Katherine Malanoski, ’17, has been creating characters on stage for years as an actress. But this summer was the first time she played seven different characters in the same show, each with a different voice and mannerisms. And she did them all while operating puppets on a stage she had set up herself.
Malanoski interned for Blue Sky Puppet Theater, an educational theater company based in the D.C. area. “They write educational shows on different topics, such as math, healthy eating, and staying active, and they perform for daycares, schools, and libraries,” she said.
The internship was a perfect fit for Malanoski, a theatre major with minors in German and elementary education. “A lot of places only wanted me to do paperwork, but I was hoping to perform as well,” she said. “I was interested in a company that would also allow me to see how a business runs. At Blue Sky I get to be involved in looking how they are scheduling things, how they market their shows, and how they write scripts.”
While Malanoski had some previous experience working with puppets in high school, she knew she’d have a lot of learning to do in order to become one of the troupe’s performers. “In the beginning, I would work each day shadowing a member of the company, and then come back and rehearse at the studio,” she said. She spent time memorizing three of the company’s scripts, creating voices and mannerisms for each character, and then learning how to move the rod and stick puppets to match the dialogue.
Malanoski also discovered the unique challenges of playing multiple characters in the same show. “It’s different from stage theater; you’re backstage and you don’t have anyone to respond to. You’re responding to yourself as a different character, so you have to stay alert and be focused as you switch back and forth,” she said.
After several weeks of practice, Malanoski began performing independently, representing Blue Sky. In the beginning, it was a bit nerve-wracking. “I was representing the company, so not only was I a puppetry performer, but I also had a second performance as I interacted with school principals, camp leaders, and librarians who had hired Blue Sky,” she said. “I needed to come off as professional and as a good representative of the company.”
But once she was set up and the show began, there wasn’t time for stage fright. “You need to be confident in order for the kids to trust you,” Malanoski said. “You have to make sure the puppets’ mouths are moving while you’re talking, that they’re looking at each other and at the kids in the audience; it’s a lot for your brain to process, so once you get started, you can’t think about how nervous you are.”
Malanoski is grateful for the opportunities that Blue Sky offered her. “I developed a good relationship with the company that they felt like I was capable of performing on my own and representing the organization,” she said. “Their confidence in me gave me confidence.”