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Ayers Pulls Strings, Wins Award

Shan Ayers, associate professor of theatre at Berea College, has been awarded an Individual Artist Professional Development Grant from the Kentucky Arts Council.

Professor Ayers with his previous creation.

The grant matches funds provided by the artist, for a total of $1,000, for Ayers to create an authentically styled Japanese Bunraku Puppet.

The puppet will be used in performance with the Mountain Spirit Company, a puppet group founded by Ayers and his wife, Trish, and as an educational tool in the theatre classes Ayers teaches.

Japanese Bunraku, developed in the 16th century, is one of the most sophisticated forms of puppetry in the world, requiring three puppeteers to operate each puppet, which are half of life-size.

Ayers’ interest in Japanese puppetry began when he traveled to Japan as part of a Berea College January Short Term course in 2002. That summer, Ayers and a group of students returned to Japan with puppets they created through a Berea sponsored Undergraduate Research and Creative Projects grant. Teacher and students also traveled to Pennsylvania and Maryland where they performed with the puppets in a variety of venues. In all, the puppets have performed in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Missouri, Iowa, California, Kentucky and Japan. Shan and Trish Ayers have been guest artists at Iowa State University teaching Japanese puppetry to students in the theatre program.

Ayers has presented conference papers on using Japanese puppets as a way to teach the concept of collaboration (Japanese puppets require the three operators working in tandem to create the essence of the puppet being “human”). He also collaborated with a dance choreographer to coordinate the use of a puppet in a dance piece presented as part of Berea College’s Kinetic Expressions annual modern dance concert. Most recently, the puppets performed as a part of the Berea Rain Barrel Festival. Currently, two of the puppets are on exhibit, by invitation, at the Berea Arts Council ArtSpace as part of their Mask show.

For more information, contact Shan Ayers at (859) 985-3426.

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