Puppet show exposes audience to Spanish

GVL / Laine Girard

Laine Girard

GVL / Laine Girard

Erika Collin

Almost every seat in the Cook-Dewitt Center of Grand Valley State University is occupied as the audience members laugh at the controlled chaos occurring onstage. The booming voices of the actors fill the room, but their faces are nowhere to be found. Instead, they are hidden behind patterned fabric and a backdrop while their arms move Spanish-speaking puppets across the miniature stage.

“I want people to be more exposed to puppets because I think they’re awesome,” puppeteer Caleb Duckworth said. “They’re a lot of fun, and they bring a lot of joy to people, and it’s just a completely different experience.”

On Wednesday, four students performed “Quijóteres: The Ingenious Puppet Don Quijote de La Mancha,” written by assistant professor of Spanish, Jason Yancey. The show was a rendition of the famous novel, “The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha,” by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra.

“I would love it if people watched the show and go, ‘Wow, that was a lot of fun. I’m interested in reading the book now,‘” Yancey said. “My goal is to always reinforce the value of Spanish.”

This is the first year that Yancey has organized anything like this at GVSU. The idea stemmed from the puppet course Yancey teaches, which involves students writing scripts, making puppets, and performing their shows at elementary schools. All four of the puppeteers in the show had taken Yancey’s class prior to the performance.

Being a Spanish professor, Yancey wanted the show to not only educate people about the novel, but also teach the significance of Spanish culture.

“What I did is took scenes from that novel that seemed that they would fit well for a puppet show and created a story on that,” Yancey said.

After receiving a grant from the Center for Scholarly and Creative Excellence to purchase materials to build the puppets and improve his traveling stage, Yancey and the four students began rehearsing. They started at the beginning of the fall semester and continued for six weeks.

There was also a large amount of effort that went in to making the stage, puppets and props. Yancey constructed all of the 9 puppets, himself, using foam, felt and other materials. Each puppet took between 30 and 40 hours to create. The portable stage and all of the props were also handmade by Yancey.

“These are by far the most complicated and detailed puppets that I have ever made,” he said.

When Buena Vista University in Iowa heard of the work Yancey’s group was doing, it invited the GVSU crowd to hold workshops to teach others about the project.

“That was by far one of the best experiences I’ve had at Grand Valley,” said Lindsay Viviano, one of the puppeteers. “Seeing how a different university learns Spanish in different ways was awesome.”

Yancey said he hopes to start a puppet club on campus for any students who are interested in the idea of puppet shows, regardless of whether they speak Spanish.

“(Doing shows) is good for the university; it’s good for the community,” he said. “It’s good for everyone.”

Yancey added that he believes that having these puppets at GVSU adds a unique aspect to the school.

“The work these four students are doing is amazing,” Yancey said. “I dare anybody to pick up a puppet and see if they can match the work these students are doing. You will not see anything like this anywhere. I’m not aware of any other university that does puppets nearly to this extent, in a language program at least, like we’re doing here at Grand Valley.”