Pupkis: Travelling Yiddish Puppet Theater

By: Drew Cohen
from Weber School

Interdisciplinary Integration

Subject(s) of entry:
Art, Engineering, English/ Writing/ Language Arts, Music, literature

Blended Learning, Constructivist, Design-Thinking Model, Experiential Education, PBL - project based learning, Social and Emotional Learning

Grade(s) to which this was taught:
9, 10, 11, High school

Grade(s) for which this will be useful:
9, 10, 11, 12, High school

Our students adapted a recently translated Yiddish short story for performance as a puppet show. They wrote the script, built the puppets and stage and performed the puppets. The show was performed for local Jewish elementary schools as well as for the rest of the student body at the Weber School

Entry Narrative

Last January, The Weber School had its first “Haskalah Term” – a period of three weeks when year-long classes were suspended, and cross-disciplinary electives were offered.  Pupkis was a course designed with puppeteer David Stephens of All Hands Productions to give the students an opportunity to take a piece of Jewish folklore and turn it into a puppet show.

The course met for the full school day for three weeks – we began with a demonstration of puppetry styles, started to look at the short story we’d be adapting, and took a trip to the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta to see an adaptation of another book to serve as a reference.  The story was chosen in collaboration with Dr. Miriam Udel at Emory Univeristy, who’d translated the story from Yiddish for the first time.

In the second week, we spent mornings working on the script and afternoons building puppets.  Using felt and sewing machines, the students created all of the puppets needed for the performance.  Students also began to learn the basics of puppeteering – specifically focused on the “lip-sync” needed for the type of puppets we were building.  Toward the end of the week, students began construction of the puppetry stage and began to rehearse and revise the script with the puppets they’d been building.

The final week was focused on rehearsal – making sure the performance was ready for the public.  We traveled to two local Jewish elementary schools and performed the show three times for groups of the students’ peers at Weber.  At each stop, students built the stage, taught the song they composed for the audience to sing along, performed the show, and did a puppet demonstration and Q and A for the audience.

The process of the creation and performance of the show was clearly trans-formative for the students.  From composing original music to performing multiple puppets simultaneously, students who had apprehensions at the beginning of the process clearly took immense pride in the piece of art they’d created.

Photos and videos of the entire process can be found here.

Entrant Bio(s)

Drew Cohen is the director of the Music Program at Weber School.