Newswise — AMES, Iowa – Generations of children have grown up watching Sesame Street and learning from its cast of puppets about issues such as bullying, diversity and divorce.
Amanda Petefish-Schrag, an assistant professor of theatre at Iowa State University, says the show is an example of how puppets can help educate and bridge the divide when tackling difficult issues. While puppets are often associated with children’s programs or theatre, Petefish-Schrag says they are also an effective tool for social change.
That was evident during the recent Women’s March on Washington and similar events held around the world. Among the many signs on display were a variety of puppets, Petefish-Schrag said. Protestors also used puppets in several Occupy Wall Street demonstrations. Throughout history, puppets have helped bring “the voice of the people to light,” Petefish-Schrag said.
“There is something inherently strange about puppets that forces us to pay attention in a different way,” she said. “Puppetry raises questions which makes it a really useful tool when we’re trying to build bridges between communities. Certainly, some puppeteers may use symbols that are divisive, but the intent is to create a focal point that is the start of a discussion. It asks us to engage in our communities.”
Puppetry a family business
Growing up in Minnesota, Petefish-Schrag started performing with her parents’ puppet troupe at the age of 4. The family not only performed in schools and theatres across the state and regionally, but they also designed and built their own puppets. Petefish-Schrag says they developed shows and puppets to address specific aspects of school curricula and various social issues.
“It was an exciting way to grow up. I didn’t realize that other families didn’t travel around performing. I remember going over to a friend’s house and wondering why they didn’t have rehearsal after school, and why there were no puppet heads…