadow screen, to creating the puppets and inventing different voices for each of the characters. 

“Halloween is kind of looking like it’s going to be different this year, with the CDC saying we shouldn’t be trick or treating or anything or having parties,” Vanase said when asked about her inspiration for the workshop. “[W]e really just wanted to have an event where people could do something Halloweeny and kind of like still get into that spirit, but also shadows are super accessible and a really easy form of puppetry and their aesthetic kind of allows for that like creepy storytelling, so I kind of just combined those two ideas and wanted to have the opportunity for people to make something fun for Halloween.” 

The event was not limited to only UConn students. Enthusiastic puppeteers of all ages, both professional and amateur, came out to create their own spooky shadow puppet shows. The result was a wide range of stories, from original creations such as “Uni the Unicorn Battles the Shadow Realm and Spirits” or “Alligators in the Sky,” to shadow stories based on urban legends, such as “Spiders in the Hairdo” or “The Skeleton Tree”. 

“It’s [my shadow story] a Halloween inspired reinterpretation of a classic Irish fairy tale”

“It’s [my shadow story] a Halloween inspired reinterpretation of a classic Irish fairy tale,” said Mackenzie Doss, a second-year graduate student in the puppetry program. 

The Ballard will be hosting more forums, exhibitions, workshops and performances this semester. 

“On Nov. 12, we will have our third Fall Puppet Forum,” Emily Wicks, manager of operations and collection for the Ballard Institute, said when asked about upcoming events. “It’ll be online. It’s with Jungmin Song who is a professor at UConn and also helps out at the Ballard Institute and it’s going to be a forum about Shakespeare and puppetry, so it’s in conjunction with our current exhibition titled ‘Shakespeare and Puppetry.’ Jungmin Song curated this exhibition. She contacted artists from around the country and the world who were doing their own interpretations of Shakespeare’s plays with puppetry so we have those on exhibit now and she’ll be talking more about it virtually with our director John Bell on Nov. 12 at 7:00pm eastern time on Facebook Live.”  

Wicks mentioned another virtual event planned in early December. 

“Then we have another forum on Dec. 3 that’s also at 7:00pm on Facebook Live called ‘Engineering in Puppetry’ and that is cosponsored by the School of Engineering and also the Krenicki [Arts and Engineering] Institute and that will be with Ed Weingart who’s a professor in the School of Fine Arts,” Wicks said. “He’s actually now the Interim Director of Dramatic Arts at UConn. Professor Jason Lee from the School of Engineering and puppeteer Basil Twist.” 

Participants in the Halloween shadow stories workshop were encouraged to record performances of their stories on their own. These performances will be available to view on Ballard Institute social media on Halloween. More information about upcoming events, as well as instructions on how to book a tour can be found on the Ballard Institute’s website, 

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