Theater scholar, artist, educator, curator, social activist and arts leader John Bell has been named Boston College's Rev. J. Donald Monan, S.J. Professor in Theatre Arts for the 2012-2013 academic year.
Bell is recognized as a leading international authority on puppet theater and the allied artistic forms of object theater and toy theater. Since 2007, he has been director of the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry at the University of Connecticut, where he curates exhibitions and operates outreach programs.
He is the author of many articles and several books, including Strings, Hands, Shadows: A Modern Puppet History (Detroit Institute of Arts, 2000) and American Puppet Modernism (Palgrave MacMillan, 2008), which received the 2011 Prix de la Recherche from France's Institut International de la Marionette and the 2011 Jalal Sattari prize from Iran's International Traditional-Ritual Performances Seminar. He is also the editor of Puppets, Masks, and Performing Objects (MIT Press, 2001).
An active artist and performer, Bell is a founding member of the Brooklyn-based, Obie-Award-winning Great Small Works-a theater company that uses folk, avant-garde and popular theater traditions to address contemporary social issues. For twelve years early in his career, he was a member of the world-renowned Bread and Puppet Theater. Bell received a Ph.D. in Theatre History from Columbia University, and has since taught at numerous universities including Harvard, MIT, Emerson College, New York University and Rhode Island School of Design.
"I'm pleased and honored to be the Monan Professor of Theatre Arts this year at Boston College," says Bell. "Puppetry-a centuries-old global tradition with roots in every culture-has become a valuable component of theater education today and a conspicuous element in contemporary theater, film, television, as well as on the Internet and in community performance. This ancient form is an utterly viable 21st-century medium."
During the fall semester, Bell will teach a course titled "Playing with the Material World: Puppet and Object Theater as Global Traditions," which will survey the history and theory of puppet and object performance through an examination of traditions in Indonesia, China, Japan, Europe and North America. During the spring semester, he will lead an intensive "Workshop in Puppet and Object Theater," a hands-on course that will provide instruction in the conception, design, construction, and performance of puppet and object theater pieces.
"We're excited about John's residency," says Scott T. Cummings, chair of BC's Theatre Department. "It's a rare opportunity for our students. Under his guidance, this will be the Year of the Puppet at BC." In addition to teaching courses, Bell will curate a puppet theater festival in the fall and consult on the Theatre Department's spring production of Avenue Q-the Tony-Award-winning musical that features both human and puppet characters-which will be directed by Theatre Department Associate Professor Stuart J. Hecht.
Named for University Chancellor and former Boston College President J. Donald Monan, SJ, the professorship enables the Theatre Department to bring nationally and internationally recognized professional theater artists to work with, and teach, undergraduate students at the University. In addition to honoring Fr. Monan's dedicated service to BC, the professorship was established in memory of late Trustee E. Paul Robsham, M.Ed.'83-benefactor of the campus theater arts facility named for his son-and in celebration of the longstanding relationship between the Robsham family and the BC Theatre Department.
Bell will be the sixth Monan visiting artist, following SpeakEasy Stage Company Producing Artistic Director Paul Daigneault (2011-12), actor Karen MacDonald (2010-11), director Carmel O'Reilly (spring 2010), actor Remo Airaldi (fall 2009) and Broadway music director Mary Mitchell Campbell (2008-09).