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Poetry and puppetry in perspective

By Jason Wong
On February 20, 2013


As part of UConn's ongoing UConn Talks series, Dr. Bart Roccoberton, Jr., Director of UConn's Puppet Arts Program and Associate Professor of Dramatic Arts, and Samuel Pickering, English professor and inspiration for the 1989 film Dead Poets Society gave independent lectures Wednesday morning in Von der Mehden Recital Hall. 

Positioned in front of a backdrop of puppets varying in size and complexity, Roccoberton began his lecture by giving a little background on UConn's puppetry program and the history of puppetry itself. UConn's puppetry program is internationally renowned, and brings students in from all over the world, including Korea, India and Romania. Roccoberton stressed the point that puppetry isn't just the Punch and Judy style shows the public generally thinks of when thinking of puppetry. Contemporary puppetry incorporates styles from all over the world, and Roccoberton expressed his belief that puppetry has been around since the dawn of humanity, helping us make connections about the natural world through masks and more conventional puppets. 

Roccoberton emphasized the idea that puppetry isn't a major to poke fun at. He described it as a "crossroads of creative disciplines," explaining that puppeteers study all kinds of different subjects to make their work come to life. For example, a puppeteer might study sociology to influence the way his puppets "talk," or on a more technical note, biology to construct a humanoid puppet that moves in a convincingly lifelike way. He ended his lecture by giving a tour of the puppets behind him, which included a Chinese squirrel, a giant face constructed entirely of paper and even a life-size polar bear with fur made of plastic bags. "The puppetry program looks for people that are creative and can express themselves," said Roccoberton. "I can teach them how to design and use puppets, but the creativity is what's important." 

After the puppets had been cleared from the stage, Pickering addressed the audience with a previously prepared essay. "Words transform and create life," he said. He spoke about how a good essayist knows that people are complicated and can't be summed up in a simple diagram or paper. "Essayists recognize that peoples' opinions are not rational. They come from traditions and loyalties, stories half-remembered...humanity is inconsistent," he further elaborated. 

"I lie a lot and I make up quotes," said Pickering as he finished an anecdote about his wife. "The aged don't take life seriously."  Like Roccoberton, Pickering ended his lecture by taking questions from the audience, often injecting his trademark humor and witticisms into his responses. 

"Pray to every god you know," he joked in response to a question about advice to budding teachers. "But you need to lead an interesting life outside of the classroom."

"I liked his advice for teachers about having passion for life outside of the classroom so as to bring passion into the classroom," said Rose Murphy, an 8th-semester English and secondary education major. 

"Both speakers had great messages," said Samantha Ruggiero, a 6th-semester English major. "I really liked how they both talked about dipping into as much of life as you can."

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