Inside Steward’s BlackBox Theatre, 14 eighth-graders are telling stories to an audience of excited Lower Schoolers. The stories they share are classic fairy tales (think "Goldilocks," among others) brought to life through colorful handmade puppets, inspired character voices, and lots of humor. Yarn-haired, googly-eyed puppets spring into action, popping into view atop a giant square puppet theatre. Goldilocks, plopping down on a tiny bed after searching for a comfortable place to sleep, exclaims, “This one is jusssst right!” as the Lower Schoolers, captivated, giggle and clap.
In Middle School Theatre Teacher Susan Sanford’s year-long Theatre 8 class, students examine all forms of theatre: prop making, filmed projects, and scene work. A unit on puppetry is especially popular. Puppets come in many different forms: hand-and-rod, marionette, shadow, and bunraku (a form of traditional Japanese puppet theatre); Ms. Sanford’s class decided to focus on hand-and-rod puppets this semester.
“With the help of Middle/Upper School Librarian Crystal Hamlin, my students, working in small groups, researched the history and different types of puppetry,” explained Ms. Sanford. “Each group then created a slideshow about this unique art form and its cultural relevance, and presented it to the class.” Ms. Sanford assigned each group a fairy tale, which they adapted into scripts.
In the Bryan Innovation Lab
, students got to work creating their puppets and props for the fairy tales, which included “Jack and the Beanstalk,” “Little Red Riding Hood,” and “The Three Little Pigs.” The puppets were made with yarn, cardboard, plastic spoons, and fuzzy socks. The hand rods were attached with hot glue and shoelaces. Ms. Sanford made sure that no sewing was needed and that there was plenty of room for the creativity of each student to come through.
During rehearsals in the BlackBox Theatre, the puppeteers finely tuned their performances, making sure their puppets were held high enough to be seen and that their characters’ mouths moved in sync with their voicing. “My main guidance was to make sure that every choice — dialogue, puppet design, and prop and set creation — served to tell the story because that is what theatre is: storytelling,” said Ms. Sanford.
Marin Snyder ’27 and her teammates performed “The Three Little Pigs.” “I used cardboard and a sock to create my pig's mouth,” said Marin, who has always loved theatre and acting. “I used string and yarn for the arms and rods. The hair of my puppet was created out of rough yarn, which I unraveled to make it look more natural.” Voicing her character was especially fun: “It made me so happy to perform and hear how much joy we brought to the audience! Ms. Sanford has taught me so much throughout Middle School.”
The study of puppetry is an example of Steward’s commitment to encouraging creativity, artistic expression, and innovative, hands-on learning.
“I’m incredibly proud of my students,” said Ms. Sanford. “And I love it when we can do cross-divisional activities like this one – the Lower Schoolers got to see the ‘big kids’ do something that makes them think ahead to what they might want to try in the future.”View the Steward Snaps from the puppet show.