The puppeteer, through his/her own imagination, creates magical self-contained worlds on the puppet stage. Puppetry is a combination of theater arts, visual arts, storytelling, and often times music. This art form, with rich histories spanning across various cultures, has transforming effects on students engaged with the art form. As part of my master’s thesis in Art Education at The University of Iowa, I developed a puppet performance based on an adaptation of a Baba Yaga folktale called “Bony Legs”. This involved researching Slavic Folktales; creating the puppets, props, and stage; commissioning a musician to write music for the performance; rehearsing; and performing. While working on the performance I received support and guidance from Monica Leo, professional puppeteer from Eulenspiegel Puppet Company. I also was supported in my master’s thesis by three faculty at the University of Iowa: Steve McGuire, Rachel Williams, and Loyce Arthur. I performed “Bony Legs” at the West Liberty Children’s Festival, the Mount Vernon Public Library, and for several schools in the Iowa City area.
I have used puppets and props in my own teaching and work with children. I enjoy working with children and puppets because it allows students artwork to become animated. Through utilizing this inherently performance-based media, students’ visual work and narrative merge together in a unique and magical way. My own development as an artist and puppeteer makes me better at teaching and guiding students in their own creative endeavors.
Out of Bounds
In the spring of 2014 I collaborated with Working Group Theatre on OUT OF BOUNDS, a two-part project about the effects of bullying, commissioned by Hancher Auditiorium. Part One is a full length play that focuses on the experiences of parents, teachers and principals trying to help a bullied child. Part Two is a 40-minute long companion piece that centers around the same story but features the teen’s point of view.
OUT OF BOUNDS tells the story of Amy, a 14 year old girl who is bullied because of a picture she posts, and the struggle she and her mother go through to end the bullying. The show features comic book illustration by Benjamin Mackey, shadow puppetry by Buffy Quintero and Jen Shook, and an original song by Katie Roche of the Awful Purdies sung by a choir created out of our community. OUT OF BOUNDS is written by Jennifer Fawcett and directed by Sean Christopher Lewis and features Tim Budd, Kristy Hartsgrove-Mooers, Emily Hinkler, Matthew James, Jennifer Fawcett and Barrington Vaxter, wtih lighting design by Courtney Schmitz.
These are the puppets, props, and stage that I created for performing a show called Bony Legs. A witch named Baba Yaga – nicknamed Bony Legs – is the main character. Baba Yaga appears in many Slavic Folktales in different forms. She is a witch who has teeth of iron, rides around in a mortar and pestle, and lives deep in the woods in a hut on chicken feet.
I created the show while taking a graduate seminar with Dr. Rachel Williams focusing on arts-based research in the humanities. The puppets are hand and hand and rod puppets with heads made from paper-mâché. This lightweight material makes them easy to manipulate. Kelly Nevlen wrote several songs for the show, and performs them during the show on the acoustic guitar.
The show runs about 20 minutes and is a sure crowd pleaser for the young and old!
The Prairie Flower Lady
The Prairie Flower Lady is a hand puppet performance centering on themes of sustainability both from a humanities and environmental perspective. It addresses the issue of sustainability by engaging with fundamental questions of the humanities: How do the arts sustain us? What artistic/creative contribution can I make? It also suggests ways individual actions can contribute to living a more environmentally sustainable life.
The story, based loosely on the children’s book Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney, traces the life of a young girl into old age. As a young girl, she is inspired by her grandfather, a painter, and by all the far away places he has visited. She states that she too will visit faraway places in her lifetime. Her grandfather reminds her that she must do something to make the world more beautiful than she found it. She grows up and becomes a librarian and gets to read about faraway places. One day she decides it is time to begin her travels, so she hops on her bicycle. She doesn’t make it further than the Mississippi River where she meets a hilarious river rat in a canoe and together they work on cleaning up the river. Next she travels to Mexico, learns Spanish and helps with tracking the migration of monarch butterflies. After years traveling around, she returns to her roots in Iowa. Now much older and of poor health, she must stay in bed. In the spring she sees all the flowers coming up, and knows what she must do to make the world more beautiful – plant her own prairie.
I developed this show under the guidance of Monica Leo and Teri Jean Breitbach, Eulenspiegel Puppets, and Loyce Arthur, University of Iowa Theatre Arts faculty. I have performed it for students in the Iowa City area and UI theatre arts students.