“They’ve taken a lot of pride in their puppets, and I’m very proud of them.”
College students expect classes about history, science, and literature. They don't expect classes about puppets. Mike Sanders, Transylvania's Kenan visiting artist in theater, is shattering those expectations.
When creating classes, Sanders's approach is to look at "both what's needed and what I'm passionate about." Having done a lot of puppetry at the Nashville Children's Theatre, Sanders pulled the right strings and brought the art of puppets to Transylvania students.
Students entered the class with limited perspective, associating puppets with The Muppet Show, Sesame Street, and Fraggle Rock. On day one, Sanders showed them videos of puppetry.
"Puppets were used in a way you may not have known or thought of," says Sanders, citing popular movies such as Star Wars and Jaws. "That really started to peak their interest."
Despite initial excitement, Sanders was afraid the novelty would wear off. "I wondered if they would stay as enthused," said he says. "And they have."
Looking at several different puppet types, from shadow puppets to marionettes, the class is centered on wide exposure to different ways to tell stories through puppetry. And they're not just learning the ways—they're putting them to practice.
The students have adapted children's books and produced shows like Charlie Chaplin silent films. "The class is very interactive," Sanders says. "The students are creating stories."
During finals week, those stories will be on display, as students from Sanders's class will perform puppet shows in conjunction with a Play Directing class. The final product, Sanders says, is a sense of accomplishment that is "really gratifying and rewarding—to me and to them."
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