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Topaz Museum Performance Creates Empathy With Puppetry

Dennis Stock

A museum that includes historic information about Japanese Americans being held in an internment camp during WWII has opened in Utah. The ceremonies marking the opening of the Topaz Museum near Delta includes Japanese Koto music and a puppet performance depicting the culture and life of the camp.

By using a technique called Found Object Puppetry where an object is used to tells a story, a California puppet company entertained and educated visitors at the new museum.

Sheila Devitt is one of the puppet performing company members. The performance group held object auditions where they explored different artifacts that were used in the camps. That is when they chose the objects for this show.

“What we’ve performed here today uses a tea set, a teapot and two tea cups and a set of napkins to create the characters of a mother and her two children," Devitt said. "And we have found through our work that puppetry, and found object puppetry in particular, has a unique ability to tell stories that are complex and dramatic and can be very emotional even though they’re not live actors with flesh and blood bodies.”

“I believe that one of the overall important things of this piece is remembering our history, that we tell stories so we remember the past and we learn the mistakes of the past so we do not repeat them in the present and in the future," she said. "And I believe that telling stories in a way that makes the individual experience and the personal experience available to audiences goes a long way to conveying empathy and compassion.”

The piece, E.O. 9066, is titled after Executive Order 9066, signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt that called for Japanese, German and Italian Americans to be placed in camps throughout the United States.  It premiered for the first time in 2003 after extensive research with people who had been relocated to Topaz and other internment camps.