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A marionette

Puppetry cabaret showcases student creations

By Pauline Oo

Published on February 9, 2005

He's been called a walking beer barrel, but Two-Ton Tony sure can punch. University student Aaron Radatz is tracing this beer-loving, spaghetti-scarfing boxer's rise to stardom in The Legend of Two-Ton Tony--one of seven puppet acts in ARTiculations: A Puppetry Cabaret at the Rarig Center on the Twin Cities campus February 11 to 27.

In addition to Two-Ton Tony, a.k.a. Tony Galento, Radatz will manipulate two other hand puppets, a sock puppet, some cardboard figures, and a Barbie doll from behind an eight-foot-tall, six-foot-wide puppet booth.

"I got the idea [for my act] in the bathroom at my parents' last summer," says Radatz, a senior majoring in theatre. "I was reading this book my dad had, that was filled with great stories, and I was fascinated with how physical, bawdy, and over-the-top this one character seemed to be."

"'Sesame Street' and 'Mr. Rogers' are only a small fraction, I found, of what puppets can really achieve in performance," says Radatz. "They're capable of doing great comedy and dramatics."

Radatz is new to the world of puppetry performance, as are his fellow puppeteers in the cabaret. They were introduced to the fundamentals of puppetry and learned how to make their own puppets in the class Puppetry: Techniques and Practice in Contemporary Theater (TH 5355), and they were taught how to piece together a show for public eyes in Creative Collaboration (TH 4380). Michael Sommers, a Twin Cities-based puppeteer whose work has appeared in theaters throughout the country and the world over the last 20 years, has taught the introduction to puppetry class at the University since 2001 and the performance class for the first time last fall--with the puppetry cabaret being the piece de resistance.

"Michael's classes opened up the possibility of what puppets can do," says Radatz. "'Sesame Street' and 'Mr. Rogers' are only a small fraction, I found, of what puppets can really achieve in performance. They're capable of doing great comedy and dramatics."

And conveying original ideas. In her story about a mathematician plagued by a problem, theatre arts student Joanne Jongsma expresses her fascination for finding the infinite within objects that have definable limits. Viewers will be challenged to appreciate mystery and connections through a light curtain show, featuring, among many things, a mathematical equation and dancing fish.

"[This cabaret] has been a collaborative process between all of us and Michael," says Molly Diers, an art and theatre student who is using a marionette, or string puppet, in her tale about traveling. "Even though we have our individual shows, we all helped one another shape [our puppets], and Michael guided us on our journey."

The puppetry cabaret is a "fantastic opportunity" for those without much puppetry-going experience to get a taste for the art, since each act will introduce a different form of puppetry, says Sommers, who is currently developing a program in puppetry arts in the University's theatre department.

"Puppetry is a signature form," he explains. "It's your voice, your hand, your thinking, and one of the main ideas you have to get across as a puppeteer is why you are expressing this idea through puppets rather than actors... [This show] will make you wonder what these kids are thinking about."

Tickets are $12 (or $10 for alumni association members). For more information about ARTiculations: A Puppetry Cabaret or to buy tickets, see Mainstage.

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