Just what, exactly, IS an MFA in puppetry?

One has to wonder. A Master’s Degree takes a lot of work. I got mine a couple of years ago, and it was a harrowing experience. I stressed for months and months, studying for my comprehensive exams, and when I finally graduated cum laude with a 3.92 average, I couldn’t have been prouder! All the term papers and exams had finally paid off! And yes, I’m bragging. I drank my way through undergrad at Johns Hopkins, and didn’t even bother graduating with a 3.0.  As a matter of fact, there was one semester (freshman year – spring) that I didn’t even break a 1.0 GPA!  So yeah.  I feel all accomplished.

But my MA is in National Security Studies – it’s a subject with some substance and a lot of literature associated with it. It helped me get a terrific job that I love and a promotion I’d been seeking.

That’s why I just don’t get this guy.

A few years ago, Joe Therrien, a graduate of the NYC Teaching Fellows program, was working as a full-time drama teacher at a public elementary school in New York City. Frustrated by huge class sizes, sparse resources and a disorganized bureaucracy, he set off to the University of Connecticut to get an MFA in his passion—puppetry. Three years and $35,000 in student loans later, he emerged with degree in hand, and because puppeteers aren’t exactly in high demand, he went looking for work at his old school. The intervening years had been brutal to the city’s school budgets—down about 14 percent on average since 2007. A virtual hiring freeze has been in place since 2009 in most subject areas, arts included, and spending on art supplies in elementary schools crashed by 73 percent between 2006 and 2009. So even though Joe’s old principal was excited to have him back, she just couldn’t afford to hire a new full-time teacher. Instead, he’s working at his old school as a full-time “substitute”; he writes his own curriculum, holds regular classes and does everything a normal teacher does. “But sub pay is about 50 percent of a full-time salaried position,” he says, “so I’m working for half as much as I did four years ago, before grad school, and I don’t have health insurance…. It’s the best-paying job I could find.”

OK, let me understand this.

This tool left a teaching position that pays AT THE VERY LEAST $45,500 base salary for teacher with a Bachelor’s degree and no prior teaching experience (and that doesn’t even include salary steps and bonuses) to get a Masters of Fine Arts degree in…


Yes, puppetry. An “art” in which you manipulate (he he *insert Beavis voice here* – she said “manipulate”) dolls with either strings attached to their limbs, or by sticking your hand up their… uh… skirts.

He has a degree – a Master’s Degree – in it!  Puppetry!

This douche spent $35,000 he didn’t have, as witnessed by the fact that he has $35,000 in student loans, to learn how to manipulate dolls, thinking this oh-so-useful skill would help him find a job.

I don’t know about you guys, but I don’t see a big demand for puppeteers. No help wanted ads in any newspaper I’ve ever read ask for guys with a degree in sticking their hands up dolls’ garments. I’m not even sure how this… um… “degree” would make him a better teacher!

So he left a good paying job, got a worthless degree that cost him thousands of dollars, and somehow expected to get hired right back… in this economy… after having spent $35,000 he didn’t have on an MFA in… puppetry.

And now he’s occupying Wall Street, and crying that his poor life choices somehow entitle him to have the rest of us subsidize him.

He’s occupying Wall Street, because he thought that hard work and education would afford him a measure of upward mobility.

Seriously? Hard work in puppetry?

He actually expected the NYC school system to hire him back with a nice $10,000 raise, because he got a Master’s Degree – no matter how useless the topic?

What is it that Joe studied?  What kind of classes did he take?

  • String length: effective techniques to make your puppets’ fist pump of anarchy even more potent;
  • Fingers: how far up is too far?
  • Manipulation techniques;
  • Dance, Puppet, Dance! Interpretive Movement Behind the Curtain;
  • Modern Geniuses: the Artistry of Jeff Dunham;
  • Hand vs. Shadow Puppets: pros and cons
  • The Joys of Puppet Erotica (None Dare Call it Porn!)

What were Joe’s comprehensive exams like?

“I’m sorry, Mr. Therrien, but I saw your fingers move suggestively over that puppet’s butt.  That’s 10 points off.”

Look – it may have been fun to borrow $35,000 to play with dolls, but I can’t imagine this guy actually thought this degree would bring him any kind of upward mobility!

It’s all well and good to make lousy economic decisions in your life. You’re entitled to your mistakes. You can’t blame capitalism, corporatism or anything else for your inability to find work with a degree in doll manipulation.

But don’t complain when faced with the logical consequences of your bad decisions.



10 responses

  1. I’m still waiting for an interview, ANY interview, with one of these people who has legit credentials and/or a job, a personality within 2 standard deviations, and can explain their complaint in a coherent, comprehensible fashion about something that can actually be accomplished.


    1. Don’t hold your breath. 🙂


  2. Puppetry is a bit more than Kermit these days:

    That said, I’m pretty sure the bulk of employment along these lines is not anywhere near Wall Street, or even NYC. Jim Henson production facilities are in CA, and the movies they work on are shot all over the place. Farscape was made largely in Australia.


  3. A “Master’s Degree” in Puppetry? Byhaps there’s a tad more to that than meets the eye at first glance.

    Substitute dollar$ for strings – this could mean (although we all realize it doesn’t) a degree in bribing someone to do one’s bidding, such as lobbyists bribing lawmakers, or George Soros supporting ACORN’s successor (the actual name of the group is immaterial as its function is identical) which is running the Occupy Whatever campaign.

    This is a repeat of the 60s “protests” with even less direction – these fools haven’t a clue what they want but those paying the bills do.

    Add regulations upon the regulations already in place then Wall Street and ancillary “services” make even more by guiding their clientèle through the maze of legalities – that’s why these bastards are supporting the Lawn Jockey in Chief and his agenda to add more regulations to the banking and finance industries.

    It was said once, “… a horse – my kingdom for a horse …” – personally, I’d settle for a few million people with a set of balls (or ovaries, as the case may be) to set things right.


  4. His actual course of study was:

    Course of Study for the MA and MFA Puppetry

    DA 3611 Trends in Contemporary American Puppet Theatre
    DA 5131 Studies in Theatre History
    DA 5159 Practicum in Puppet Arts
    DA 5189 Field Studies in Puppet Arts
    DA 5190 Internship in Puppet Arts
    DA 5192 (A) Advanced Rod Puppet Theatre
    DA 5192 (B) Advanced Mask Theatre
    DA 5192 (C) Advanced Hand Puppet Theatre
    DA 5192 (D) Advanced Shadow Theatre
    DA 5192 (E) Independent Study in Puppet Arts
    DA 5196 (A) MFA Project in Puppet Arts
    DA 5196 (B) Puppet Arts MFA: Design
    DA 5196 (C) Puppet Arts MFA: Scriptwriting
    DA 5196 (D) Puppet Arts MFA: Technical Design
    DA 5196 (E) Puppet Arts MFA: Construction
    DA 5196 (F) Puppet Arts MFA: Direction
    DA 5197 (A) Advanced UV/Czech Black Theatre
    DA 5197.010 (B) & DA 397.010 (B) Advanced Paper Sculpture Design, sculpture, patterning and finishing techniques are practiced using the Roser Papier Methode for Puppetry.
    DA 5197 (C) Advanced Puppetry in Television
    DA 5197 (D) Advanced Materials Techniques
    DA 5197 (E) Special Topics in Puppet Arts
    DA 5601 Marionette Construction
    DA 5602 Marionette Performance
    DA 5603 (A) Puppet Theatre Production
    DA 5603 (B) ISMS: Art Movements of the Early 20th Century
    DA 5603 (C) Puppet Production Seminar
    DA 5603 (D) Puppet Arts Aesthetics
    DA 5603 (E) Seminar in Puppet Arts

    You can get the full description here.

    It looks fairly intimidating and would be subject to all the subjective crap and “professorial” egoism that all fine arts degrees are subject to.

    He’s still an asshat though and wasted a lot of time, effort, and money on something that wouldn’t serve him well in the vertical he chose to work within.


    1. You just HAD to bust my bubble, didn’t ya! LOL

      I do realize there’s just a tiny bit more to it than what I described. That was hyperbolic satire. But your point about not choosing something that would serve him in the real world is dead on, and that was the entire point of the post.


  5. C. S. P. Schofield

    This poor schmoo is a victim of the trend of the last several decades to regard anything worth knowing as something that is best passed along in an academic setting; he went to college, the way he was supposed to, and they were offering a degree in Puppetry, which sounded like fun, so he got a degree in puppetry. Since the entire edifice of modern Higher Education depends on the assumption that if you go to college, you get a better job than flipping burgers, nobody suggested that what a Masters in Puppetry would qualify him for would be to study for a PhD. in Puppetry. And certainly nobody would dare to breathe than what a PhD. in Puppetry qualifies you for is to teach academic courses in Puppetry for the rest of you life.

    I like to think that as recently as the 1970’s it would have been everybody’s assumption that if you wanted to be a puppet-master, the way to go about it would be to seek out somebody who did it for a living and apprentice yourself to him, but My (88 year old) Father is a Professor, and I know that the rot had at least started that far back.

    The pity is that it hasn’t occurred to this imbecile that the people he should be protesting are the swine who sold him a useless degree. Just think how OUTRAGED the Lefty Academic Twits would be to have to face pickets on their home ground, criticizing their wonderful selves!


  6. Something that boggles the mind:

    Therrian got a master’s in puppetry. So: the school had to set up the courses, drag in some professors and TAs, and get the whole thing accredited. Along with finding books, writing syllibi, and so on, there is obviously an industry devoted to pursuing formal education in the stupidest things one can imagine.

    Now I can pursue my dream of underwater basketweaving!


    1. While there is definitely much stupidity in education, puppetry is not it. A couple of posts up I posted a few links to what modern puppetry looks like. It is a lot more than sticking a hand up Kermit’s hiney. There is a very serious sculptural component to it along with much technical work that is closer to robotics than to theater, which, by the way, is also a valid thing to be getting degrees in. I am a geek by trade and I have quite a bit of respect for what modern puppeteers do.

      Of course, you are free to keep giggling in ignorance and talk about baskets. Me, I will direct ridicule to more appropriate targets such as degrees that end in “studies”.


  7. So, this guy is a… wait for it….

    Puppet Master.


    I can’t believe no-one else had that one befor me.


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