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Saint Mary’s alumna seeks career in puppetry

| Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Though a Saint Mary’s education stresses the importance of never leaving anyone hanging, 2017 alumna Gnoli Raynor hopes to pull some strings in her dream profession of puppetry.

Her parents began their careers as traveling puppeteers before she was born, she said in an email.

“I spent my entire childhood immersed in the art of puppetry,” Raynor said. “I began helping my mom build puppets when I was 15 and started performing a solo tour when I was 18.”

Raynor said she is currently pursuing her passion by studying at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA), where she will earn a Master of Fine Arts in wig and makeup design with a concentration in puppetry and prosthetics. Though the trade has been prominent in her life for years now, Raynor said she was not certain she wanted to follow in her parents’ footsteps until her comprehensive Saint Mary’s theatre classes helped her discover her love for hair and makeup.

“The theatre program at [Saint Mary’s] promotes a liberal arts education — even in theatre — meaning as an undergrad, I had to try every different aspect of theatre,” Raynor said. “I think that really helped me find what part of theatre I was most passionate about.”

Raynor said her first semester at UNCSA has focused on wig preparation, styling and the construction of prosthetics.

“I am fully immersed in arts and theatre in this program, and it continues to blow my mind every day,” she said.

The conservatory education Raynor is receiving at UNCSA entails eight to 12 hours of class a day and instruction from professors who are either active in the professional theatre realm or have more than 10 years of experience in the field.

“One of my wig professors served in the wig department for ‘Saturday Night Live,’ eventually winning an Emmy for it before coming back to teach,” Raynor said. “My drawing professor was the assistant costume designer on the original production of ‘Wicked’ on Broadway and was the head of costuming for the West End production of ‘Wicked.’”

Raynor said she aspires to reach the level of success some of her professors have achieved.

“Eventually, I would like to design wigs or makeup or prosthetics or puppets for professional theatre or film and television,” Raynor said. “There are a lot more puppets in the film industry than anyone realizes because they are often utilized for special effects. For example, puppets were used to create the effect of the witches flying in the movie ‘Hocus Pocus.’”

Her passion for makeup, puppets and wigs stems from more than a familial connection. Raynor’s self-proclaimed obsession with the human condition inspired her to pursue her graduate school education.

“I think that the way we present ourselves to other people … shows so much of who we are as people,” Raynor said. “The work that I do allows me to convey who a character is through creating [his or her] visual appearance. I get to make that character come to life visually and express the human condition to audiences every night of the week. It’s truly the most amazing job I could have.”

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