puppet academia

puppet academia: the department of being told your problem

It’s quite obvious ME is in hell. Anything to make a literary audience think man, that’s so 9th level. ME must have dug themselves all the way down. They are baffled as to why the door reads Department of Being Told Your Problem until she looks up and sees DEMON. DEMON huffs loudly over a tiny desk, though he comes up no higher than ME’s waist. The Demon still manages to look down on ME as ME approaches.

DEMON: What the hell do you want?

ME: I thought this was the Department of Complaints.

DEMON: Were you given the keys to the actual Department of Complaint?

ME: It said it was an EMPLOYEE DOOR

FLASHBACK if necessary. EMPLOYEE DOOR PUPPET was really quite rude about it. DEMON stares, not sure what, exactly, the student is getting at. He sighs and pulls down an organizational University Chart. It’s done in various methods of puppetry. There’s a clear stone wall between those to who the policies apply and those who have the power to say oh, just fuck off already. Some do, in fact.

ME: But you’re a public institution! Your funding as a research institution should matter it matters!

DEMON snaps gum he clearly doesn’t have.

DEMON: Did any of those regulatory services you tried even care what we did?

ME: The Provost told them my problem was I didn’t like the way class was taught.

DEMON: Wasn’t it? At least the Ombudspeople have just left you in an emotional hell while you wait.

FLASHBACK IF NEEDED. LEVEL SEVEN IS FUCKING HELL. ME BARELY ESCAPES ITS GRASP.

DEMON:The PROVOST said you just didn’t like how the class was taught. That is your complaint because we tell you it is.

ME: But I never said that!

DEMON SIGHS LIKE HE HAD NEVER, EVER, EVER BEEN SO PUT OUT.

Demon: FINE. Let me see your paperwork.

ME GIVES IT OVER. DEMON PEERS AT IT. AS SOON AS DEMON REALIZES THE DOCUMENTATION SHOWS ME IS TELLING THE TRUTH, DEMON BECOMES FURIOUS AT IT.

ME: Respondents cannot dismiss complaints about themselves.

DEMON: THEY ABSOLUTELY CAN!

ME: Says who?

DEMON: The RESPONDENT!

ME: So the provost gets to decide what a student’s complaint is regardless of what their complaint is?

DEMON LEANS BACK.

DEMON: So you DO get it! You just play ignorant.

ME IS SHAKING AT THIS POINT.

ME: That’s not this works.

DEMON HANDS ME A DIAMOND SHOVEL COVERED IN SHIT.

DEMON: You can keep digging, but not a single SHITSTAIN in this institution cares to know the truth. The sooner you learn powerful men can just tell you what your problem is the better.

ME: For whom?

DEMON DOESNT FEEL THE NEED TO SAY IT.

End SCENE

puppet academia — the policy slaughter scene

To honour UBC Lawyers loving to triple down on their inability to ever consider they might possibly be wrong about something as serious as which UBC policies the UBC actually has to care about, I’m bringing back my favourite of the puppet academia series.

PROGOAT waits in their PJs and slippers STAGE LEFT. Behind them, a door is marked “SC Kennel”. The policies are singing as close to the Smurf theme song as we’re legally allowed to from behind its closed doors. There are oversized flowers and rainbows decorating it. If you look, they all have a stamp indicating the date they’ve been approved to be displayed. A giant sign, also stamped, warns to “BE EXTRA NICE IN THE CONDUCT POLICY KENNEL” The clock over their head says it’s late o’clock. Even with the time, the PROGOAT looks very uncomfortable to be standing where they are.

On the other side of the wall separating the two stages, CREW are dancing around STAGE RIGHT with puppet policy hand puppets in bird cages. Each “cage” has three adorable policy hand puppets (one on a fake hand) to make 18 policies. In the center of the room, the Respectful Environment Statement is clearly “conducting” the song.

Lawyer rushes in, looking like they’ve had a three-day bender. Pieces of yellow legal paper and dot matrix tractor feeder are stuck to their rumpled suit. One foot has a shoe but a shredded lower pant leg and no sock. The other foot is bare.

PROGOAT: Did we have to meet here?

LAWYER says nothing. They hand over oversized plastic gloves and ear plugs and puts theirs on. PROGOAT holds theirs awkwardly.

PROGOAT: (raises voice) What are these for?

LAWYER: (loudly) I solved our little policy problem!

LAWYER pushes the door open. The music grows louder, but this isn’t the reason for the ear plugs. PROGOAT is struck for a second by how adorable all the policies are while they’re singing and dancing.

Enough light is reflected as the actors dance in circles to semi-reveal a large cage with velvet ropes keeping it roped off from the dancing. It’s draped in black and is meant to almost disappear into the darkness. The PROGOAT hasn’t seen it yet. The LAWYER isn’t looking at it. There is very little chance anyone has filled out the variance required to store whatever it is in the SC Kennel, forget filing it and then waiting for the non-emergency approval to come through and get signed off on.

Or at least, it is not stamped as all the other cages are.

Lawyer throws open the trap door. The stage glows red as lightning flashes from what is reflected from below. Blacklight messages over the sterile background flash warnings to abandon hope and all policies float down here.

As the lid rises, distant screams mix with the policies’ song for a moment. A curl of deep laughter comes from the pit, but much closer than the other sinister sounds that come from the bottom of it. If we can swing it, the smell of struck matches is pumped in.

LAWYER: Scholarly Integrity Policy.

PROGOAT: What?

LAWYER: (sighing at having to spell it out) Open SC 4-6, Grab the Scholarly Integrity Policy, strip its hand away, and throw it into the “these policies can’t matter if we want to just decide we’re right” pit.

The PROGOAT is horrified. They didn’t sign up for any of this. The LAWYER grabs the back of their pyjama shirt and drags them over the pit, facing it.

LAWYER: DO YOU WANT TO ADMIT THE STUDENT WAS JUST EXERCISING THEIR ACADEMIC FREEDOM?

Even the sounds from hell silence at the crack of thunder that follows the LAWYER’s words. The policies stop singing. The PROGOAT stares down at the pit as the ABYSS PUPPET pulls itself up from the pit and stares back. Two marionettes dressed as knights duel it out in the background. They are marked Morals vs. Ambition. Ambition is winning.

The silence grows.

Eventually, the ABYSS nods and retreats below, taking with it the red glow and the sounds. It is just a trap door.

PROGOAT: …I’ll do it.

The Lawyer lets them go and takes the time to straighten the PJs.

LAWYER: (voice firm) Scholarly Integrity Policy.

PROGOAT: But we need that to do the science stuff!

LAWYER: (unaffected) And the Director should have been honest when they explained what the student’s concern was. “I couldn’t explain our pedagogical approach” is a different conversation than “the student just didn’t agree with my harmful lack of pedagogy I’m calling a pedagogy.” LAWYER (or at least someone) pauses for dramatic effect. Scholarly Integrity Policy.

The PROGOAT’s shoulders slump as they open the first cage, reach in and pull out the first violated policy. Naturally, it tries to fight back. But just being a concept, it has no actual teeth or claws and depends on the person protecting it for its right to exist.

As it is slowly, screamingly, stripped from the hand, it reveals the red jello it had been stuffed full of. The naked, “bloody” hand flays around in the cage, puppetless as the PROGOAT drags the puppet itself to the edge of the pit and throws it in. The horrified silence of the policies around them break as the last of its poor screams echoes through the audience.

The PROGOAT looks at their hands. Some of the jelly has stained their skin.

Lights dim.

Narrator: Two hours later —

Lights up as the sound of a “final scream” in its last echo shakes the theatre. Its silence settles. PROGOAT stands there, covered in policy gore. Six bloody hands hang limply as the policies that survive cling to the other survivors and whimper.

PROGOAT: Is that it?

LAWYER: In the SC kennel.

PROGOAT: but this is all conduct bullshit. What else has to die so I can get my way?

LAWYER: Well…

SPOTLIGHT ON: the last cage. CREW whips off the covering and it’s PUPPET ACADEMIC FREEDOM. Blue ribbons cover its cage. PROGOAT rushes to it to “pet” it. It’s now their hand puppet.

PROGOAT: NOT GEORGY! Anything but Georgy!

GEORGY cooes and giggles in their protector’s hands. The rest of the surviving SC policies can only whimper and console each other in their cages with the bloody hands still hanging loosely. They’d once been the following policies:

  • Conflict of Interest Policy
  • Scholarly Integrity Policy
  • Discrimination Policy
  • Investigations Policy
  • Retaliation Policy 
  • and the Respectful Environment Statement 

The LAWYER clears their throat, threateningly.

Fade to black.

Spotlight on: STAGE LEFT. Puppet Progoat wakes in bed, screaming and drenched in sweat from the nightmare. When they pull out their human-looking hand from under the covers, it is covered in ultra-realistic gore. This time, they don’t stop screaming even as the darkness fades in and the audience goes on an intermission break.

how the ubc discussion should have happened: Puppet Theatre returns

ACT ONE:

(CW: PUPPET gore, obvs)

UBC: Hey, Any Competent Trainer, can we violate policies?
ACT: What? Like for real?
UBC: Yeah for real. Can we?
ACT: No.
UBC: Why not?
ACT: Because it’s against policy to violate policies.
UBC: Yeah, but if we did it anyway?
ACT: There is no anyway. There is no violating policies. Violating polices is improper conduct, and UBC Persons cannot commit improper conduct.
UBC: But —
ACT: Do you understand you cannot commit improper conduct, sir?
UBC: I sure do!
(UBC exits stage left. A lightning bolt flashes, foreshadowing the only window on set. ACT watches him go, but they are not convinced. They reach for the PUPPET POLICY ON POLICY Binder. It’s very fluffy.)

ACT TWO

UBC: Hey! You were totally wrong, ACT! I asked this lawyer guy–
ACT: –You can’t ask an institutional lawyer how do you violate institutional policies!
UBC: — Well I did! And the lawyer said —
ACT: — An institutional lawyer can’t advise a UBC Person how to violate institutional policies!
UBC: He said we could totally violate policies if we want. They’re not *legally protected!*
(ACT grabs a notebook called: So you did an institutional error and hits the Puppet Union Rep Button that CREW brings out for them. The large red button does not want to take this call.)
UBC: (Still thinking they can get ahead of this.) Wait! We just don’t want to hear this student’s criticism of their program —

(A non-copyrightable Academic Freedom flying mammal signal starts flashing across the theatre.)

ACT: You’re attacking a student’s academic freedom?!?!
UBC: Yes?
(ACT bite their tongue to not ask any more questions until a union rep is found, but they can’t pretend they didn’t hear that. UBC walks backwards until they exit stage left.)

ACT THREE:

Error reports overflow ACT’s desk. As the lights dim, a silent CREW brings another box of error reports and dumps them over their head. ACT has their arms over their head, silently sobbing until the stage is dark.

A PUPPET RAVEN flies across the stage and taps on the unlit window, stage left. Another flash of lighting shows the RAVEN and the skinned corpse of Puppet UBC dangling from its beak. It coughs once and crows in victory.

puppet academia: the final scene

PROGOAT aims the NUCLEAR SPACE LASER PUPPET(NSLP) carefully at nothing in particular. It’s clearly a mop and a metre stick with masking tape holding it together. The contraption is wearing an old, cheap overcoat that has NUCLEAR SPACE LASER written quickly on the back. The look is: thrown together in the last second, as is most of the set decoration at this point. It’s the idea of an underground layer that had once been a perfectly nice office erected centre stage.

PROGOAT has diverted so much the <YET TO BE UNNAMED> university’s funds to their Unethical Research Department (URD) that breaking policies has allowed him to set up that it had been a rush job. The URD is set up on the left side of the stage. The handmade sign hung on a pole from some Christmas production. Under the sign, the prop and the puppet department have set up, ready for the next prop or puppet they need to make in a hurry. The Director waits with a row of CREW, warming up, on deck. They need to be ready to be anything the scene calls for them, too. There’s a nervous excitement in the air. The entire production is now an exciting challenge to old hats good at their job.

Throughout the third act, the PROGOAT has one simple goal — control the world’s thoughts by controlling what could be discussed in any group two or larger. If his URD says the space laser, shot from his office will do what they say it will do, he has absolute faith. The audience should not be shown anything if the author intends to break the rule.

The tennis ball on a stick held by TENNIS BALL BALLPERSON (TBBP). TBBP replaced MEAT LAWYER three scenes ago. The real MEAT lawyer booked it as soon as the PROGOAT’s requests went from ‘yeah, maybe I just don’t know I can’t help you but I should have known I couldn’t’ to ‘you’re seriously trying to take over the world, aren’t you?’So now, TBBP leans into the world map displayed while a CREW who is covered in ping pongs that pass as Motion Capture crouches beside them. MC CREW is acting part pet monkey, part dragon.

PROGOAT has convinced himself that the MC CREW actually exists and that making them into their true form is something that can be fixed in post during a live audience. Nothing has to make sense for PROGOAT to believe it anymore. The PUPPETEER has been lost to his power-hungry drive from their overdose of method-acting pills at the end of ACT TWO. When none of the PROGOAT’s motives had made sense to the poor PUPPETEER, they’d gone full ludo-narrative and created some really dark magic sequences where they’d traded their human hands for the method-acting pills.

Ever since the PROGOAT had realized they weren’t actually in control at end of the “puppets request a meeting” scene, they’ve gone off script. And then the PUPPETEER drove the PROGOAT character’s motivations off a SPACE LASER cliff in ACT THREE Scene 1. The stage clock adds seven hours to theatre time.

PROGOAT: (To self, and perhaps…the world) Soon, all your thoughts will be mine. (He pushes the spray-painted button on the side of the NSLP with a flourish.)

Nothing happens. PROGOAT pushes the button again.

Nothing. Again.

PROGOAT picks NSLP up and shakes it. He takes off NSLP’s overcoat and displays NO MOVING PARTS spraypainted on the interior of the coat. The paint is both still wet and smudgeless, the prop department is that good.

PROGOAT throws NSLP away from him in disgust, but in slow motion, just in case URD needs to use it again. Masking tape isn’t very strong.

PROGOAT: It’s not working!

TBBP points ball on stick very close to PROGOAT’s face. MC CREW leans in, rubbing the chin of a face much larger than theirs.

TBBP: What’s not working?

PROGOAT: My MacGuffin! It was supposed to give me total world power!

TBBP coughs, trying to muffle the sound in their sleeve. They apologize — as the CREW — and then jump up and down to get back into character. This CREW has been roped into playing the eyeline of the creature the PROVOST was seeing.

A boom mike drops down on the PROGOAT’s head, just to give them a moment of lucidity. A timer “floats” above their head, counting down the lucid seconds.

PROGOAT: (sees TBBP as CREW for the first time.) What are you doing here? You should be Pied Pipering the staff into doing what I told them!

TBBP: (letting shoulders slump.) That scene was seven hours ago.

Timer expires.

PROGOAT: I was protecting one of our own!

DIRECTOR indicates TBBP should ‘yes, and’ but TBBP’s feet hurt. They throw the tennis ball stick to the side.

TBBP: Were you though? A supportive environment is the opposite of hiding mistakes. People make mistakes. Scholarly misconduct covers them up.

PROGOAT: (Is not getting suckered into the morals of their actions. The method-acting pills lasted twelve hours, and the PUPPETEER had taken seven of them. The PROGOAT would never explain.) My Unethical Research Department made me a NUCLEAR SPACE LASER that would take over people’s thoughts! They promised me!

TBBP: But could they do it in four minutes?

PROGOAT: I HAVE A VERY GOOD URD!

TBBP and MC CREW suck on their teeth again. MC CREW straightens — their back is killing them too and they’re glad TBBP had spoken up.

MC CREW: Look, I know this is a very elaborate metaphor for how far some people will go before they can see that they’re wrong, but the audience has to go home, man. Do you know how long it takes for a smart person to realize they’ve made a mistake?

The Director waves wildly to TBBP, indicating them to ‘yes, and’ too.

MC CREW and TBBP stare off into the audience, the horror at the thought frozen on their features. This is truly the song that will never, ever, end.

FADE OUT.

puppet academia: the puppets request a meeting

The puppets of various senior administrative ranking sit in one long row of chairs. Their marionette strings are attached to a complicated pully system, all controlled by Sckfjehrewr. When they speak, they’re in unison.

PUPPETS: We think it’s rude you call us puppets.

ME picks up a PUPPET SPADE. It shrugs, not knowing what they’d preferred to be called, either. It sees the audience behind it, becomes dumbstruck and tries to pretend its just a spade. It falls over, stiff as a board.

PUPPET SPADE: THUNK!

PUPPET SPADE rolls off stage, surreptitiously.

ME: Who told Scfkdshfdsf he could do what he did?

PUPPETS: He was the Provost.

ME: Yeah. But who told him the Provost could override the policies?

PUPPETS: The Lawyers!

CUT TO: LAWYER PUPPET reading from ancient, legal tome larger than they are. The PROGOAT waits at the foot of the ladder they climbed to get up to the book.

LAWYER PUPPET: So…breaking policy isn’t technically against the law.

PUPPET PROGOAT punches the air. That’s all he needed to hear.

As they leave, the door they close is marked “Forbidden legal advice.” Two crew members pass by them, invisible.

CREW #1: That’s not plain language. It should say “bad legal advice.”

CREW #2: Who cares. Everyone knows what we mean.

CREW #1 nods as though this is obvious. The policy police/the Constable puppet manifests and sets across the stage after them.

ME: But for the bad question, the lawyers couldn’t have been bad at their job. The Progoat decided he was going to come to a conclusion and then found ways of supporting it. In science, we call that “being bad at science.”

PUPPETS: Oooooooooh.

PROGOAT: I didn’t tell you to say that!

The PUPPETS look around and realize they’ve been tied to this contraption the entire show. They are collectively, but individually, horrified.

NARRATOR: Do you find yourself doing and saying things you’d never do if you’d understood the full context? Does a student keep insisting you do your job correctly? Ask your doctor if FOLLOWING INSTITUTIONAL POLICY is right for you.

the phone call — puppet lawyer edition

LAWYER and PROGOAT are on one side of the stage. OTHER PUPPET LAWYER is on the other. PROGOAT and OPL are sitting. LAWYER is sitting on PROGOAT’s desk.

OPL: Hey, I have a complaint about you guys. These students, man. When are they going to realize that the entire appeals process is meant to make sure that there is absolutely no validity to their complaint?

LAWYER gets a worried look across their face. PROGOAT doesn’t notice.

PROGOAT: Totally. Everyone agreed with my assessment of the situation. The student has absolutely no case.

LAWYER: (rushed) They had interpersonal conflict with every single one of their instructors!

OPL: Of course they did. And now they’re accusing a lawyer of a respected institution of failing to fulfill their duties in the Investigations Policy appeals process that Scsfkhfksdjhfeskf obviously didn’t attempt to hinder or influence in any way. The absolute gall.

CREW dangles a THOUGHT FLY puppet over the PROGOAT’s face. The PROGOAT bats it away.

LAWYER: (thinking hard) …if you put it that way…

OPL: (continuing) …if students understood the severe consequences of ignoring institutional policies, they’d know that no institutional officer would ever think about just caring about the improper conduct definitions that also break the law.

The crew’s thought fly prop is swapped out for a nerf-like clue bat. They smack it against the PROGOAT’s skull.

LAWYER and PROGOAT: (exchanging worried glance…) Yeah…

OPL: And this student is stating that UBC as a whole doesn’t understand that institutional policies aren’t optional. Imagine!

LAWYER and PROGOAT: (weakly) Imagine.

OPL: Anyway, glad we could touch base. I’ll tell them to fuck off as politely as I have to. Keep up the good work!

NARRATOR: Spoiler alert, it was hardly polite at all.

Puppet Lawyer: the Puppet Lawyer edition

Puppet Lawyer looks like they’ve had a long night. Other Puppet Lawyer is sitting on the stand, holding their puppet law degree on their lap. It obviously needs to urinate. They’ve been at this quite a while and Puppet Lawyer still doesn’t know how to phrase the question.

Puppet Judge: Puppet Lawyer, you must ask your first question.

Puppet Lawyer: (Makes the clear decision to just go for it.) Did you…put your name on a letter stating that it is your professional opinion that the respondent is telling the truth because he said he was?

Puppet Law Degree finally gets free and makes a break for it, over the stage and through the audience.

Other Puppet Lawyer: Well, he also said there was interpersonal conflicts between the student and all of their instructors!

Puppet Lawyer: And you believed it — because, again — the lawyer told you there was?

Other Puppet Lawyer: Exactly!