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Puppet Slam converts 'puppet non-believers' into fans

By Emily Lewson
On February 2, 2014

The Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry and the UConn Puppet Arts Program presented the UConn Spring 2014 Puppet Slam on Saturday. The show featured undergraduate and graduate UConn students as well as professional performers from Boston, Providence and New York.
Gavin Cummins stole the show with his solo performance, "Jack's Story." Using only a folding ruler, Cummins details his relationship with a dog, Jack.
The dog gets hit by a car-survives-but must suffer the consequences of a cast and cone. However, the recovery tactics, or punishment attempts, depending on your outlook, lead the dog to new heights including an enhanced ability to bruise his owner's shins and remove objects from the kitchen counter. Audience members laughed continuously, felt the pain of the dog, and connected with the owner; Cummins enthusiasm and stage presence brought the show alive.
"The simplest object [the ruler] had so much life in it. I'm glad my friend dragged me along to the show" said Kimmy Stankus, a 4th semester psychology and human development and family studies major. "Next time, I'll be bringing my own un-believer."
Another impressive performer was Sarah Nolen with "Sifters." Sitting on stage with a designed shower curtain and a projector screen, Nolen pushed the boundaries on what puppetry can and should consist of. She performed along to Andrew Birds' "Night Sky," presenting his lyrics through puppetry. In four minutes, the puppeteer moved through love, possibility and divide. She toyed with emotions that affected every audience member and demonstrated how music and puppetry can be raw and unique.
"'Sifters' was my favorite performance of the night," said Lynne McConnell, an out of town visitor seeing her first puppet show. "Nolen took simple objects and transformed them in such a big way; her creativity was astounding."
Although the slam was an opportunity for the artists to display their skills, it was also a fundraiser for Becky Ray, a graduate of the UConn puppetry graduate program.
Ray was diagnosed with lupus nine years ago. In 2012, her doctor informed her that a kidney transplant would be necessary. The surgery typically costs $250,000. With such a daunting sum, the UConn puppetry program stepped in to help by asking for donations Saturday night. Go online to to learn more about her condition and ways to help.
"I've been to all the puppet slams during my time here at UConn and every time these artists remind me of what it means to be generous and grateful," said Luke LaRosa, a 4th semester urban and community studies and geography double major. "Their efforts to help Becky are heartwarming and should not go unappreciated; they are a special group."
The UConn Spring 2014 Puppet Slam was a success as usual. For the first time, the students outperformed the professionals on the small Studio Theater stage. The talent and creativity of UConn's own puppeteer students is growing exponentially and their growth is a pleasure to watch. The Ballard Museum will open in Storrs Center on March 1.

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