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Fitzgerald tells circus arts leader's story

By Emily Lewson
On March 2, 2014

On Saturday, March 1, Anna Fitzgerald's "Reverse Cascade" was the first of many productions to grace the stage at the new Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry. The show is Fitzgerald's Master of Fine Arts thesis in Puppet Arts and it demonstrates her true knowledge of puppetry.
"Reverse Cascade" is based on the life of Judy Finelli. For over five decades, Finelli has been impacting the world of Circus Arts. She graduated with a BFA from the NYU School of the Arts in 1970 and went on to write books, perform shows and teach others how to best entertain. Sadly, Finelli was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1989, which progressed rapidly and led to loss of function in her arms and legs. Despite this, Finelli continues to teach and direct.
Finelli's story has amazing power in itself. Combined with Fitzgerald's puppetry, it is an unavoidable, emotional selfstruggle. With scarf puppetry, the puppeteers bring a person to life. The acrobat unicycles across a tightrope, hula-hoops on different parts of the body and amazes the audience throughout. Love of the circus is evident and powerfully entertaining.
Creativity shines throughout the show. As the puppet is overcome with MS, visits to various doctors introduce Fitzgerald's unbounded imagination. She uses stethoscopes, surgeon's masks and even a clipboard to abstractly, yet precisely, identify physicians. Also, the stage is lit with a bright white light that gives an antiseptic, hospital feel to the setting. Through these visits, the puppet and its disease become relatable and somehow beautiful.
John Cody, Austin Costello, Gavin Cummins, Karen Huizingh, Christopher Mullens, Sarah Nolen and Krista Weltner all work fluidly to put on the fifty minute performance.
"The puppeteers know exactly what they are doing," Fitzgerald said. "I couldn't ask for anything more from them."
In addition to the devising cast, two musicians grant the show another dimension. Michael Albaine and Nicholas Trautmann play live music to accentuate the puppet's movements and emotions.
"[Albaine and Trautmann], the musicians, have recorded their parts for the show, but having them there makes such a difference," Fitzgerald said.
The physical presence of the instruments reverberates in the small black-box theater, causing the cozy atmosphere to come even more alive.
Varying the sounds, lighting and puppetry, this show becomes a one-of-a-kind experience. The puppeteers are invited to the International Puppetry Festival in Nairobi, Kenya-a huge honor. Fundraising will have to be done to fly the cast there. However, Fitzgerald first has a focus closer to home.
"After this year's intense work, I want the show to travel across the country," Fitzgerald said. "We are trying to get the show to Judy since she can't come to see it."
With such an inspirational and complimentary feature, Finelli will undoubtedly be impressed and honored by Fitzgerald's hard work. The show will only be playing at the B.I.M.P.'s black-box theater until March 9th, so make sure to stop by soon to Storrs Center's greatest addition.

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