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Some Find Puppets an Alternative to 6.270

By Deena Disraelly
Staff Reporter

While many students spent Independent Activities Period slaving away in a laboratory or furiously snapping together LEGOs, four students spent their Independent Activities Period creating life-size works of art and imagination. The students, enrolled in puppet design, devised plans for and built four puppets which were as large as their creators.

The idea for the project originally came from Marshall D. Hughes, Integrated Studies Program Senior Staff Assistant and Director of Opera Un Met, a Boston-based music company.

"What I want to do is use the puppets in Mozart's The Magic Flute," Hughes said. "I've always liked to do things for the school-age kids and preschoolers."

The Magic Flute will be produced as a children's opera, Hughes said. "I want to use two or three real-life singers in Mozart's The Magic Flute," Hughes said. Singers from Opera Un Met will be used for the solos, but Hughes has considered using two or three MIT students for smaller singing and narrating roles.

These characters will walk around on stage and move the puppets when the part they say requires the puppets to do something, explained Raluca G. Barbulescu '96, project coordinator.

The first performance will be held at the MIT Child Care Center. Other performances will tentatively be held in the Brookline and Brighton public schools. "I'd like to take it into the public schools in Boston," Hughes added.

Hughes asks for student help

Barbulescu originally heard about puppet design from Hughes, who explained the project in her ISP class and asked for workers.

"I didn't know anything about sewing and papier-mch," Hughes explained, who introduced the IAP activity so people who knew about construction and papier-mch could build the puppets.

"Most of the people [taking puppet design] don't have any experience in puppet making from before, they just enjoyed doing crafts. One person worked on a parade float... I just had experience building a lot of little things," Barbulescu said.

Hughes briefly explained to the students what he wanted and left the actual designing and fabrication up to them. "Marshall told me from the beginning that they should be life-size and stuffed so that when the children came up and touched them, they almost felt human. He left most of the designs, the facial expressions, and the costumes up to us," Barbulescu said.

"We are aiming for four puppets, but it might develop into a longer thing where we build more puppets to fit the other characters," Barbulescu said. The puppets represent the four main characters in the opera, the princess, the prince, the queen, and the magician. "The bodies are stuffed, and the heads are papier-mache, but one of the puppets is different from the others," she added.

Hughes specified one thing about the sorcerer, Zoroastro -- he wanted this particular puppet to be able to increase in size. Barbulescu and her fellow puppet creators built the magician on a frame that can be pulled up or collapsed as the puppet's role requires the change.

The characters will all resemble humans, according to Barbulescu, "but they'll have special touches." Certain puppets will have stars at the base of their hairline to emphasize their characters' royalty. Some characteristics will be over-exaggerated, like the prominence of the cheekbones or the bushiness of the eyebrows. All of the characters will be very colorful.