Rowan University Puppet Artists’ newest production, “RAGNARUCKUS,” is about to take to the stage and I was able to sit in on its practice for a quick preview This original show, written and directed by graduating senior TJ Jacobs, digs into the legends surrounding Norse mythology through the unique form of puppetry.
Jacobs described the show as “mythic puppet ridiculousness,” and after viewing the show in a tech rehearsal, I think that’s an accurate description.
A series of short “acts” features well-known Norse figures such as Odin, Thor, Loki and Fenrir. These acts come together to tell the story of the beginning of the world and its eventual rebirth.
From Loki stealing the hair of Lady Sif to the binding of Loki’s wolf-son Fenrir, and through to the eventual end of the world, Ragnarök, it is clear to see the well-researched references that make up the foundation of this story.
Telling the story is a myriad of puppets, controlled and voiced by seven talented individuals: Jeremy Burns, Sadi Gomez, TJ Jacobs, Jacob Kantrowitz, Kaleigh Lange, Isabel Newell, and Sarah-Cate Ogden.
“There have been puppets as long as there have been people and, in that, puppetry is quite instinctual. Without learning how, almost all of us will pick up a toy or even a stick to give it life or to tell a story,” Jacobs said. “What I love most about puppetry is the raw transformative power that it can wield and how it can meet near anyone where they are.”
This production is the culmination of Jacobs’ education here at Rowan. Featured as his capstone project, this show has been four years in the making.
During his freshman year, TJ began to contemplate the idea of combining his love for puppetry with his interest in Norse mythology. He began by creating Muppet-inspired drawings of the Norse gods.
He continued on this journey with the idea of a musical comedy, but soon moved off this idea as he found it to be “dissatisfying.” He finally settled on the name “RAGNARUCKUS” and began gauging the interests of those around him in hopes of following through with this idea.
The following year COVID-19 hit. This did not stop Jacobs from continuing on to achieve his vision. He spent his time in quarantine diving into the stories of Norse mythology and the community of puppet theater.
When he returned to campus, he founded the RU Puppet Artists group, sharing his research with a group of puppetry-loving Rowan students.
In the beginning of 2022, Jacobs finished his script, got together with his production team and held auditions. Once cast, the cast and crew began the hard work of creating the show from the ground up with the hopes of opening this engaging show on April 22, Earth Day.
“Working on RAGNARUCKUS has been so vastly different in each stage of its development. It started as an idea, sketching out Muppet-style versions of Thor & Loki in my dorm room, to working with an entire cohort of students to build around 200 puppets, while providing them with autonomy in design & character,” Jacobs said. “This has been a long time in the making and it has been one of the most rewarding projects I’ve ever worked on.”
“RAGNARUCKUS” isn’t just an entertaining experience; it also comes along with a message. Environmentalism and Sustainability are at the core of this show from its sets to its puppets. In fact, the brainstorming notebook was even made from recycled materials.
The set consists of reused “rubbish.” A billowing skyline is created using old parachutes. The bottoms of various milk cartons create a well, laying the foundation for a well-crafted cardboard tree.
The puppets themselves were made from cleverly crafted plastic bags and old plastic jugs. The addition of paint, glue and creativity is what allowed these seemingly unuseful, discarded supplies to transform the black box theater into a fully thought outset.
“The Norse told stories of Gods that knew they would die and yet trudged on to fight against the inevitable. Today we stand in the shadow of climate change, white supremacy, and global inequality,” said Jacobs. “I hope that if an audience member can see magic, life & value in painted plastic, they can see the same in the wide world around them. In that, we can take action to hold ourselves, and our modern-day Gods, accountable.”
“RAGNARUCKUS” is a 90-minute show with no intermission. The production opens on April 22 at 8 p.m. in Bozorth Room 159. Other show dates and times include April 23 at 2 p.m., April 27 at 8 p.m., and April 28 at the same time. Interested audience members can reserve their spot on the club’s Google form.
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