Sailors, Sea Creatures, and Strings: Maritime Puppets from the Collections of the Ballard Institute

October 11, 2017 - February 11, 2018


Room with puppets
Room with puppets

Sailors, Sea Creatures and Strings: Maritime Puppets from the Collections of the Ballard Institute

In this special guest exhibition at UConn's Avery Point campus, the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry presents Sailors, Sea Creatures, and Strings, an installation of puppets performed in popular maritime tales, curated by Ballard Institute graduate assistant and Puppet Arts Program MFA student Matt Sorensen. This exhibition features marionettes, rod puppets, and set pieces from late UConn Puppet Arts Program founder Frank Ballard’s productions of Gilbert and Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore (1989) and Richard Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelung (1980). The exhibit also highlights marionettes created by famed Waterford, Connecticut puppeteers Rufus and Margo Rose from their celebrated 1937 production of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island.

H. M. S. Pinafore (1989)

Comic Opera by W. S. Gilbert & Arthur Sullivan

Frank Ballard’s H.M.S. Pinafore, his last puppet production at the University of Connecticut, combined an array of styles and puppet techniques, from rod puppets to marionettes, and sets inspired by Victorian toy theater. Twelve UConn students performed in the show, which featured 89 puppets and everything from exploding cannons to singing and dancing sea creatures­­: Ballard’s own additions to the original scenario. Of particular note are the Victorian hand­sewn dresses and nautical costumes, whose fine details steal the show.

Tom Tucker
Yellow Chorus Lady
Blue Chorus Lady
Ralph Rackstraw
Bob Becket
Purple Chorus Lady
Bill Bobstay
H. M. S. Pinafore
Act 1 Finale
The captain's daughter, Josephine, is in love with a lower-class (yet extremely accomplished) sailor, Ralph Rackstraw, although her father intends her to marry Sir Joseph. Ralph declares his love for her and his willingness to try to fit in with middle-class society. Josephine rejects him, although his simple eloquence touches her heart. She is a dutiful daughter and cannot forget the disparity in their ranks. But when Ralph threatens suicide, the lady relents and declares her love for him. With the crew and the sisters, cousins and aunts assisting, the lovers plot to elope that very night.
Captain Corcoran
A well-bred gentleman; the beloved captain of H.M.S. Pinafore. He is also delighted at the prospect of getting his daughter Josephine married to Sir Joseph Barge.
Sir Joseph Barge
A pompous naval commander with absolutely no seagoing experience, Sir Joseph is the First Lord of the Admiralty. Gilbert and Sullivan based this character on the real-life bookstore magnate W. H. Smith, who was named First Lord of the Admiralty in 1877.  
Cousin Hebe
A proper Victorian aristocratic lady; Sir Joseph’s first cousin. Often played as the "head cousin" who leads the women's chorus.
Little Buttercup
The "rosiest, roundest, and reddest beauty in all Spithead.” Also known as Mrs. Cripps, Little Buttercup is a Portsmouth bumboat woman (a bumboat is a small vessel carrying provisions for sale to ships in port) who has designs on Captain Corcoran.
Carps de Ballet
Dick Deadeye
A salty sailor on the H.M.S. Pinafore, as ugly as his name implies, peg-legged Dick Deadeye tries to sabotage Ralph’s happiness.
Crew of the ship, serving as the men’s chorus in the opera. Staged with original set piece from Ballard’s production of H.M.S. Pinafore.

Treasure Island (1964)

Adapted from the novel by Robert Louis Stevenson

Rufus and Margo Rose adapted Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic 1880s novel Treasure Island into a touring marionette show in 1937, after working with famed puppeteer Tony Sarg on his version of the same story. The Rose production follows young Jim Hawkins on his adventures recovering the buried treasure of the notorious pirate, Captain John Flint. In 1964 the Roses produced a film adaptation of Treasure Island in their home studio/theater in Waterford, Connecticut, just a few miles from here.

Blind Pew
An old beggar and pirate. Pew presents Billy with a black spot: an ultimatum to give up the sea chest’s contents to the pirate gang. Despite his blindness, he proves to be a dangerous fighter and ringleader of his fellow crewmen.
Seaman Hands
The coxswain on the ship. Hands is a former gunner on earlier pirate voyages. 
Ben Gunn
A former pirate marooned on Treasure Island. Flint’s pirate crew left Ben Gunn on the island for three years. Ben’s solitude has left him somewhat deranged, and he has the appearance of a wild man.
Billy Bones
The old seaman who resides at Jim’s parents’ inn. Billy, who used to be a member of Long John Silver’s crew, is surly and rude. He hires Jim to be on the lookout for a one-legged man, thus introducing young Jim to the life of the pirates. Billy’s sea chest and treasure map set the whole adventure in motion. 
Mrs. Hawkins
Young Jim's mother. She and her husband are the owners of the Admiral Benbow Inn. The sole female in the book makes her only appearance briefly at the beginning of Treasure Island.
Squire Trelawney
A local Bristol nobleman. Trelawney arranges the voyage to the island to find the treasure. Quite naïve and trusting, he is constantly duped.
Captain Smollett
The commander of the Hispanolia and the captain of the  voyage to Treasure Island. Captain Smollett is savvy and is rightly suspicious of the crew Trelawney has hired. 
Doc Livsey
The local doctor. Dr. Livesey is wise and practical; Jim respects, but is not inspired, by him.
Jim Hawkins
Jim is the son of an innkeeper near Bristol, England, and is in his early teens. He is eager and enthusiastic to go to sea and hunt for treasure.
Long John Silver
The cook on the voyage to Treasure Island, and the secret ringleader of the pirate band. Silver is deceitful and disloyal, greedy and visceral, and does not care about human relations. Yet he is always kind toward Jim and genuinely fond of the boy.

The Ring of the Nibelung (1980)

Adapted from the opera by Richard Wagner

Frank Ballard’s rod ­puppet version of the Ring cycle was perhaps his most serious exploration of western theatrical spectacle. Based on totemic characters from the Norse sagas, Richard Wagner’s mid-19th-century Ring of the Nibelung exists as four separate operas, which Ballard condensed into one four-act production. UConn Puppet Arts students built over 100 rod puppets for the production, and Ballard used projections as backdrops, accompanied by minimal set pieces mounted on wheels. MFA student Stephen Kaplin designed the background projections and shadow figures, which required four overhead projectors. In addition to its 1980 première at UConn’s Harriet Jorgensen Theatre, the show was also presented at the 13th International Congress of the Union Internationale de la Marionette (UNIMA), held in Washington, D.C. the same year.

The Rhinemaidens (Flosshide, Wellgunde, Woglinde)
The Rhinemaidens
Three Water-Nymphs who live in the Rhine. They are the first and last characters to appear in the Ring Cycle. They are generally treated as a single entity and act together as one. At the beginning of the story, they are happily swimming together, guarding the Rhinegold, which is stolen by a dwarf named Alberich. He turns the gold into a powerful ring, the central focus of the operas, which becomes cursed and changes hands several times as the story progresses. The Rhinemaidens appear throughout the Cycle, trying to persuade the heroes, Siegfried and Brünnhilde, to return the ring to them and break the curse.