MadCap Puppets

Puppets have the power to entertain, enrage, and heal

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News Two things were clear during the conversation on Puppetry: Exploring Life & Art. Puppets aren’t just for kids, and puppeteers are tired of having writers point out that puppets are not just for kids. The panel came on the eve of ArtsX at Bowling Green State University. Kelly Mangan, the prop master for the Department of Theatre and Film, facilitated the talk between Mel Hatch Douglas, a 1998 BGSU graduate and associate artistic director of Madcap Puppets, and Bradford Clark, puppet master, scholar, and museum curator. The spoke in the Eva Marie Saint Theatre with a backdrop of some of the puppets in their lives. In some traditions, puppets are considered alive. Mangan remembered first meeting Clark, long before either joined the BGSU faculty. She was 19, and she remembered Clark blowing incense into the eyes of puppets. This came, he said, from his studies in Bali. “At that point, they became people,” she said. “As a prop person in order to put them back into storage, we had to take the life out. Until then we treated them as people.” For a 19-year-old, this was magic. She’s retained her love of puppets and has used them in her work. “I look at a script and help a director tell that story.” Sometimes that involves elements of puppetry. For a Huron Playhouse production of “The Wizard of Oz,” she used elaborate shadow puppets as scenery. Clark recalled his own initiation into puppetry. He loved it as a kid growing up in California. His fourth grade teacher brought in a stage so he could present marionette shows. Right before heading off to college he took a job at an old theater in the Carmel Valley run by two veteran puppeteers and his passion was fully aflame. The focus of his studies has been the use of puppets around the world, both in theater and ritual. Douglas came to puppets relatively late. She delayed graduating from BGSU by touring as an actress. When she finally graduated in 1998, some six years after her class, she was beginning to tire of the traveling actor’s life.  She was offered a job at MadCap in 2000 and has been there since. The troupe she noted hires actors, and then trains them as puppeteers. She brought MadCap to campus for ArtsX where the troupe presented its shadow puppet treatment of Igor Stravinsky’s “Firebird.” That show was geared to adults, while the troupe earlier on Saturday presented at the Wood County Library. In a wide-ranging discussion, the trio discussed the multiple ways puppets are used. Clark said that puppetry became so closely related to children’s entertainment fairly recently. In the 1950s, as television was emerging there was a need for cheap programming and acts such as “Kukla, Fran, and Ollie” fit the bill. Before then children loved puppets, but the show were geared for the whole family. Even Jim Henson, creator of the Muppets, started out creating skits for adults, Clark said, before getting involved with “Sesame Street.” During its first season, “Saturday Night Live” featured skits with Muppet like puppets. Clark, who works closely with the Henson family at the Center for Puppetry Arts, said that the show’s staff really didn’t like the segments. Henson quit when he moved to…