Hiram: When Mom and Pop ship their offspring off to college, they may think they’ll take courses in chemistry and economics. At Hiram College, the choices also include puppetry.
Students at the private, rural Portage County college got a chance last semester to combine sewing with acting and art a la famous puppeteers like Jim Henson, Shari Lewis and Ronnie Burkett.
Hiram’s Betsy Bauman, an associate professor of theater arts, developed the course to encourage students to spend less time on technology, more time talking to each other and some time learning how to make things with their hands. Plus, she just loves those dang puppets.
“Maybe it will make them better athletes and scientists,” said Bauman in her modest Hiram office, strung with Christmas lights and lined with theater posters. “If they can figure out how to make a puppet’s wing move, maybe it will help them solve a scientific problem.”
Bauman offered her credit class during Hiram’s three-week fall semester that ended right before Christmas.
While most colleges and universities offer 16-week semesters during the regular school year, Hiram offers an unusual calendar — an 11-week semester followed by a one-week break and then a three-week session.
In the short period, full-time students immerse themselves in one subject, usually for four or so hours a day, four days a week.
Some courses may be in line with those offered during the traditional 11-week semester. But Hiram also offers some short courses that are well off the beaten track — the politics of sex, the heritage and culture of New Orleans, and animal nutrition, for example.
As for Bauman’s puppetry course, eight students signed up, but one, a Hiram football player, dropped out, perhaps turned off by the need to operate a sewing machine.
Bauman divided her course in lectures on the history and culture of puppetry. That was followed by work in which she urged her students to “put out as much creativity as they can” into designing shadow puppets, marionettes and hand puppets out of foam, construction paper, plastic, clay, fabric, felt, cardboard, papier mache and more.
The students debuted their hand puppets in two-minute performances that were choreographed to music, poetry or writings.
Kelly Brenizer, a senior sociology major from Cleveland, debuted a Mrs. Claus puppet.
She had a coil of knitted yellow hair, glasses made from pipe cleaners and a red and green dress — and she had bad news for her husband via a letter and pencil in her hand.
“The world sees you as a jolly man but they don’t know you,” intoned Mrs. Claus about the problems of being married to man who spends such long hours in the woodshop and on the road.
“Should I leave this letter next to cookies and milk for old times’ sake? I better,” Mrs. Claus said.
Regina Satayathum, a freshman biomedical humanities major from Lakewood, designed a hippie female puppet who danced to 1960s music with a sign that read, “Peace and love,” then toppled over.
While this was the first time that Hiram has offered a class in puppetry for traditional students, Bauman offered a similar class to nontraditional students — usually adults —in Hiram’s weekend college last year.
That went only so-so, she assessed, because students had only three Saturdays in which to embrace the history and craft.
She hopes to offer an advanced class for traditional students that could include a field trip to the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta.
Contact Carol Biliczky at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-996-3729.