Puppet maker helps students reimagine waste for IllumiNATION festivities

Matthew J. Long
July 17, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State held its first puppet creation workshop in the HUB-Robeson Center on June 27, where students were given the opportunity to help design giant, illuminated puppets made out of reused materials like bamboo, pool noodles and linen.

Amy Vashaw, director of audience and program development for the Center for Performing Arts, said the workshop was one of many to come in preparation for Penn State's first IllumiNATION parade, where these puppets will be showcased.  

“The idea is to get students directly involved with the setup process of this event,” said Vashaw. “We want to bring students together through art and incorporate sustainability in the process.”

The IllumiNATION parade, set for March 28, 2020, is a collaboration between the Center for the Performing Arts and Penn State's Office of Student Engagement Programs that aims to unite Penn State as a community through the arts, bridge the gap between international and domestic students, and spark conversation about sustainability, while shedding light on the issues surrounding climate change.

The planning process for the parade and workshops started during the spring semester. Vashaw was inspired to organize a parade in State College after seeing a similar parade known as the Atlanta BeltLine Lantern Parade in Georgia, which features thousands of participants holding illuminated paper lanterns as they walk on the Eastside Trail.

Capezzuti demonstrating how her puppets would look at the parade, only without the linen cloth.

Artist Cheryl Capezzuti, a puppeteer and Penn State alumna, demonstrates how her puppets would look at the IllumiNATION parade, only without the linen cloth.

IMAGE: Matthew J. Long/Penn State

“I saw what they did there in Atlanta and wanted to take that and create a parade focused exclusively on Penn State,” Vashaw said.

To help create the puppets needed for the parade, Vashaw brought on artist Cheryl Capezzuti, a puppeteer and Penn State alumna who has been in the puppeteering business for more than 20 years. Since the beginning of her career, Capezzuti has been exposed to sustainable practices and has tried to implement them in her projects.

“When I was here at Penn State, the first sculpture I was making was made from all the discarded scrap wood in the sculpture studio and, since then, I’ve also done a lot of work with dryer lint,” said Capezzuti. “It has been the ethos of our work; what does the world discard that could actually be used to make us think about the world in a different way?” 

For this project, Capezzuti is using bamboo sticks from old house decor and linen that was going to be disposed by a linen company in Pittsburgh, where Capezzuti resides. These materials will be transformed into large puppets that, when illuminated, will display the shape of the Nittany Lion. Each puppet will be attached to a backpack that an operator will wear in order to animate the puppet.

As the parade gets closer, there will be various workshops focused on helping to develop the puppets. 

"We are thrilled about the upcoming events,” said Vashaw. “We hope students feel the same way and want to be a part of it.”

Last Updated July 18, 2019