Spring of 2014 the university hosted its first Puppet Festival, a 90-minute show featuring live puppet performances interspersed with video of puppet performances from earlier in the semester. The show, which was the brainchild of Kelly Switzer, assistant professor in the theatre department, was the final in her puppetry class. “I had no idea what to expect. As I told the students from day one, they had complete control—and complete responsibility,” Switzer said. “They pitched ideas, wrote the plays, built the puppets, designed the advertising, took care of all the technical and managerial needs and cleaned up each night.”
Still, Switzer had high hopes for the class. Her syllabus explains that the class is an introduction to puppetry as a global art form. Students could expect to explore puppetry techniques and styles from around the world and to be challenged to see puppetry outside of the familiar.
Puppetry, by its very nature, is global and ancient,” Switzer said. “Yet I knew what most of my students would be familiar with was the work of Jim Henson and puppetry as educational entertainment for children. I wanted to shake them up a bit and show them how puppetry exists in different parts of the world and what puppetry can express.”
Switzer says that she is proud of her students’ initiative and ability to work as a team. The Puppet Festival, which played for a full audience for each of its shows, is expected to return so that more students can have the experience. “The Puppet Festival will be back. This will become a two-year revolving course, and the festival, completely executed by the students from the ground up, will remain the capstone.”
Switzer began dabbling in puppetry five or six years ago. Like many puppeteers, her background was in something completely different and, as she puts it, she “just got sucked in.” Switzer worked with Bobbindoctrin Puppet Theatre and Ornery Theatre, producing original works in Houston. She will be directing one of her original puppet shows, “Cthulu: A Puppet Play,” at A&M-Commerce in the fall.