Gaining life skills through puppetry


Program: Pupils learn goal-setting, problem-solving and time management by putting on a show.

January 11, 1999|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

Puppets and engineering may not seem to have a lot in common, but for the past four years, Black Cherry Puppet Theater and Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory have joined forces to teach "Engineering of a Puppet Show" to Baltimore city school students.

Currently held at James McHenry Elementary School in Southwest Baltimore, the 10-week workshops are headed by Black Cherry co-director Michael Lamason in association with Richard "DJ" Waddell, a systems architect at the Applied Physics Lab.

The workshops, aimed at third-graders, include several lectures by Waddell, who emphasizes such organizational skills as goal-setting, problem-solving and time management. "It's engineering project management. I based it on materials that Johns Hopkins APL developed under a Federal Highway Administration contract to train state governments on managing technical projects," Waddell explained.

At the end of the 10 weeks, the students present a series of puppet shows for students, teachers and parents. This year's shows are based on Native American legends.

"The main thing is the sense of accomplishment, the sense of purposeful activity. They said, `We're going to do this,' they did it, and they're pleased with the project. Hopefully, they will take with them the sense that whenever they have a complicated task to do, they can break it into pieces and check their progress and carry it out," Waddell said.

"You can teach so much through puppetry, especially with children," Lamason adds. "It's a subversive way of teaching. Here they are making these fun puppets, but at the same time they have to write their script, they have to work together as a team to bring off the performance and, to get back to the engineering, these things are little engineering marvels."

Two-thirds of the funding for the McHenry program comes from the Baltimore Community Foundation and the remaining third from the Lila Amsel Children's Fund.

The combination of engineering and puppetry isn't all that the 19-year-old Baltimore-based Black Cherry Puppet Theater is up to. The company is in the planning phase of renovating its facility, located in a pair of rowhouses across from the Hollins Market.

The rather primitive space is currently limited to workshop and storage use. The renovations will not only upgrade the buildings overall, but also include the creation of a puppetry resource center and Baltimore's first permanent performance space for puppetry (although the company will continue to tour).

Total cost of the renovation is $285,300, which the company is in the final stages of raising. Lamason expects construction to begin in May.

For more information about Black Cherry Puppet Theatre, call 410-523-9012.

Deavere Smith to speak

Baltimore-born playwright, actress and professor Anna Deavere Smith will deliver the 1999 Anne Healy Lecture at Roland Park Country School at 7: 30 p.m. on Feb. 10.

In a talk titled "Snapshots: Glimpses of America in Change," Smith will discuss the impact of the issues of race, class and gender on the American character.

The topic ties in with Smith's series of performance pieces, "On the Road: A Search for American Character," which includes "Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992," about the disturbances that broke out in Deavere Smith the aftermath of the first Rodney King trial, and "Fires in the Mirror: Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and Other Identities," about the 1991 Crown Heights riots. A recipient of a 1996 MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant, Smith is a professor at Stanford University.

Admission to the lecture is free, but only a limited number of tickets are available. For information, call 410-323-5500, ext. 3056, after Jan. 14.

Kudos for `Monster'

Daniel MacIvor's one-man show, "Monster," which made its United States debut at the Theatre Project last March, was glowingly received at the Dublin Theatre Festival. Here are excerpts from some of the reviews.

Irish Independent: "Attacking the psyche with a blunted hacksaw at every turn, the attention to detail in every angle of this impressive production results in a triumph of hilarious, though, devilishly macabre theater."

The Irish Times: "From start to finish, `Monster,' is a feast for both the eye and the mind."

Evening Herald: "Mac-Ivor takes his audience on a journey through several people's minds -- including our own -- with unnervingly accurate observations. An innovative and superb production."

Theater expo at Howard

The U.S. Institute of Theatre Technology (USITT) will hold a regional expo at Howard County Community College on Saturday. The daylong event will include workshops, presentations and panel discussions on entertainment technology. There will also be a showroom for vendors of theater-related equipment and services.

Valerie Costantini, chair of the college's Performing Arts Division, will be the keynote speaker.

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