After its future seemed dim, the WVU puppetry program has been given a second chance by the University to prove itself.
The bachelor’s degree in puppetry had been recommended for discontinuation by the Provost’s Office but was granted an appeal and will continue for at least another two years.
After the initial announcement that the program was on the chopping block, there was a large outcry from alumni and supporters of the program. An online petition gathered over 2,500 signatures.
“It’s a really wonderful thing,” said Mary McClung, professor of costume design and puppetry, about the program’s second chance.
During this probation period, the puppetry program will work with the Provost’s Office and develop a program improvement plan. The move comes as part of ongoing academic transformation efforts aimed at attracting new students to the University.
The puppetry program has been around for over 30 years beginning as an area of emphasis and eventually becoming a major. It’s one of just two such programs in the nation.
Located on the 4th floor of the CAC, there is a small art studio that is unlike any other room on campus. The puppetry studio, home to WVU’s unique puppetry program, is lined wall to wall with puppets of different shapes, sizes and colors.
This is McClung’s domain as she oversees puppetry majors and even some non-majors as they work on mastering the art form.
“There's something about a live performance that really engages people,” said McClung. “If you see a puppet walking down the hall on somebody’s hand, you're instantly not thinking about anything but the relationship and the beautiful thing that it is and the character, you know? And that doesn't change from when you're a little kid to when you're an adult.”
For McClung, the second chance for the puppetry program means it’s time to “step back” and make a plan to expand the program as well as to increase enrollment.
McClung said the puppetry program will “make a plan on how we're going to increase enrollment, how we're going to maybe have some of our faculty and other faculty in the school theme dances help support it.”
The puppetry program currently has 7 students, but McClung said that there are more that are looking at the program.
“I think it's because there's been a resurgence of Henson's shows,” McClung said “The dark crystal came back and did another series, they just put out another Gonzo Christmas.”
McClung also pointed to popular Broadway shows such as The Lion King as another source of inspiration for aspiring puppetry students.
Over the next two years, the puppetry program will have to prove its relevance to the University.
It currently does a variety of shows including children’s shows and more serious projects.
McClung added that the puppetry program also travels around West Virginia to ”bring puppetry to students who have never seen any live theatre.”
But while many of the puppetry shows are for children, McClung said that the art form can be for adults as well.
“You can do adult puppetry as well,” McClung said. “Doesn't have to be a goofy googly-eyed thing, it can be a very serious thing to talk about and to tell stories about serious subjects.”