Pickering and Puppets

By Samantha Ruggiero, CLAS ’14

roccobertonThis Wednesday, Bart Roccoberton Jr., director of UConn’s Puppet Arts Program and associate director of Dramatic Arts, and Samuel Pickering, associate professor of English and inspiration for the 1989 film Dead Poets Society, were featured as part of UConn Talks, a free, daytime lecture series that invites exceptional members of UConn’s faculty to speak about creative and invigorating ideas that, according to the UConn Talks website, “keep UConn on cutting edge”.

A dozen puppets shared the stage with Roccoberton as he described the significance of puppets and masks as a method of communication with nature in early human civilizations. Roccoberton refers to puppetry as a “crossroads of creative discipline,” because in order to make the audience believe in “the life of the puppet”, the puppet master must incorporate all aspects of human behavior.

“Puppetry has to go back to biology,” said Roccoberton. “We have to look at the way our elbows work to make sure the audience believes the puppet’s movement.

Roccoberton gave a tour of the puppets on stage, including a six-foot polar bear made of shredded plastic bags, a Chinese squirrel, and a giant mask with sandy-colored hair and a tremendous round nose.

As the puppets were being carried away, Pickering took to the stage,  pointing to the six-foot polar bear, asked the audience, “Wouldn’t you like to get in that and roll on town?”

Pickering’s signature quick wit was constant through his lecture as he read from a prepared essay. Pickering told anecdotes about sneaking chocolate ice cream from his wife. He said he draws inspiration from the small, domestic aspects of life. 

“A good essayist,” Pickering says, “recognizes that people’s opinions are not rational. They come from traditions and loyalties, stories half-remembered”.

Pickering concluded his lecture encouraging the audience to read.

“The more you read, the more things you’ll know and the richer your world will be,” Pickering said. “That’s my real advice.”

Anna Woodruff, a 6th semester theatre studies major says she enjoyed both lecturers.

“I liked both of their messages and to soak up everything,” says Woodruff. “It’s easy to get lost in your own major. It’s good to dip into others.”

The talks are sponsored by the UConn Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning. For more information about future talks, click here.

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