Puppetry news

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.

New children’s book about famed puppeteer Tony Sarg draws on UConn puppetry expertise

Children’s book author and illustrator Melissa Sweet drew on UConn puppetry sources for her  celebrated new children’s book Balloons over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade, which chronicles the story of legendary American puppeteer Tony Sarg and his 1920s invention of the inflatable puppets for Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parades.

Sweet, who did much of her research for the book at the The Nantucket Historical Association, the home of a large Tony Sarg collection, conferred with both Puppet Arts head Bart Roccoberton and Ballard Institute director John Bell to better understand Sarg’s innovative work from a puppeteer’s perspective.  Sarg, the most innovative and influential American puppeteer in the first half of the 20th century, was designing store windows and newspaper advertisements for Macy’s when the company asked him to create puppets for a new concept: a Thanksgiving Day parade.  Sarg’s designs for giant inflatable puppets have made the parade one of the most popular public spectacles in modern culture.

With captivating drawings and collages Sweet patiently and clearly tells the story of how Sarg’s experience with string marionettes allowed him to make a creative and conceptual leap to a new art form: helium-filled inflatable puppets operated from below–in other words, upside-down marionettes.  Sweet’s book has received glowing reviews from Publisher’s Weekly and from New York Times Book Review critic Pete Hamill, who wrote that Sweet’s “brilliant combination of collage, design, illustration and text gives Balloons Over Broadway an amazing richness,” adding that no one who reads the book “will ever see the parade in the same way.”