Puppet Masters - Students Design and Build Theatrical Puppets

Sep 30, 2019 12:55 PM

By Sherry White

When we think puppets, different images come to mind. From Sesame Street to Broadway’s The Lion King and Avenue Q, puppets still make an impression in today’s high-tech world.

Theatre 407 is a special topics class designed to teach various production techniques. This spring, the technique was puppetry.

“Although I’m a theatre major here at FSU, acting is not my expertise. I prefer to work behind the scenes on the technical side and stay out of the spotlight,” said Grace Easterday, a student in the special topics class. “Puppetry allows for a nice middle ground for the two sides to meet. The puppet takes the audience’s attention away from the individual playing the character and becomes its own entity.”

The class appealed to students from various majors and incorporated an interdisciplinary approach. Students not only designed and built their puppets but were also responsible for writing scripts.

“The students were divided into two groups. English majors helped with scripts, theatre majors helped with performances, so collaboration was a large part of the class,” said Gordon Duguid ’05, production  manager  and technical director for the Department of Theatre and Dance and co-teacher of the class.

In addition to the interdisciplinary nature of the coursework, faculty and staff from several departments played roles in this production. An idea for years in the Theatre Department, all the parts came together to make the class possible.

“There were so many people working to bring this together. The Theatre Department considered this class for years,” said Dr. Gerald Snelson ’65, professor of English. “I’ve had a lifelong interest in puppets, but I couldn’t have done this without Gordon, Nicole (Mattis), Mairzy (Yost-Rushton) and Darrell (Rushton).”

While many may think of puppets as a rather old-fashioned form of theatre, Hollywood is full of unlikely characters, often causing audiences to wonder if they are costumed actors or computer animations when, in fact, they are puppets.

“Look at Disney and such with animatronics, in parks and on the screen – they’re puppets essentially,” said Duguid. “In the movies, where they use digital characters, they have to build a puppet first, so they can model it, even if you never see it on screen.”

The final performance was a private show on the last day of class.

“I’m really proud of what we did here,” said Snelson. “We had good kids and with good kids you can do great things!”