At UMBC, ‘Stories Told Small’ leaves a big impression

Seeing these nine student performers interpret the art form of puppetry is delightfully entertaining.

UMBC Department of Theatre presents its final theatrical presentation of 2023, Stories Told Small. It is created under the direction of Colette Searls, who teaches acting, directing, and puppetry at UMBC and has received multiple awards for her original works in object theater.

The nine students in the Stories Told Small Ensemble, freshmen through seniors, are responsible for creating one play apiece for this presentation. Students conceive, write, direct, and perform in these short-form plays — all nine pieces fit into the space of one hour — which incorporate themes of personal challenge, societal conflict, and speculative futurism. They collaborate in varying degrees — a few are solo performances, but most rely on support from fellow actors, who use techniques of pantomime, puppetry, non-language vocalizations, narration, and set manipulations to enact the pastiche of mini-dramas.

Stephanie Sadie Wagner in ‘Stories Told Small.’ Photo by Kiirstn Pagan.

The writer/performer/directors of Stories Told Small are Nia Zagami, Lucas Sanchez, MaryGrace Ruebens, Zach Shields, Shay Chubin, Stephanie Wagner, Grace Harness, Margo McCready, and  Endora Roden. Two charming writer/ performers act as Host/ Emcees for the evening, both together and separately welcoming us, introducing each piece, and informing us about intermission.

Every piece contains elements of puppetry. However, it is important to remember that puppetry is not all about socks, marionettes, or Muppets — all sorts of items not traditionally associated with “puppet” are employed by the authors of these innovative shoebox dramas. In addition to a few items recognizable as puppets, the audience may observe expressive exercise bands, a prestidigitatious flashlight, animated scraps from a carpenter’s workshop, and a plucky bit of aluminum tubing.

Most of the sketches are wordless, though accompanied by vocal sound effects such as sighs, clicks, squeaks, grunts, and buzzing. The music and other sound effects provided by Sound Designer Kaydin Hamby (a UMBC graduate) work effectively to support each piece without drawing focus away from the main scenario. Recent UMBC graduate Gabrielle Camassar envisions a lighting design that is likewise appropriate, softly muted, with gentle transitions.

Top: Lucas Sanchez, Shaylee Chubin, and Nia Zagami; bottom: Zach Shields in ‘Stories Told Small.’ Photos by Kiirstn Pagan.

Thinking outside the box regarding puppetry and performance is rather a proud tradition in the state of Maryland, which (at University of Maryland, College Park) nurtured the early growth of Jim Henson, possibly the most beloved puppeteer on the planet, even posthumously. Seeing young performers embrace and interpret this historically relevant art form is a delightful evening of entertainment.

Running Time: One hour, including one 10-minute intermission.

Stories Told Small plays May 5 to May 7, 2023, presented by UMBC’s Department of Theatre performing in the Black Box Theatre in the Performing Arts and Humanities Building, University of Maryland, Baltimore County campus, 1000 Hilltop Circle, Baltimore, MD.  For tickets (15, general admission; $10, students and seniors) go online.
For more information visit or call 410-455-2917.

The program for Stories Told Small is online here.

COVID Safety: Masks are encouraged but not required.

Stories Told Small
Directed by Stories Told Small Ensemble and Colette Searls


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