Month: May 2012

UConn Puppetry Programs Make a Strong Showing at World Puppet Congress and Festival in China

UConn’s famed puppetry programs are once more having a global impact, this time in Chengdu, China at the 21st UNIMA (Union International de la Marionnette) Congress and World Puppetry Festival.

Four of the Eight Immortals by Bart Roccoberton at Chengdu’s National Shadow Puppetry Museum.

— Eight rod puppets designed and built by Puppet Arts Program director Bart Roccoberton are on display in the Puppet Shadow Theatre exhibition of the National Shadow Puppetry Museum in Chengdu.  The puppets represent the legendary Eight Immortals, revered in Taoist beliefs dating back to the Han Dynasty.  Professor Roccoberton built them especially for the National Shadow Puppetry Museum, and they will become part of that institution’s permanent collection.

— Current students and alumni of the Puppet Arts Program, led by Bart Roccoberton, are performing Butterfly Dreams, a mask and life-size puppet spectacle created in 2001 by Hua Hua Zhang, David Regan and Professor Roccoberton, which uses dreams as a vehicle to explore humanity and its multiple levels of meaning and purpose.  The production is inspired by a tale from Taoist philosophy about a sage, Zhuang Zi, who after dreaming he had become a butterfly, awakes to wonder if he is a man dreaming he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he is a man.

— UConn Puppet Arts alumnus Stephen Kaplin, the Co-Artistic Director of Chinese Theatre Works, is performing Songs from the Yellow Earth, a collaboration with the world-renowned Bread and Puppet Theater, and the first shadow theater production directed by the theater’s founder, Peter Schumann.  The show incorporates literary and operatic ruminations on war and peace drawn from classic Chinese opera and poems referring to Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of a unified China.

Dr. John Bell with Iranian UNIMA members Dr. Hamidreza Ardelan and Poupak Azimpour Tabrizi.

— Ballard Institute Director John Bell is representing the U.S. branch of UNIMA as a counselor in that organization’s world Congress, participating in congress sessions and as a member of the UNIMA Publication and Communication Commission, currently charged with creating the English-language World Encyclopedia of Puppetry Arts, an on-line global resource.

Burns School Student Videos at Billings Forge Community Works Cap “World of Puppetry in Hartford” Project

Burns School students make frog masks at Billings Forge Community Works.

The Ballard Institute’s “World of Puppetry in Hartford” project concluded in May with an exciting video project at Billings Forge Community Works in Hartford’s Frog Hollow neighborhood with 8th-grade students from the Burns School and the Compass Youth Collaborative program.  The students worked with puppeteer Sara Peattie, Billings Forge resident artists James Holland and Alycia Bright Holland, and Ballard Institute director John Bell in weekly afternoon sessions in April and May.

The Billings Forge project began with paper-mache mask and puppet building workshops led by Peattie, the director of the Boston-based Puppeteers Cooperative.  Drawing on the theme “El Coqui meets Frog Hollow”–referencing both the official frog mascot of Puerto Rico and the history of the once-marshy lowland neighborhood of Frog Hollow–the students built frog masks and puppets.  In the following weeks the students developed frog-centric scenarios and storyboards for videos about Frog Hollow, the Burns School, and teen-age life in general, which were then filmed, editing in-camera.

James Holland and Sara Peattie edited the films, which can be viewed online at this site.

“The World of Puppetry in Hartford” was a year-long effort to bring different aspects of world puppetry to the Hartford area through exhibitions, workshops and performances at the UConn Health Center, the Mark Twain House and Museum, the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, and Billings Forge.  The project was sponsored by grants from the Edward C. and Ann T. Roberts Foundation and Judith Zachs.

Alycia Bright Holland and James Holland make frog masks with Burns School students.


Advisory Board member Vivian Putnam named “Volunteer of the Year”

Ballard Institute Advisory Board member emeritus Vivian Putnam has been awarded a “Outstanding Volunteer of the Year” award from UConn’s School of Fine Arts for her long and notable record of service to the School of Fine Arts and to the University of Connecticut as a whole.  The award was presented April 24th at the UConn School of Fine Arts Awards Ceremony in the Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts, where Ballard Institute Advisory Board member Patricia Verde accepted it on Vivian Putnam ‘s behalf.  On May 16, at Ballard Institute Director John Bell celebrated the award again at an informal gathering with family and friends at the Village at Buckland Road in South Windsor.

Vivian Putnam and family


Vivian first came to UConn from the Midwest before World War Two, with her husband, who taught as a member of the UConn faculty for many years.  Vivian Putnam then taught textile courses at UConn’s School of Home Economics for years.  As a member of the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry Advisory Board, and a tireless and visionary supporter, Vivian Putnam’s volunteer work has been central to its sustenance and growth.

UConn Puppetry’s Seth Shaffer to present workshop and performances at Benton Museum for UConn Alumni Weekend

UConn Alumni Weekend Special!

Puppetry Arts grad student (class of 2013) and Ballard Institute digital archivist Seth Shaffer will present a workshop/performance at the William Benton Museum of Art on UConn’s Main Campus on Saturday, June 2, from 1:45 p.m. to 2:15 p.m.!


Seth writes: “I am very excited to be a part of the Alumni Weekend!  My plan is to do both an interactive demonstration on basic puppet manipulation and a series of short vinettes.  I am planning on building some student puppets in the next two weeks that members of the audience can use to explore manipulation techniques with me.  Then with these simple “student” puppets, I will perform a short story to demonstrate how to practically use a puppet.”

Check it out, and then come visit our museum!Puppet Show with Seth Shaffer, Saturday June 2, 1:45 p.m. – 2:15 p.m. at William Benton Museum of Art.

See the UConn Puppet Arts Production of “Butterfly Dreams” May 12 and 13 before China Tour


Join us this Saturday and Sunday, May 12 and 13 in the Studio Theater on the UConn’s Main Campus for rare performances of Butterfly Dreams, the remounting of an extraordinary 2001 puppet production created by UConn Puppet Arts students.  The performances will feature an all-star cast of  UConn Puppet Arts alumni–Ceili Clemens, David Regan, Bart Roccoberton, Joe Therrien and Hua Hua Zhang–and current Puppet Arts students–Penny Benson and Xing Xin Liu.  These special performances will precede the presentation of Butterfly Dreams at the 21st UNIMA Congress & World Puppetry Festival in Chengdu, China later in May.

Butterfly Dreams will be performed Saturday, May 12 at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sunday, May 13 at 2 p.m., at the UConn Dramatic Arts Department’s Studio Theater (click here for directions).  There is no admission charge for these performances, but donations will be gratefully accepted, and used to help defray the costs of the trip to China.

Butterfly Dreams was created in 2001 by Puppet Arts students Hua Hua Zhang, David Regan and Puppet Arts director Bart Roccoberton, and uses dreams as a vehicle to explore humanity and its multiple levels of meaning and purpose.  The production is inspired by a tale from Taoist philosophy about a sage, Zhuang Zi, who dreamed that he had become a butterfly and derived immense pleasure from flying.  After awakening, he wondered whether he was a man who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly who now dreamed he was a man.  Bart Roccoberton writes of the show, “We are living in a dream of dreams.  If you don’t dream, life has no interest and no meaning.  Everybody has dreams at different levels – both waking and sleeping.  Do we dream that we dream?”

UNIMA, the French-based Union Internationale de la Marionnette, is the world’s oldest international arts organization.  It was founded in Prague in 1929 and is now chartered under UNESCO.  The performances of Butterfly Dreams at the UNIMA Congress and Festival in Chengdu will mark an unusual opportunity for UConn Puppet Arts work to appear in a prestigious international stage.

Admission is free to the performances on Saturday, May 12 at 4 & 8 pm and Sunday, May 13 at 2 pm. Donations to help defray the costs of the China trip will be gratefully accepted.  Checks can be made out to VISUAL EXPRESSIONS.