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The Prowl

From the character, to the strings, to the person

Photo+of+Conni+Mulligan+with+Sesame+Street+puppeteers
Photo of Conni Mulligan with Sesame Street puppeteers

Photo of Conni Mulligan with Sesame Street puppeteers

Photo of Conni Mulligan with Sesame Street puppeteers

Alan Islas Malanco, Staff Reporter

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Many of us at Providence have moved time and time again. We all know the process: declutter, pack and leave everything behind, and we all deal with it in a different way. Some people isolate themselves; others can take a more artistic approach such as music, dance or drawing. But what is the perfect thing when you know how to sew and there are boxes everywhere? A puppet show.

Providence’s new Technology Facilitator Conni Mulligan is very passionate about puppets. As a young child with her father in the Air Force, she moved from place to place, time and time again, but her mother made sure she was never lonely. “My mother was a seamstress so she taught me how to sew,” Mulligan said. “My father moved all the time and the only thing that was consistent was the ability to have boxes, so what is better than a puppet stage made out of a box that you change all the time?”

The arts and technology don’t usually go hand in hand, therefore, Mulligan’s profession may not support her passion. However, Mulligan has found the balance between passion and profession when she began teaching with puppets. “I teach workshops with Puppeteers of America,” she said. “I got myself involved into the therapy and education group and I showed them what to do.”

Stepping into a new field of puppetry, Mulligan now works with a variety of educational services using her puppetry to teach students about technology and inserting her art into the digital world. “Whether the students have iPads and we want to make movies with the puppets, or we want to create a digital book with puppets, the puppets help the students learn with hands on experience,” Mulligan said. Her style of puppetry is called Tra-Digital Storytelling, as she sticks to the tra-ditional form of puppetry be it with stick, shadow or even hand puppets. Furthermore, she blends puppetry with digital tools, and by demonstrating with puppets, she can help students acquire new skills to use within our technological modern world.

Aside from helping students learn new tips and tricks with technology, the puppets can have a very extrovertive effect. “I use the puppets a lot of times because not everybody wants to be on camera and not everybody wants to have their face on camera but their voice will be on camera,” Mulligan said. “Through a puppet they [students] can change the story to a different persona or change the story to a different point of view.”

Just like an actor or actress can become an entirely different person as he or she steps into a costume, so can the everyday shy student but this time the costume is only around the student’s hand.

Nevertheless, an artist’s craft never comes without challenges.

Even though Mulligan’s passion for puppets and using them to help people is strong now, it wasn’t always that way. “As an adult, I let it go to the wayside because I was always told ‘quit playing with toys, you’ve gotta grow up,’ even by my own father,” Mulligan said.

However, all the criticism and discouragement did not stop Mulligan as she continued to follow what she loved. “Eventually I figured out that it was ok as an adult to be a puppeteer,” Mulligan said, following her passion and even learning how to grow from it, grow into it and make it a prosperous project within her life. “I was able to attend some very prestigious workshops to help me take my passion and take it to the next level.” Last summer, Mulligan was able to attend a workshop with Beyond the Sock. In this workshop Mulligan had the opportunity to learn from professional puppeteers from The Muppets, Sesame Street and Bear and the Big Blue House.

Within that workshop they were assigned to create a new puppet, according to Mulligan the theme this year was Chickens in Space. On the [side which picture will be in] is Faberge, the puppet which Mulligan created at the workshop. “I wanted to make her kind of a diva,” Mulligan said, “One of the hardest things in making a puppet is getting the features right for the character you want. When I first made her she looked too young so I decided to give her the mole and lipstick in order to give her the more old diva look.”

According to Faberge, a chicken must have “eggscelent” cuisine.

Since most teenagers today did not grow up with The Muppets, they may not be such a big deal. However, Mulligan clarified that this was one of the most prestigious workshops that a puppeteer can attend to understand that whenever a person attains the role of a Muppet, they keep that job for life. Therefore very few openings are available and even when they are, they are extremely rare.

The typical high school student may not hear about the art of puppetry as it may be reserved for younger children, but anyone can be a puppeteer. “One of the beautiful things about puppetry is that anyone can do it,” Mulligan said, “Even if you’re a writer or a poet, all you have to do is let the character tell it to the audience and you have become a puppeteer.”

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From the character, to the strings, to the person