Theatre student brings puppets to life in Halloween show

October 16, 2020

Elise Pannemann headshotElise Pannemann dreams of taking her passion for performing to Hollywood and, one day, acting in films. But for now, the third-year Theatre student is honing her skills at University of Detroit Mercy.

The COVID-19 pandemic altered Pannemann’s plans with the Detroit Mercy Theatre Company (DTMC), leaving her “craving the chance to perform again.” That led her to explore an unfamiliar form of theatre for a local seasonal show.

Pannemann is the puppeteer for “Haunted,” Open Book Theatre Company’s new Halloween-themed show which opened Oct. 9 and runs on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in October. She was recruited by Detroit Mercy Adjunct Professor Sarah Hawkins Rusk, who is also directing the show.

“I had never done puppeteering before and I thought that this would be a wonderful way to try out something new and feed my cravings to get back on the stage,” Pannemann said.

“Haunted” is an adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven” and Washington Irving’s “The Legend of the Sleepy Hollow.” There are two versions of the show — an earlier, family friendly version and a bloodier, scarier version, “Extra Haunted,” which features Brian Stoker’s “Dracula” in addition to the works of Poe and Irving.

Both are being shown as “window theatre” performances, which operate similarly to drive-in movies. Actors wear microphones and perform through the windows at Open Book Theatre’s Trenton location, while the audience watches from the parking lot.

Pannemann performs in the background behind a screen, wearing a mask, and works with over 30 puppets.

“I lay on my back on a little rolling scooter with my puppet in hand raised vertical to my chest, either stationary or riding across the sheet, the lights behind me projecting the shadow up onto the sheet,” Pannemann said. “If I want the shadow to be smaller, I move closer to the sheet. If I want to make the shadow bigger, I move further away from the sheet and closer to the light.”

But most important, she has to make sure not to project her own shadow.

Pannemann said she enjoys puppeteering, as it gives her a chance to perform for an audience.

“I have always been into many forms of entertainment since I was little -- singing, dancing, acting and comedy,” Pannemann said. “I loved to make my friends and family laugh growing up, and had performed in a handful of musicals from elementary school through high school. I feel very comfortable on the stage.”

After finishing high school, Pannemann made the decision to pursue a career in performance arts and joined Detroit Mercy Theatre Company. Over the past several years, she’s performed in various programs with DMTC and even attended a major regional theatre festival.

For Pannemann, the most enjoyable aspect of performing is “the ability to let go.”

“When you are up on the stage, you are no longer yourself, you’re someone else,” she said. “This gives you the freedom to diverge wildly from who you are every day, and it is so much fun.”

Pannemann knows her time at Detroit Mercy will be important to making her acting dreams come true.

“Detroit Mercy is teaching me how to act to an entire room,” she said. “If you can convince an entire room that you are feeling the emotions you are trying to convey, then you can transition to film.”

Learn more about Detroit Mercy's Theatre program.

For more information on Open Book Theatre’s presentation of “Haunted,” visit

— By Ricky Lindsay. Follow Detroit Mercy on FacebookTwitter and Instagram. Have a story idea? Let us know by submitting your idea.