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Mentor connection program
strings together a few top recruits
December 14, 1998

Lumbering like elephants, running like monkeys, slithering like snakes, students at Ashland High School practiced their puppetry skills.

With the help of Bart Roccoberton and Hua Hua Zhang, the Massachusetts high school drama students fine-tuned their techniques in preparation for The Calico Tiger, a play they would soon be performing for children. High school senior Elizabeth Ingalls, the play's director, arranged for Roccoberton, head of UConn's Puppetry Arts Program, and Zhang, a graduate student, to run a workshop with the cast. Ingalls had worked with the two last summer for three-weeks during UConn's Mentor Connection program, in which she studied puppet arts.

This fall, Ingalls guided her fellow students in designing and building the puppets of paper-mache, yarn, wire, cloth and feathers. "I used the skills I picked up during the mentor program," says the puppetry enthusiast. She called upon Roccoberton to Rhelp us bring the puppets to life a little more,"she says. "He drew a lot of connections. He had them get up and move and see how they could make the character come through the puppet rather than through their own faces. It made a big difference in the way they played the characters."

Ingalls has always had a passion for art and theater. Involved in drama since the eighth grade, she has become interested in theaterUs technical aspects. "I wanted to find something that blended everything together -- art, performance and the technical piece. Puppetry was it," she says.

She participated in the Mentor Connection program, a summer research experience open to gifted juniors and seniors who take part in creative projects with faculty, staff and graduate students as mentors. Ingalls came to the program at the Puppet Arts site, hoping to "learn more about what I wanted to get into. I thought this was a good opportunity for me to find out."

It didn't take long. After her first day, Ingalls decided to apply to UConn to study puppet arts. "Everyone was wonderful and just let me in. The relaxed atmosphere and the closeness of everyone drew my heart into it," she says. Ingalls has applied to UConn, seeking early decision status, and expects to learn whether she has been accepted in January.

When Ingalls and another high school student, Tom Shortliffe, arrived in the program last summer, Roccoberton talked with them about their interests and worked out a plan of study "that satisfied both their desires and what we needed to teach them as foundation," he says.

An added bonus for the students, says Roccoberton, is that the internationally renowned puppet artist Albrecht Roser was there for the International String Puppet Academy. The students worked with Roser a bit as well. "We had philosophical discussions that Albrecht led every day and both Elizabeth and Tom participated. We were blown away by their perceptions and ideas. Being young to the form, they came in with an innocence and frequently shook up those of us who had been in the field for a while," he says.

During the mentorship, Ingalls built three puppets: a marionette, a rod puppet and a hand puppet. Roccoberton says both students were usually at the Puppet Lab "an hour before they had to be here, and usually left an hour after they should have left." they even took their puppets back to their rooms to work on them at night, he says.

"Puppetry blends everything that I love into one area: art, theater and design," Ingalls says. "Everything that I have ever thought about doing, rolled up into one."

Sherry Fish.