Growing up playing with puppets and having a mother who integrated puppets into her classroom, it was inevitable for Cheryl McFarren, an Associate Professor in Theatre, to delve into the enchanting world of puppetry. 

McFarren’s interest in puppetry deepened during her sabbatical. A visit to the Center for Puppetry in Atlanta was a game-changer. There, she witnessed the enthralling performance of The Dragon King by Tanglewood Marionettes, which is also an upcoming performance at the Eisner Center on November 2. 

A chance meeting with the Center for Puppetry’s Director of Education, Aretta Baumgartner, intensified McFarren’s aspirations to introduce a puppetry course at Denison. With this vision, McFarren, in collaboration with Micaela Vivero, Chair of Studio Art, launched a Denison Seminar course this fall, aptly named Puppets: Performing Objects. 

One exciting highlight about Denison Seminar courses is the travel component and that’s exactly what McFarren and Vivero had in mind for this class, a trip to Atlanta to immerse students into the world of puppetry at the Center for Puppetry. 

“Travel for a class like this can be transformative to a students’ life,” shared McFarren, adding that while many of their students in this class have majors outside theatre, traveling together has forged a bond among them and to what is possible in the realm of puppetry. 

“Puppetry is so much more than people realize,” added McFarren. “It can represent cultural diversity, theatre history, celebrations of imagination! While it is for children – it isn’t solely for them.” 

At the end of the semester, students channel everything they’ve learned, observed, and actively participated in, and complete their capstone project, which will involve creating a unique puppet, designing its surrounding environment, curating the audience experience, and rehearsing and presenting an original performance. 

“When a student tells you ‘I didn’t expect to love puppets so much,’” McFarren said, “you know they’ve made an important discovery, and it reaffirms the transformative power of a liberal arts education. It’s about providing opportunities for those pivotal, life-altering experiences.” 

That same production of The Dragon King will be performed on November 2, at 2 p.m. in Burke Recital Hall in the Eisner Center by Tanglewood Marionettes. 

This production is a magical experience for children, grandparents and everyone in between. The theatrical journey bridges generations when a terrible drought has overtaken the land, and all the world has turned brown and lifeless. The Dragon King is ruler over all things water, and the people are beginning to wonder why he has not brought the life-giving rains in such a very long time. 

An underwater fantasy based on Chinese folklore, The Dragon King tells the tale of an intrepid Grandmother who journeys to the bottom of the sea in search of the elusive Dragon King, and the answers to why he has forsaken the land above.

October 25, 2023