Chris Ignacio, a first-year MFA student in theater with a concentration in interdisciplinary digital media performance at Arizona State University, spent the spring 2022 semester in New York working with the Metropolitan Opera as a cover puppeteer.
“I got offered the job, and ASU was flexible and nice enough to let me come up and do it,” Ignacio said. “I'm fortunate to even be gaining some internship credit.”
He’s working on the opera "Madama Butterfly." There are several Bunraku-style puppets in the show, so three puppeteers operate one puppet at a time. Ignacio said the show is a well-oiled machine, but that the pandemic often left the show short-handed.
“My position as a cover means I'm covering all three of the puppeteers and their understudies. That way there are two layers of protection in case one person has to call in,” he said. “My position is unique to the pandemic. Also, the fact that I'm able to be up here is unique because I'm able to do classes remotely. This is really a very strange and unique opportunity for me.”
Ignacio heard about the position through Facebook when a friend shared that the opera was holding auditions for puppeteers.
“I’ve actually gotten a lot of my jobs from Facebook and Instagram,” he said. “That's just the way theater works — it's about knowing people and staying in touch.”
Ignacio gained his experience in puppeteering and other production elements at La Mama experimental theater in downtown New York.
“I learned everything from how to hang lights and operate a soundboard, to managing the box office, to producing and performing on stage,” Ignacio said. “I'm very grateful to them for the work experience I gained there.”
Originally from San Antonio, Ignacio had lived in New York for 12 years — then the pandemic hit.
“I was in a basement apartment and realized I really wanted to be around my family, around sunshine,” he said.
After hearing about the interdisciplinary digital media performance program in the School of Music, Dance and Theatre, Ignacio decided to pursue an MFA at ASU.
“It was appealing to me because I was already learning a lot about tech and digital media when my position shifted from a box office associate manager to live streaming. Every theater had to migrate all of their content onto digital platforms,” Ignacio said.
“So I was already in that world, and I saw how people were innovating and creating things really quickly. I realized it was a really great time to enter this type of a program because if you didn't have tech language then you were going to get left behind.”
The biggest surprise to Ignacio? How much he has missed Arizona.
“I love the Phoenix area and the community at ASU,” he said. “I'm really missing life there – the nature and the pace. I think that the Southwest is where it's at.”
“Madama Butterfly” closes in May, and Ignacio will return to Arizona in the fall to finish his program. He said he’s excited to see how his time at ASU furthers his skills.
“I love puppetry, and I love that I'm able to do it in school, just in a different context by adding tech into the equation,” Ignacio said. “I'm walking between these two worlds: this ancient art form of shadow puppetry and digital media, seeing how they can work together.”
Ignacio said he’s grateful to be in the MFA program and working for the Met simultaneously.
“I still can't believe that I'm able to get credit for doing my dream job,” he said. “I wake up every day very grateful and humbled.”