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Shadow puppets bring ‘Peter and the Wolf’ to life in Pellissippi State Theatre production

Peter and the Wolf graphic for upcoming Theatre pieceThe creative process of 16 Pellissippi State Community College students comes to fruition in November with 12 showings of “Peter and the Wolf,” a theatre piece using shadow puppets, overhead projections and other technology to tell the classic children’s story in a new way. 

“We have never created a play from the ground up,” said Theatre Professor Grechen Wingerter, who is directing the production. “Performers and a tech crew were involved in every aspect, from creating storyboards to designing the puppets and putting them together, which made this very much a hands-on experience for the students.” 

Pellissippi State will present the students’ adaptation of “Peter and the Wolf” by Sergei Prokofiev on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays Nov. 3-12 at the Clayton Performing Arts Center on the college’s Hardin Valley Campus, 10915 Hardin Valley Road. 

Showtimes for the 50-minute production are 7 and 8:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 2 and 3:30 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets are $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and $8 for Pellissippi State students, faculty and staff. Seats are limited to 60 per show because the audience will be seated on stage with the performers and the tech crew. Buy tickets here. 

Wingerter and fellow Theatre Professor Claude Hardy were inspired by Manual Cinema, an Emmy Award-winning performance collective that “combines handmade shadow puppetry, cinematic techniques and innovative sound and music to create immersive stories for stage and screen,” according to the group’s website. 

The professors were drawn to how Manual Cinema “deconstructs stories and puts them back together,” Wingerter said. They also were looking for something unique their students could produce not only on stage at Pellissippi State, but also at the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival in Washington, D.C., and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in Scotland. 

“Instantly, I don’t know why, ‘Peter and the Wolf’ popped into my head,” she said. “I have an album of it that I’ve had since childhood. I still have it, and we’re using it in the show as a prop.” 

“Peter and the Wolf” is a musical composition written in 1936. A narrator tells the children’s story while the characters are represented by different musical instruments such as the bassoon (Grandfather), the clarinet (cat) and the flute (bird). Pellissippi State takes the deconstruction a step farther, replacing narration with written snippets that guide the audience from scene to scene, “kind of like a silent film,” Wingerter said. 

“There is no dialogue – none – though the story and the music are recognizable,” Wingerter said. “It’s all music and movement. We worked on physical movement to get the puppets to move with purpose.” 

The world Pellissippi State has created for its puppets is inspired by painter and printmaker Marc Chagall. Wingerter looked to the works of Chagall not only because he is her favorite artist, but because he grew up in a small village in what was then the Russian Empire, she said. That’s the kind of place Wingerter imagined Peter living in the story. 

“We have a Russian story by a Russian artist being paired with a Russian artist, but this is the students’ vision,” Wingerter said. “It was my job to guide them and to remind them to tell the story.” 

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