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KUED's online series exploring creativity

Gretchen Reynolds, Puppeteer and Visual Artist

Classically trained as a painter, Gretchen Reynolds has a background in dance and theater as well. She first became interested in puppetry while a student at the University of Washington in Seattle.

“I was so impressed by the department and the idea of puppetry.” Gretchen recalls. “It was run by a woman from Austria; Missus V is the only thing we ever called her. She taught me the foundations of puppetry theater.”

Almost all of Gretchen’s work today involves cross-disciplinary collaboration in which she works closely with other artists, dancers, directors and musicians in visualizing and creating a work. In her performance Jack Rising she brought together three musicians, a librettist, a puppeteer and a projectionist. All coming from different parts of the country, the group met and performed Jack Rising for its premiere in Brooklyn, NY in 2015.

“Any kind of collaboration, but especially cross-disciplinary collaboration, you’re really acquiescing to another set of sensibilities.” she explains. “It’s a freaky feeling because you are giving up control. It’s like grabbing on to a rope tow.”

Gretchen has also incorporated other sense elements into her performances that become an epiphenomenon to the overall experience. These sensual bi-products, like sounds and smells, enhance the experience and bring the audience in closer to the performance.

“With Jack Rising, the train tracks sparked and made a sound and a smell. My dad’s old projector, which was being used on stage, made a sound and had a smell…Even younger people had some sort of association with these, I think we can all relate to that.”

In her career as a puppeteer and visual artist, she has formed Madigan Strung Puppets which she calls a “professional traveling puppet troupe” consisting of herself and friend, Lara McIntosh, from Seattle. The two worked from freestanding theaters that they would fold up and take on the road with them to events like The Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada, where they would perform with the Desert String Band. She once wrote to Louis Borgenicht (her daughter’s pediatrician), Rocky Anderson (former Salt Lake Mayor) and Woody Allen asking if they would perform in her show “All Shook Up: Choreographer’s Dream Puppeteer’s Nightmare” Unfortunately, none of the three performed in the show. Gretchen also co-founded Dunce School for the Arts, a broad-band art house in Salt Lake City.

Speaking on her creative process, Gretchen says, “If I just start, it takes on a life of it’s own almost immediately and I’m just responding to the different things that are coming up.” She explains, “everything around me sort of becomes fodder for inspiration.” Her studio is a maze of trinkets, antiques, tools, craft supplies, artists paints, special “dust collecting” surfaces and electronic gadgets like mini projectors plugged into iPhones disguised in satchels.

Gretchen graduated from the University of Utah with a Master of Fine Arts in Painting and Drawing. She currently teaches at Weber State University, Department of Visual Art and Design. Look for Gretchen Reynolds in the upcoming Performance Arts Festival at the Main Library in downtown Salt Lake City this October.

Produced and Edited

Ashley Swanson