No Strings Attached!Puppet Theatre at Mott Middle College


Something very exciting and unique is happening at Mott Middle College in Flint. Two passionate teachers had a simultaneous epiphany that led to the formation of a puppet-making class at the school, and the creation of Fly-Town Puppet Theatre. Mott Middle College is a non-traditional high school, operated by the Genesee Intermediate School District. It opened in 1991 on the campus of Mott Community College and specializes in overlapping an Associate’s Degree with a general education high school diploma.

Matthew Osmon, the Fine Arts teacher at Mott Middle College, was watching the documentary Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey when the idea hit him: how much fun would it be to teach a puppet-making class? “I’ve always loved puppets,” he says with a smile. Around the same time, Katie Young, who teaches Public Performance at the school, went to a Feast of Fools parade that featured large-scale puppets, and she was struck with the same idea. Matthew asked her, “Do you want to make puppets?” Her answer, of course, was a resounding “Yes!”

flytownpuppettheatre-8Once they went through the channels and gained approval of their project, they were very excited. “We made it happen!” exclaims Matthew, adding that they even used some of their own money to show their commitment and get it up and running. Katie teaches the students puppeteering, writes and workshops the plays, and is also the director of the plays and parades. Matthew teaches design, engineering and construction of puppets. He is the technical director of the performances and is responsible for the lighting, sound and props. Matthew’s background in drawing, painting, design, costumes, sets, make-up and film has been very beneficial to the class, complemented by Katie’s expertise in performance.

Puppet-making is a skill, and the students really enjoy the class, according to Matthew. “We’re building interest,” he says, “and we’ve accomplished a lot in two years.” The puppets the students make are inspired by Japanese Bunraku puppets, European rod puppets, Southeast Asian shadow-puppets, and giant parade-style puppets, to name a few. They also make masks, which are used in Fly-Town Puppet Theatre performances.

When My City Magazine visited the classroom, several students were busy making puppets. “Some of them are getting really good at it,” says Katie. On display is Adam, a Bunraku style-puppet, which takes three people working as a team to move its legs, head, arms and torso. “It’s very challenging,” Katie admits. Some students were sculpting puppet heads and some were working on sweatshirts the puppets will wear for their upcoming performance, Heart, Spirit, Nature. The performance will combine several forms of puppet and mask work. Puppet vignettes will focus on concepts of man’s relationship with nature.

Gage Mardlin was working on making the body of the puppet. “I have a good knack for it,” he says. Ean Williams was sculpting a head, using “plastalena” – a clay material that doesn’t dry out. “You can be really creative,” he says. Another student was busy carving the puppet’s shoulder.

Katie works with the students on body movement when preparing for performances, which she says takes a lot of practice and coordination. “Puppets don’t speak, so everything has to be translated through movement. It is incredibly captivating,” she explains. “We try to bring an element of surrealism to the performance,” adds Matthew. “We focus on magical realism and on promoting the awareness of culture, diversity and social justice issues.”

The theatre group has given many exciting performances, including Hammer Be the Death of Me. The story is told using masks and shadow puppetry and is about the common man’s hero, John Henry, and his battle to the death with the Machine. “We wanted to work with masks and shadow puppets in the background,” says Katie. She wrote the music for the performance.

Eli Wilson has been taking the puppet-making class since its inception. “It’s awesome!” he exclaims. “The only limit you have is your imagination. Being in this class makes me feel like I can do anything.” What he enjoys the most however, is performing. “I like performances, because I get to show people what I’m thinking. I put my mind out there for others to see,” Eli says. “Eli is very good at making the puppets comes to life,” says Katie.

The teachers have both found the experience to be very rewarding and are looking to the future. “Matt and I are learning along with the kids,” says Katie. “We had to be vulnerable, open and humble, and just allow it to evolve.”

Photography by Eric Dutro


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