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‘I Am the Village’: Capturing the life of Marc Chagall through puppetry

This past weekend, the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry showcased “I Am the Village: A Puppet Pageant Celebrating the Life and Art of Marc Chagall,” a work written by Alyson Doyle, a puppet arts MFA candidate at the University of Connecticut.

“I Am the Village” was inspired by the life and work of Marc Chagall, a Russian-French artist and early modernist. Doyle explained that she decided to base her performance on this individual because she admired how Chagall’s work highlighted finding the light in tumultuous times.

“Trauma is ubiquitous in the world … His kind of word gives us hope for renewal,” she said.

The event spanned both Saturday, April 20 and Sunday, April 21. Both days offered free workshops at which visitors could create their own “emotive umbrella or fish.” Those who did not participate in the workshop or completed their projects early were able to observe Doyle’s exhibit in the Ballard Institute Theater, which showed art pieces created by Doyle herself and bits of written history about Chagall’s life.

Following the workshop, participants showed off their creations at a brief parade on Betsy Paterson Square in Downtown Storrs. This parade kicked off the “I Am the Village” pageant.

The performers in the pageant were undergraduate puppet arts students, Lily Rose Mindenhall, Sol Ramirez and Vincenzo Faruolo, as well as third-year MFA student, Carrie Fowler. They all expressed appreciation for the Ballard Institute and the enjoyable process of working with Doyle.

“There’s a good energy at all the gatherings. It’s a very collaborative effort. She comes in wanting a piece of us in her shows,” Ramirez said.

In her opening statement, Doyle said that she hopes that the performance will inspire a love for Chagall.

The pageant depicted Chagall’s story through cardboard and paper-mâché props. The storytelling was enriched through a combination of dance and acting by the performers and narration by Doyle.

Doyle and the actors encouraged audience members to participate in the performance. Children and adults were invited to dance on the field and bring what they created in the workshop onto the set. Whether or not they decided to participate, these surprises brought smiles to every audience member’s face.

As the event was advertised and free for the public, people of all ages and backgrounds attended. Puppetry enthusiasts and children who did not entirely grasp the story of Chagall alike watched the pageant. Doyle understood this and explained how various aspects of the presentation as a whole would get anyone engaged. She said that the visuals from the pageant and the workshops were meant to keep the kids engaged, while the exhibit was aimed towards those more interested in the academic aspects.

Pat Shichick, a puppetry enthusiast, attended the event with her husband and daughter. She explained how much she enjoys puppetry and all that the Ballard Institute has to offer. She noted how she tries to attend as many of the Ballard Institute’s events as possible. As someone who is fond of puppetry, she emphasized how the art is for everyone to enjoy.

“These events are not well-attended. It’s a real shame because they’re joyful, they’re fun and they’re also serious,” said Shichick. That seriousness is a result of how puppetry can be a tool used to convey greater messages for humanity and history — like what was presented at this pageant.

According to the performers, all information about the and the can be found on their respective websites and social media profiles on Instagram and Facebook.