On Wednesday night, teacher and puppeteer Fred Thompson spoke to a crowd gathered at the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry for the latest installment of its spring 2015 Puppet Forum Series.
The subject of the forum, led by Thompson, focused on Rufus and Margo Rose. The Roses were spoken about with respect and admiration, often being referred to as “The Masters of The Marionette” both at the forum and in the puppetry community. Thompson spent a large portion of his career as a puppeteer studying under the Roses.
While the Roses may not be Hollywood celebrities, their contribution and historical context in the world of puppetry is rich.
Rufus and Margo Rose were two of many puppeteers involved in “The Howdy Doody Show” in the late 1940’s. The Roses began a puppetry company right at the onset of The Great Depression, not owning a single power tool until 1943, according to Thompson.
The Roses’ studio and workshop were run right out of their own home for many years. Their home was designed for theatre and performance. In fact, in one of their children’s rooms there was a sliding wall that when pulled away, granted access to a balcony that overlooked their stage at home. John Bell, an associate professor of Puppetry and director of the BIMP, commented on the Roses’ home studio, saying, “It’s a unique historical moment in American Puppetry.”
At their studio home, the Roses filmed and performed dozens of shows. Some of their highlighted work included “Snow White,” “Pinocchio,” “Treasure Island” and “The Mouse in Noah’s Ark.”
Chris Rose, Margo and Rufus’ son, attended the evening forum listening to Thompson speak about his parents and their work. The younger Rose said “I am impressed at the willingness of Fred to present his perspective on the [the Rose’s] Marionette Company. He [Fred] was there. He lived it. That oral history is important to what the Ballard is doing.”
A little known fact that Thompson presented was that Rufus Rose was elected to Connecticut’s State Legislature in 1961 and served 12 years. During this time, Rufus Rose still remained in the puppetry world. Thompson spoke about this briefly, sharing with the audience that Rose had made some puppets of some politicians as part of a show he was working on, however he never performed it.
The forum touched on the history surrounding the Roses and Puppetry as a whole. Bill Stwalley, a resident of Mansfield, came to forum for just that reason, saying, “I came here looking for more understanding about the Roses. I was fascinated.”
Coming to UConn this August is the Puppeteers of America National Festival. There is a vast history behind puppetry and UConn is at the center of it all, being the only university that offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees in puppetry. Considering the size of the festival, there will be a lot history examined and appreciated come August.