Puppets took on new immersive forms during the Henson Award Showcase.
The Jim Henson Fund for Puppetry, named after University of Maryland alumni and creator of “The Muppets,” Jim Henson, funded five projects by University of Maryland students. Students were able to showcase their work at an awards showcase hosted by the School of Theatre, Dance and Performance Studies Friday April 8.
Each presenter was tasked with creating a character and story from homemade puppets and approach the challenge in unique ways. Presenters took advantage of unique materials and audio-visual elements to tell a story, expanding upon what we traditionally think a puppet can be.
“I love puppetry as a medium,” freshman art history major Rain Aman said. “I think it’s a great way of just transferring life into something, which I think is quite beautiful.”
Aman created a character named Purple based on the peacocks who became her imaginary friends during her childhood in Zimbabwe. Her performance reenacts a quasi-true story of a younger version of herself telling Purple about her day at school.
“I took a memory, I deconstructed it and I found bits of it that I wanted to bring to life in a different way,” Aman said.
Deja Collins, a second year media design graduate student, created an immersive audiovisual presentation exploring her own anxieties through a particle generator and singing bowls.
“During like the pandemic and everything, sound and music just kind of became my escape,” Collins said. “Just from a lot of things going on around me and internally.”
Presenters created unique personalities and quirks for their puppets while designing the physical bodies of the puppets from scratch created unique limitations.
“I think it’s a great way of challenging yourself and creating limitations,” Aman said. “And, because each puppet has its own different limitations like, for instance, my puppet didn’t have legs. That was difficult because if I wanted to give it legs I would have to give up my other hand.”
Another limitation for presenters were the materials used to create their work. Christina Robson, a third year dance graduate student, chose to make her puppet almost entirely out of natural materials found in Greenbelt Park.
“I thought it would be an interesting challenge to go to nature and try to do something completely immersed,” Robson said.
Robson applied her knowledge of dance to her performance to create a dance duet between herself and her bird-like puppet to Yo-Yo Ma playing Bach.
“It felt like I was dancing with like a really tender delicate partner that couldn’t take my weight but was giving me feedback still,” Robson said.