Bart P. Roccoberton Jr., Director of Puppet Arts at UConn
When people think of puppetry, they often think of popular, children’s shows like The Muppets, Sesame Street or Mr. Rogers —see how many of these TV puppets you can name! However, puppetry is much more than that. You cannot go to the movies or watch television without at some point seeing a puppet, either knowingly or unknowingly.
Puppetry has been used in movies and television for years, and with new technology, the form is only getting better. The world is their palette, using many types of materials. And with the advancement of technology, we can expect even better puppets and better performances. Though puppetry is still performed in traditional ways, the use in popular media is significant. They are easy to reset and easy to tweak, saving industries money to gain the same effect as if they chose to go with computer animation.
Bart P. Roccoberton Jr, director of the renowned Puppet Arts Program at the University of Connecticut, explained that there are many different paths to go into the field of puppetry. The most traditional is becoming an apprentice to a puppeteer or, now there’s the option of studying puppetry at a university, which provides a broad knowledge of the field in a much shorter time than it would take to learn independently. Roccoberton’s students at the University also come out of school learning the craft of puppetry, and the self-discipline of being your own boss.
The Puppet Arts Program students at UConn also work closely with the drama department, so the puppeteers learn how to perform using their puppets as well as being taught in the puppetry program the craft of building them. Roccoberton explains that by knowing how to both build and perform, it gives the students more of an edge when they begin their professional careers. Performers who know how to build will better be able to understand the puppet they are working with. While the puppet builders will be able to create a puppet that can move with the performer and create fluidity in the performance.
UConn’s Puppet Arts Program is one of only two schools in the country that offer a degree in the form, and it’s the only one to give three different types of puppetry degrees. There are also still only a few schools in the world that offers accredited academic degrees in Puppetry. UConn is also home to The Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry, which has more than 2,500 puppets from all over the world; an archive of books, manuscripts, posters, drawings, audio-visual materials and photographs all covering the history of puppetry. The Institute curates and produces exhibitions of puppetry, both at the Ballard Museum and for touring across the United States.
In 1962, when the Drama, Art and Music Departments at UConn merged to form the School of Fine Arts, Professor Frank W. Ballard added puppetry to the curriculum. Classes in puppetry began in 1964 and continue today under Roccoberton who succeeded Frank Ballard as the Director in 1990.
Bart P. Roccoberton Jr., is a graduate of the University of Connecticut’s MFA program, as well as Artistic Director of The Pandemonium Puppet Company, and Founder and former Director of The Institute of Professional Puppetry Arts at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. –contributed by Mallory Matula