GAVIN CUMMINS IN "OK, I LOVE YOU, BYE" PHOTO BY GERRY GOODSTEIN
KALOB MARTINEZ IN "EL BETO" PHOTO BY GERRY GOODSTEIN
Storytelling through the use of inanimate animals, objects or humans dates back to ancient Greece, a mere 3000 years ago, and is known as puppetry. By manipulating fingers, rods or strings, the puppeteer controls hands, legs and arms to tell a tale, often taking on the voice of the sock, the marionette or the puppet in the process.
Through the ages, puppets have been used to tell epic tales, a culture’s fables, love stories, reenactments of wars, healing and religious rites and even vaudeville entertainment. Today puppets can be seen in Jim Henson’s Muppets, Julie Taymor’s hit Broadway musical “The Lion King” as well as the delightful comedy “Avenue Q.”The University of Connecticut has a long and loving relationship with these mostly paper mache, cloth and wooden creatures, including a collection of over 2500 puppets from all over the world. Its dedication to preserving puppetry as an art form began in 1964 with Frank Ballard, whose creativity is preserved in the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry. UCONN is one of only two universities in the country to offer a BFA in puppet arts and the only one to offer masters degrees in the field.You can dip your hand ( or your toes) in this fascinating field of entertainment by attending The MFA Puppet Arts Festival at the Studio Theatre on the Storrs campus until April 3 with a trio of fine productions as world premieres, thesis presentations as part of a master’s candidate requirements. Kalob Martinez molds Macbeth into “El Beto,” a story of lust and blood set in the midst of a Mexican drug cartel. Using Spanish sprinkled liberally in the English, Martinez reenacts the bloody business of assassination. Macbeth, with the help and encouragement of his wife, has grand ambitions and is willing to murder everyone in his path to his goal to be king. With the three weird sisters as witches of prophesy, he wields his hand puppets in a twirl of mystery. Martinez employs the Mexican Day of the Dead for inspiration in this unusual adaptation of Shakespeare’s tragedy.Ana Craciun-Lambru, in “Dust,” was inspired by the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City. She weaves a wonderful dance in her poignant story of puppetry, calling upon her immigrant heritage in Roumania to create a personal world of a little girl and the grandmother she dearly loves. Using a cache of letters, she traces a trail to America and the search for a better life and the tragedy of forgetting the ones who are left behind. Her dance of joy and abandon turns to fear as fire and cornfields flair. Her composition is classic its its emotional impact on the viewer.Gavin Cummins fills the stage with visual slides that tell a multitude of memories. Using diverse objects from a mouse, a tractor, a boy whose pants are too big, dreams that are unrealized, a night watchman and a bag of tricks, Cummins employs shadow puppetry to explore the medium like a spool of film unraveling, reel upon reel of stories. He seems to be bidding a fond farewell to objects he cares for in his one man show “Ok, I Love You, Bye.”For tickets ($7 student, to $30), call 860-486-2113 or online at www.crt.uconn.edu. Performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. until April 3. A fourth production “Echo,” a retelling of a classic Greek myth, by Christopher Mullens will take place at the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry ( a great place to visit) until April 3.Come experience what Artistic Director Vincent J. Cardinal terms “an exciting and edgy evening of the freshest kind of performance."