Puppet master: MFA theater student lands semester-long gig at the Met

May 13, 2022

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.” Person holding a puppet. Chris Ignacio spent the spring 2022 semester working as a cover puppeteer for the Metropolitan Opera in "Madama Butterfly." Download Full Image

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.

View of a theater from a balcony.

Chris Ignacio spent the spring 2022 semester working as a cover puppeteer for The Metropolitan Opera in "Madama Butterfly."

“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.” 

Learn more about puppeteering at the Metropolitan Opera.

Lacy Chaffee

Media and communications coordinator, School of Music, Dance and Theatre


Egyptian online grad fulfills dream of master’s degree, makes trip to Arizona to celebrate with classmates

One of 190 graduating in spring ‘22 through support of Abdulla al Ghurair Foundation for Education

May 13, 2022

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2022 graduates.

Ahmed Radwan dreamed of earning a master’s degree at a reputable American university. But affording tuition posed a huge challenge, and the currency exchange rate did not favor him: One U.S. dollar was worth 18 times the value of the currency in his home country of Egypt. Ahmed Radwan, AGFE, scholar, Watts College, ASU, spring 2022 Ahmed Radwan. Photo courtesy Ahmed Radwan Download Full Image

“So here comes the dream maker, the Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education (AGFE). I learned about the foundation through social media,” Radwan said.

Radwan is one of 190 online master’s degree students who graduated from Arizona State University this week whose education was generously supported by the Dubai, United Arab Emirates-based AGFE. He is one of only seven of those grads who made the trip to Arizona to participate in ASU's spring 2022 commencement exercises in person.

Radwan’s Master of Science degree from the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions’ Interdisciplinary Programs is in program evaluation and data analytics.

“Being able to make it to the graduation ceremonies in person is something I was always looking forward to, because after all the hard work and effort I would love to get recognized for my achievement,” Radwan said. “It also allowed me to have the chance to tour the place that I have been studying at.”

Radwan, of Cairo, said he had to apply more than once before being accepted for a scholarship.

“I applied the first time for the spring 2019 cohort. I was shortlisted but I wasn't selected because of how competitive the (AGFE) program is,” he said. “But I didn't give up. I applied again for the fall 2020 cohort and I was shortlisted and then admitted into the program. Shortly after that, I received the acceptance letter from the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.”

Since the first students in the AGFE Open Learning Scholars Program (OLSP) began their studies in fall 2021, the AGFE has supported high-achieving, disadvantaged Arab youth in completing online master's degrees online at ASU. The program, which concludes when its current cohort is expected to graduate by fall 2024, offered scholarships in more than 39 different degree specializations, spanning the fields of engineering, technology, health care, education, tourism, sustainability, business analytics, biomimicry and more.

AGFE, founded in 2015, “is one of the largest privately funded philanthropic education initiatives in the Arab world, devoted to equipping Arab youth with the knowledge and skills they need to become future leaders of the region,” according to a description on its LinkedIn page.

Currently 550 Open Learning Scholars have AGFE scholarships supporting their online studies at ASU, with 375 active students in class as of spring 2022. In spring 2022, 190 graduated, while 137 earned their degrees in fall 2021.

Students assisted by the foundation are of 19 nationalities from 23 countries. As of May 2022, AGFE had assisted 67,608 Arab youth through relationships with more than 45 partners worldwide, including ASU. Its target is to reach 200,000 Arab youth by 2025.

Read on to learn more about Radwan’s ASU journey, which this week took him from Cairo to Phoenix to celebrate his achievement in person with his classmates.

Question: Tell us a little about yourself, where you grew up, and describe your educational attainment before you enrolled at ASU.

Answer: I am a husband and a father of one baby girl. I was born and raised in Cairo, Egypt. I received my bachelor's degree in supply chain management and logistics in 2017 from the Arab Academy for Science, Technology and Maritime Transport.

Q: Tell us about some of your expectations just before attending courses with Americans. What new things did you learn about life in the United States?

A: I have done some research about ASU before I started attending the courses, and I was happy that there is a huge, diverse community whether it is among students, staff or instructors. Attending courses with Americans was a great experience, as I never felt like an outsider. The inclusion and acceptance of other nationalities and cultures was always there. I have also learned a lot about life in the United States, such as how everything is run in the country, and also that most of the major decisions among governmental institutions are data-driven. One more thing I admire the most is that most of the non-confidential governmental institutions' data are public, which creates a sense of trust and transparency between the government and the people of the nation.

Q: What things do you believe Americans who were able to meet and get to know you learned about you and your culture?

A: My American classmates learned some information about me and my culture. From the nine hours’ time difference between Cairo and Arizona, to some of the Middle Eastern traditions and holidays. They learned more about the fasting month of Ramadan, our official holidays and the rich history that Egypt has.

Q: Talk about the most important things you learned from your degree program here at ASU.

A: I believe that working with data is the best thing anyone can do for their career. With all the technological revolution and digitalization that the world has been going through for the past decade, data science/analytics is one of the must-have skills for everyone to develop. In addition to acquiring a lot of knowledge, I was also able to maintain a 4.0 GPA, which for me was a great achievement after all the effort put into it.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: My plan after graduation is to pursue a career in data analytics/science. I believe that the knowledge I have acquired through my degree made me feel confident enough to apply for jobs in this field.

Q: If you met a student from your country considering coming to ASU, what advice would you give?

A: I would recommend ASU Online to all international students seeking a good quality education while still having the freedom to live anywhere in the world. The experience offers the combination of earning a degree that makes you actually learn something valuable with all the university’s support services, while having the flexibility of time and place. This is really a rare find.

Q: What impressed you about Arizona?

A: My time in Arizona was great. I got to see how the weather and the nature is close to how it is in Egypt. The temperature is almost the same and the desert land as well. I have also been to the ASU campus and stadium and I didn’t think (the campus) is that huge ... I have been also to the Grand Canyon and couple of other cities like Flagstaff and Sedona. My overall experience is that Arizona has some of the best scenery I have ever seen seen in my life. I would definitely come back to visit if I get the chance to.

Mark J. Scarp

Media Relations Officer, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions