Marionettes

This year abroad, I’m tackling a French minor. It’s relatively short, just five classes to do over the course of two semesters, which means that I have lots of free space in an already lightly-loaded schedule to take some courses just for fun.

My fun for this semester (besides a class on the second wave of American feminism) is a class in the theater department about marionettes and puppeteering. The course mainly covers the history of different puppeteering forms across the world – last week we learned about life-sized marionettes in Japan and new-age human puppeteering in the Netherlands. But in addition to the history lessons, the class also came with a marionettes workshop. We learned, during six 7-hour days spread over three weekends, about controlling various kinds of puppets and participating in different kinds of manipulation theater.

It was a gas.

We learned how to use marionettes, how to make them dance or to recite a sad poem. We learned about object theater, making matchbooks come alive and hold conversations with sunglasses and paper doilies. We learned how to use dirt and plastic to illustrate falling in love. But what was better was that we all got to be very good friends after the three weekends.

I took the class with my friend Becca, a third-yeard from UC Santa Barbara. Being the sole Americans in the class, we were intimidated by the French theater students. There were so many huge, dramatic personalities that on the first day Becca and I rushed off to McDonald’s for lunch to avoid the intense, artistic conversations we knew were happening in the cafeteria. Slowly but surely, however, we started becoming closer with the French students. We sat with them at lunch, we walked with them to the coffee machines during break, we collaborated on puppet shows.

And it was all very exciting. Normally, attempting to make friends with other French students in class is nearly impossible. You get lucky to find one or two who are English majors and like practicing their English, maybe another who is nice enough to share notes, and then that’s generally it. Here we were, making heaps of French friends. I learned more French names over the course of three weeks than I had this past semester. And all the while we were doing all this friend-making in puppeteering class.

Not to say that I didn’t enjoy my classes last semester, but this class may be my favorite I’ve taken in France or even perhaps in college altogether. I’ve learned some very fun marionette tricks and also made many new friends. I’m already looking forward to class this week and for a soiree this weekend that the French students have planned. Hopefully my class on feminism will turn out to be this fun.