'Deep Sea Explorer' makes a splash with Cultural Affairs

On Sept. 26-28, the Cultural Affairs program at Weber State University presented “The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer” in the Eccles Theater of the Val A Browning Center. “Sputnik” is a one-man puppet show created by Tim Watts at the Spare Parts Puppet Theater in Perth, Australia, using elements of puppetry, animation, live acting and music. “Sputnik” is currently touring around the United States with St. John Cowcher and Sam Longley performing as Alvin.

Diane Stern, the director of Cultural Affairs, said the title of this production really stood out to her.

“I get a lot of emails from artist managers . . . this one was very intriguing,” she said. “The title . . . made me want to take a look at it. When I saw the runner for it, I was just captivated. I went ahead and requested a full video, and then took it to the advisory board, and they ended up liking it too.”

The Spare Parts describes the plot: “The seas have risen, billions have died and those who are left live on farms atop skyscrapers, atop mountains. The scientists have tried everything. Floating islands sank, space probes found nothing . . . Now science and humanity are turning to the oceans themselves. A last-ditch effort to save the human race requires journeying down through the mysterious depths of the deep blue sea to find a new place for us to live. Alvin Sputnik, who has just lost his wife, accepts this perilous mission so that he may follow her soul down to the underworld so that they can be together again once more.”

Stern, who saw all four performances over the three days “Sputnik” was at WSU, said she “really liked it . . . I liked the ending where Alvin and his wife are reunited. I suppose that makes me sentimental. What I really loved about the production as a whole is the seamless interaction between the puppet and the animation and the way they could move from one thing to another.”

Micah Orton, a house manager for the Browning Center, said he really enjoyed the performance he saw. “I thought it was really lovely,” he said. “It was very unique and I enjoyed the combination of live-action puppetry and the animation. I found the combination quite creative.”

Orton said his favorite scene from the production was the beginning, when the hero, Alvin, watches his wife die.

“(The puppeteer) did such a good job of putting a significant amount of emotion into such a short amount of time and so initially,” he said.  “We didn’t have a whole lot of context behind any of it, so he did a really good job of putting that emotion into it and getting you emotionally connected to the performance without a lot of dialogue or acting.”

Carson Tueller, a sophomore in pre-med, said he was referred to the show by a friend.

“I really enjoyed it,” he said. “A friend told me that it was a puppet show, so I didn’t know what to expect, but it was really unique entertainment. It was something I hadn’t experienced before. He had a projector and lots of animation and sound effects and different-sized puppets. It was a really interesting production.”

Stern encouraged students to attend Cultural Affairs events, noting that the performances are widely varied in genre and style.

“We enjoy a pretty rare situation,” she said. “Val Browning, who was an arts lover, built this building and endowed the Cultural Affairs program so that the artist fees could be paid out of the endowment. What that means for the rest of us is that we pay really low ticket prices for the performances we see here.”

Orton also said Cultural Affairs events are more accessible for students than some of the other performances held at the Browning Center.

“They’re really fun,” he said. “They aren’t typical of your normal uptight performances like the symphony or the ballet. They’re a little bit looser and they tend to be a little more approachable and cheaper. They’re more frequent, they’re more accessible, and they deal with a wider range of artistic expression.”

More information about Cultural Affairs events can be found at www.wsuculturalaffairs.org, or in the season brochures found in the lobby of the Browning Center. Tickets can be purchased at the box office or at www.weberstatetickets.com.