On the first day of class, many professors ask their students to go around the room and say their name, major and maybe a fun fact. In Marianne Gingher's classroom, students build masks meant to look like their own faces and sing songs while wearing them.
Gingher, a professor in the department of English and comparative literature, has taught creative writing courses at UNC for over 30 years. She had her students participate in this unusual exercise on the second day of her first year seminar on puppetry.
“They were horrified, I think, at some of the things we did early in the semester,” Gingher said.
Gingher said she had long wanted to teach a puppetry class, and last year she finally got her chance. Half of the course consists of making puppets out of found materials such as cardboard and string, and the other half consists of writing and performing short plays with puppets.
Gingher said she plans to teach the same course again this fall as a regular creative writing class rather than a first year seminar. Interested students should look for ENGL 309: Theatrical Writing for the Puppet Stage in the course catalog.
Daniel Wallace, the director of UNC’s creative writing department, said he knew Gingher had been making puppets and performing shows with them for several years when she approached him about teaching the course.
“It’s a class that only she can teach,” Wallace said. “It’s a unique class that she developed all on her own.”
Marian Knotts, who graduated from UNC last year, said she first met Gingher during her first year at UNC. After taking Gingher’s introductory level fiction writing class, Knotts said the two became close and talked throughout her time at UNC.
“It’s something she’s always had as a passion, and it’s taken her a long time to get it on the curriculum,” Knotts said.
Gingher said her students make a total of about four or five puppets during the semester, and write and perform countless sketches with them. She said teaching the class was a bit of an experiment, but that she thinks it was therapeutic for many of her students.
“I think they really appreciated it and got it,” Gingher said.
Wallace said he thinks Gingher’s puppetry course has expanded the scope of creative writing at UNC.
“Traditionally, creative writing programs focus on fiction, poetry and non-fiction," Wallace said. “But the creative writing program at Carolina has branched out quite a bit in lots of different ways.”
At the end of the semester, Gingher’s students perform a class show in Greenlaw Hall. Gingher said an exchange student from China who was initially worried about her English skills being good enough for the course ended up writing one of the best sketches in the show. Gingher said the sketch was about an armless puppet who wished for arms so badly it grew them.
“You can go off the rails a little bit more in puppetry,” Gingher said. “You can get away with things. You can travel distances. You can have a puppet fly more easily and cheaply than an actor can fly across a stage.”
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