Amanda Petefish-Schrag makes some trashy puppets.
To clarify, her marionettes don’t wear torn clothing and have pierced noses — not that there’s anything wrong with that — they are, however, made from literal garbage.
Petefish-Schrag, an assistant professor in Iowa State University’s theater department, has spent most of her life around puppets, growing up touring and performing with her parents in Minnesota. After seeing the world’s oceans polluted by millions of pounds of trash, she decided to start using that garbage to make her own puppets.
“Part of working with trash means having to confront what you’re throwing away and what you’re consuming and what impact that’s going to have on your community and on your world,” she said.
So far, she’s made about 20 to 30 puppets out of mostly plastic trash. A video on YouTube showed her manipulating a technicolored Dodo bird marionette around her basement, where she builds them.
Her work has gotten to the point that when her friends are using a certain material, they’ll ask her, “Do you think you could do anything with this?”
Sometimes, there’s even potential in something as small as a bag that used to hold potato chips.
“It forces you to think differently and see differently,” she said.
“How could that be repurposed into something else? And how could we make that something beautiful or something funny or something that will have new meaning and impact for an audience?”
Petefish-Schrag doesn’t get to perform with puppets as often as she used to, but she also sees a use for them in communicating difficult issues.
“There’s something transformative and freeing, I think, about the ability to talk to this object that has life that is less scary, in some respects, than talking to a recognizable human being,” she said.
Some might immediately picture Big Bird, but churches in the past would use puppets to educate…