Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Puppy Play

To follow the doggy themed photo from July, we have welcomed a little rescue dog to our team. He has enjoyed the summer holidays settling in and begins modelling for new dog puppets on Thursday. If I can manage to recreate his fluffy ears, I'll be onto a winner I'm sure. We are training him using a dog listening system which suits our work ethos perfectly. Learning happens through play at a level that he innately recognises. We are taking the cues from him in the same way we do with the children we work with. We ignore the behaviour that doesn't work in this environment and congratulate the good stuff. As with children, we believe it is impossible to say - "well done" too often. With the new term approaching fast, we are all excited to share new workshops and puppets with our customers. In the meantime, Alfie needs a little snooze after such perfect photo posing.

Friday, 29 July 2016

Things to try, that put you in a good place within yourself.

When we try and make changes to feel happy, we often read pieces of wisdom that resonate and make us want to live in a new way. For example, to be kind and authentic is a lovely way to live life and if it was a switch we could turn on in each person, the world may be a very different place to live in now. How can a person become kind and authentic all the time? We can carry the intention around with us, but when something goes wrong, or an internal button is pressed from a past blockage, we revert back to the behaviour that we don’t feel so proud of, or that harms us. 

I think most people are lovely, but if you fancy trying something, this is what I'm doing. When you start the day, decide how it will go – don’t control it, just decide you will be kind and true to you, no matter what happens in the outside world. Get up with this frame of mind and then dress kindly to yourself. Smile in the mirror and tell yourself you are worthy of a good day. Imagine in your mind’s eye a kind and authentic day – what would that look like? Then walk around kind and authentic. 

If something or someone comes along that challenge these two feelings, take a deep breath and see the humour in the situation – here you are being kind and authentic and this person/situation has arisen to challenge you. Take the challenge to deal with it through being kind and authentic. If you feel the kindness takes away your authenticity, remember that who you truly are is kind and a part of you that isn’t kind is a habit or response to an earlier hurt. You can be kind and strong. Trying to make your point without hurting anyone is no problem if you consider their feelings during an exchange. 

Be fair and kind and  then you will feel authentic. It really is that simple. Don’t see it as hard work. It is like coming home to a part of you that is your friend and has your best interests at heart. You can still be cheeky and have fun, but not at another person’s expense. You will discover a whole side of yourself that is curious about the world around you and that is non-judgemental and can see the good in most situations. It will feel like coming home. 

As play is always at the heart of this blog - play with it and don't take yourself  too seriously. Try being kind with a twinkle in your eye and a light step. It has definitely worked for me today. How strange that people respond with kindness too  - I think I'm on to something!

Monday, 27 June 2016

Magical Moments.

At all ages we use play to learn about ourselves. I first wrote about this fundamental aspect of my work when I was training to be a teacher, twenty five years ago. I am still passionate about it now and that is why I run The Hands-On Company, where we play through interactive puppetry and drama. Our small team of teachers and puppeteer/actors run workshops for all ages, and between us we focus on social education topics and storytelling. 

On the road we work in a wide range of establishments, from nursery schools all the way up to care homes for the elderly and each session is led by the participants within a planned framework. It is an inclusive, exciting and thought-provoking way of working where we are often surprised and deeply moved by the personal stories we encounter.

Part of the reason why I love puppetry, is because of the magical moments I have experienced through its application. I use puppetry as a safe way for others to express and explore feelings, where the puppet becomes a coat hanger for any issues or situations. It is a playful space where we can reflect on the world around us and our place in it.

I remember a session I ran with a group of parents who needed ideas on how to improve their play with their children. We were surrounded by social workers, but even within this slightly uptight structure, we were able to enjoy 
light-hearted fun the minute the puppets were unpacked. One boy within this group was labelled a selective mute. Imagine the shock of all gathered when he began to converse through the puppet he had created with his mum. It was a truly touching moment to hear his puppet voice explain exactly what his puppet likes to do. Three years later, a member of another family group got in touch and told me they were still using their family puppet to discuss personal changes and issues.

Another recollection is of a workshop about friendship issues, where each child had a puppet to create different types of friends. A nine-year-old girl called her dog puppet Meatballs. She decided he looked like a meatball and that this was his favourite food. We had great fun building up his character and deciding that he was a true friend as he was caring, but needed lots of meatballs to keep his energy up. Within the evaluation feedback for this session, the leader subsequently told me that this girl's parents had been thrilled that she had asked for meatballs for dinner that evening and excitedly had described the session. Her younger brother was very ill with leukemia and she had not been eating properly because she felt so out of control of the situation. Naming and playing with the puppet seemed to be a turning point for her. I still have that dog puppet and, to this day, his name is Meatballs.

In another session I encountered a thirteen-year-old boy who was brave enough to share a bullying incident through the voice of a large monster puppet. Elsewhere in my work, through dramatic scenarios, numerous teenagers have understood that considering these three statements: where you are, who you are with and how you feel, can make a big difference in making informed choices around sex and drug usage. Moments like these happen whenever we interact with people - from a senior manager becoming overly attached to a hairy puppet, simply because of shared conflict management scenarios, to an elderly gentleman living with dementia suddenly waltzing with a human-sized puppet and a flustered puppeteer trying to keep up!

Something special happens with play. Put a puppet in the mix and watch the sparks fly. There is no pressure to be someone other than the part of yourself that enjoys being expressed in this way. Give puppetry a go for your own magical moments.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Monster Power

Monsters are great for expressing feelings and exploring behaviour because they look a little like us, but are far enough removed to feel safe and fun. We can project our feelings and thoughts onto a puppet such as this, but imagine we are playing and this keeps us lighthearted. 

The more I work with children and young people, the more I see evidence that exploring feelings and behaviours in a lighthearted manner is where the biggest growth and understanding happens. It is as if we learn about ourselves in spite of our ego and desire to control our thoughts. Our inner self is allowed to come forward through the medium of puppetry and this creates an honest, deep rooted response to situations and occurrences that may worry us and bring up fear. Keeping the energy light and playful, allows us to think outside the box and come up with solutions that will work for the individuals in the room. The fact that solutions may be different for each of us, is made safe by putting them onto the monster puppet and keeping a third party indifference. Of course we can then take the information on board in a more personal way when we leave the session and have some alone time. 

For younger children, we can end the workshop by having a quiet 'sleep' with our puppets where we whisper in our puppet's ear what we found helpful today and our puppet can whisper back what it thinks will help us moving forward. This quiet, personal time with a puppet is where the reflection and transference can happen in a safe and non judgement way.

Here at The Hands-On Company, we are now making large monsters similar to the one above. We create a pack of smaller monsters that come in multiples of six, alongside one large monster for the teacher or facilitator to use. Teacher notes are being written at the moment to accompany these packs. More details will be available soon.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Have Fun and Play

Why is play so important?
Sometimes I think we take ourselves too seriously and lose sight of what life is about. When we are ill, or stressed and unhappy, the weight of these emotions can make us feel wretched.  There have been countless projects looking at happiness and how we find it, but what if the truth is that it isn’t outside our own bodies and minds? Looking elsewhere is just short lived and dissatisfying without first going inside ourselves to find the solution.

Being Present
Through play, we can shift our perspective to the present moment. Try this - think about your surroundings, what you can see and hear. Imagine the feeling of your clothes on your body. Try and ignore any physical or mental pain by pushing it to the background as much as possible. Breathe deep, imagining you are breathing in good healthy air and expelling any negatively when you breathe out. Do this deeply three times. Expect this to make you feel good – it doesn’t have to be a miracle cure, but enough to feel better than before.

Try This...
Now think about what you like to do that is playful. What games do you like to play? What activities make you smile? Sit back and imagine you are doing the activity in your mind’s eye. See yourself having an amazing bike ride, or football game, or knitting a beautiful jumper – whatever the thing is, imagine it and let the feeling flow over you. Imagine you are doing your activity with someone special – a film star you admire, a pop star, an author or a sport’s person, your best friend or family member. It doesn’t matter how many people you imagine, just enjoy the pleasure of the game. Let the scenario play out. What do they say and do? What is fun and goes well? What is the outcome?

Breathe deep and enjoy the thoughts you allow in your head. Let them flow for no reason other than enjoying the imagination you have. Allow yourself these fantasies whenever you have a quiet moment. At the end of your time, let the pictures drift away and thank your mind for creating them. Be clear that this is a form of playing and is not real – it is just for fun.

Adult and Child Play
Feeling better on the inside can help us when we share play with others. If you have children in your family, ideally have a play session with them. Borrowing them from friends can also be an option (with permission!). Don’t control the play. Let the child be the leader and you are their play slave. Listen carefully to their direction and follow it. Before you can analysis what is happening, you will tap into your innate knowledge of how to play and will start enjoying yourself. If you try to control the play, your adult part will take over and the authentic part of play will not work. Also try not to become childish - just be childlike (if you allow yourself to be childish, you’ll feel out of sorts and it won’t be much fun). Go with the child and you will be amazed how it feels. Remember this feeling when you next want to play without children.

Sport and Hobby Play
Play without a child is about the balance between what goes on in your head (your imagination) and what you physically do. Team sport is a good way of exploring this as you can use both parts to physically experience the play with other people, which then will trigger your internal play. If you don’t like team sport, allow your play to be day-dreamy, refreshing and challenging (if it’s a quiet personal play such as putting a jigsaw together, or crafts, or a solo sport like cycling or swimming may be). If your play is losing yourself in a book or film, once again allow your imagination to take the concept further. What are the characters doing in 10 years’ time? Who would you be in the story? Share the theme with someone else and discuss what you did and didn’t like. Book clubs exist for this type of play. If possible, try and find other people who also like your form of play and do it with them, or talk about it with them. Allow your heart to be light and enjoy the exchanges. Delight in the feeling of doing something that makes you feel curious and interested in what is happening around you. Engage in your play in as many ways as you can and you will have respite for the difficulties in life and the pains in our bodies and minds.

Enjoy Your Play Time!
Thinking about play in this way, is at the heart of what we do at The Hands-On Company. Sometime just by giving us all permission to dream and engage in play, can be healing and enjoyable for all ages.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

What happens when you work with a new puppet?

It has been a week where I have thought a lot about the process of manipulating a puppet. Trying to take photographs of puppets looking for new homes, made me realise that the personality of each puppet is tricky to capture in a photograph aimed at attracting a new puppeteer. I wanted to hold each puppet in a way that expressed the essence of its character. I hoped it would make the right new owner feel touched in some way and then compelled to take the new friend home.

Of course, what I didn't think about is that the special relationship between the puppet and puppeteer is personal and unique to that union. I once saw a famous puppet being manipulated by someone other than his creator. You could see the new puppeteer's skill and knowledge of the character, but something special was missing. He hadn't made and developed the character himself, or didn't properly relate to him and it looked like a poor look-alike agency act. I think that same magic was missing from my photos. I was trying to push my interpretation onto something that would be better as a blank canvass, new and ready for someone else to pick up and create between the two of them - puppet and puppeteer.

When I introduce my puppets during a workshop, I make it clear that certain puppets are just for me to handle. These are defined character puppets and it would ruin the whole feel of the work if their magic was broken by another's hand. However, the puppets that are given out are totally up to each puppeteer to discover. We spend time looking into the puppet's faces, time moving our hands to find the best form of manipulation, time to ask our puppet what it likes to eat, what makes a good friend and what it likes about us? I see the relationship build quickly as the puppet becomes a friend and someone to express parts of the puppeteer that relate to the subject at hand. I love that moment when the puppet is cheeky, or naughty, or sensitive and funny as I see a part of the puppeteer expressed in such a safe way.

I am about to retake the photos for our website with more neutral puppet poses. I hope that a future puppeteer will see the potential and start the magical process of creating a bond as soon as the puppet arrives on their doorstep.

Friday, 26 February 2016

Mediating monsters

We are feeling excited about a slightly new way of using our monster puppets. Just a small movement of your hand, makes these little chaps pull the best faces and children are responding to the range of expressions with amusement and interest. We have found that having a conversation between two monsters, with an adult mediator holding the questioning together, creates the perfect, safe environment to tackle conflict and anxieties. A solution, or action can be found for the monster that may be helpful for the participants too. In fact, we have tried this with a class of 30 students, each with their own monster and the results were fascinating. We are making more monsters to try another session with the inclusion of a large monster to oversee the session. Now that will be fun.