Students studying puppetry, folklore from around world

URBANA — As students at Campus Middle School for Girls are learning, a puppet show is far more than a performance on a stage with a human manipulating a model.

The students are creating their own shows to perform for parents and teachers this afternoon (Friday, Feb. 24) after spending the week studying puppetry around the world.

They're doing so with the help of local puppeteer Ginger Lozar, who is serving as artist in residence, for the school's annual Forum Week. Grants from the Illinois Arts Council and the Junior League of Champaign-Urbana helped pay for the work.

The week after President's Day, the school always suspends class for four days to study one topic in depth.

This year, it's puppetry around the world.

The school's 30 students split into six groups, each studying a geographical location or country. Those include India, Indonesia, Eastern Europe, Central and South America, Japan and the Middle East.

They studied puppetry and folk tales in their regions or countries, as well, along with the history of the art. They adapted the folk tales, changing characters or even the endings.

As they worked in individual classrooms, they worked on their puppets and making props and sets. For example, the group studying Indonesia will perform a puppet show about a king and his two fighting daughters. They made their puppets with Styrofoam balls, fabric and hot glue. This was tricky, said sixth-grader Mei Lien Crandall, because the hot glue softened the Styrofoam. On Thursday morning, they were working on a castle to accompany their show.

They learned that puppets have been as large as 3 feet and as small as an inch in Indonesia, said eighth-grader Andrea Cunningham.

Group member Katie Wennerdahl, an eighth-grader, said puppets are used in the country on all kinds of occasions, including at weddings, funerals and other public ceremonies.

Members of the group studying Middle Eastern puppetry thought they'd focus on Saudi Arabia as a specific country, and then learned that Saudi Arabia doesn't have puppets because its people don't believe in creating images of people.

Their research was frustrating until that realization, said Yasmine Projansky Ono. It went smoother afterward, and they focused on learning about puppets from Turkey, Egypt and even Iran. In their puppet show, a tribe that's out of water sends three birds to scout for better land.

The crow lies, but the partridge and dove tell the truth.

The partridge is rewarded with markings around its eyes; the dove is rewarded with pink feet. The crow is punished by being painted black in their story, said sixth-grader Sara Morisetty.

Other students were still sewing, listening to music from their regions and countries and even deciding what to name the puppets they'd created.

Lozar encouraged them to rehearse their shows on the puppet stage before they left school Thursday. During a dry run on the stage, one group that made marionettes had trouble keeping the strings untangled.

"That's why practice is so important," Lozar told them.

She said she thinks researching and creating the puppets shows will help the students understand various cultures, especially at a time when "the world is shrinking."

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