Friday, 3 March 2017

Do soft toys become the kind voice in our heads as adults?

The monsters are particularly fluffy right now and I think it's because February has been cold and we are ready for spring. The need to snuggle has been great and I find that when the faux fur is this soft and thick, working the puppet can bring some new emotions with it.

I've noticed that both adults and children use softer voices and kinder words with these beasties. It reminds me of seeing small children using their special soft toy to comfort them when they need reassurance. Have you heard a small child make their teddy bear say something kind and sweet in a singsong voice? I think about myself now I am an adult and how I sometimes call myself Jojo with my inner voice when I'm about to do something scary; - "Come on Jojo, you can do it!" I've even said daft things to myself like: "Its okay, we're in it together!" As if I have a friend with me somewhere inside. I wonder if we internalise the support we feel from soft toys as youngsters with a gentle, kind voice that comes from within? I guess it is the opposite to the harsher, parental voice that sometimes tells us we are rubbish, or stupid, or other unkind words that we may have heard from others when we were children (I see this played out with puppets too). I wonder if everyone has the kind and unkind voices in their head and their dominance is due to the type of upbringing they had? I think I need to look into this in more depth.

One way I feel very lucky, is if I have to give a talk to a large audience, or I'm feeling nervous about a workshop for some reason, I'm in the privileged position to use a fluffy dog (usually my beloved Meatballs puppet) or a super soft monster in my introduction. I'll tell you its because I can show the magic of these creations better than just talking about it, but the truth is that I needed the physical comfort of a puppet alongside the kind voice in my head. Maybe giving up our soft friends as we grow up is over rated. I'll broach the subject in my next teenage workshop and see what they think.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Fun with Puppets

There is a lot of serious talk going on right now in the news and we must remember that our children are listening and observing. This is where play can help us to talk and reflect on our feelings about it all. When the news is gloomy, we can become over anxious and worried about what will happen. Imagine how dis-empowered children and young people can feel. I know play doesn't solve everything, but it can make us all feel better.

Playing with puppets enables the focus to be on the puppet which creates a safe space to openly think about what is bothering us, or to play out situations that are around us. Make-believe play is perfect for this. With young children you can let them lead the situation and narrate what is happening, alongside using the puppets to play the characters. Sometimes you can step out of the play and leave them too it, especially in a larger group. Your role can be to duck back into the play to add information or to move the story along, but the less you do the better.

With young people, you can use puppets in a silly, fun way to create short films and use humour to express what is happening. Just talking with puppets can be funny and poignant if you are respectful and light-hearted. Just pick a topic to discuss and communicate through your puppet. Look at the puppet and then look at the other person's puppet for a response. Keep all eye contact on the puppets and respond with thoughtfulness. Don't forget to listen to the response too. It is very effective.

Sometimes we need to lighten up and have some fun. All this seriousness is not good for the body and mind. Play in any way that suits you. I like to think we have the capacity to be child-like, which is important when so many are being childish right now.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Diversity in the Arts

On Friday, I attended an interesting conference at East Anglia University, concerning diversity. The question of how to create art for all was asked in many ways and by experts in their field, but the overwhelming feeling was to be welcoming and to make your art accessible for the audience. Within business, I am often asked 'who is your audience? I am advised to have a perfect customer in my head in order to market to that person. Who will buy my puppets or/and attend a workshop? I would love to say, 'anyone who will gain value by what we do', but is that enough? How can we make everyone feel welcome and know that the value is for them? How do we create that value?

I remember working with teenage girls where we were creating shadow puppets for a performance later in the day. It was a community festival and the theme was to explore culture through traditional stories. Interestingly, while we were making the puppets, the discussion was all about empowering women through story (linked to the performance) and we openly discussed the participants' own experience because our attention was on puppet making. The workshop became a place to express opinions and feelings that we wanted to share, where we could discuss actions and ideas to help other people and ourselves feel empowered within our communities. An element of this was brought into our story which we told with passion and a feeling of togetherness that wouldn't have happened without the discussion that preceded it.

We didn't start the day knowing that the process of creating story would lead to such a worthwhile and open discussion and the feeling that we all gained value through this shared experience. These girls taught me so much about their beliefs and where their feelings and views sat within this framework. Hopefully they felt I had something to contribute too. Is this art through diversity, or just people coming together and sharing something special? Is there a difference between the two? Respect, consideration and accessibility are surely starting points, with open dialogue and understanding coming a close second. Creating art that explores parts of us and our cultures, enrich our lives and remind us that we are not so different after all. I like the idea of having a universal audience where everyone is welcome - now that's something to aim for.

Thursday, 29 December 2016

December Dogs and Puppet Shows

It has been a real pleasure to make dogs for Christmas this year. I was able to spend more time on their design and the fur is so soft. We had one Christmas show this year: 'Where is Rudolph' where I was a head elf and enjoyed the company of  both puppets and children in my quest to find Rudolph. As always, we included a scary character - this time a large snowman with a missing nose. To begin with, he could be heard grumbling and growling from behind the puppet theatre. Next we used scary music as we climbed the mountain to meet him, in the hope he could help us. When he was revealed, the children were relieved to find out that he was only grumpy because of his missing carrot nose which we could replace for him. Once again, we overcame a scary problem and were able to rejoice with Christmas songs and mince pies. ...And as for Rudolph, well, he was in the Elf Farm all along, preparing for full fitness to pull the sleigh. It is all a bit silly, but within our stories we include the joy of being kind and helpful, alongside overcoming problems by working together. The Hands-On Company believe these sentiments make a good resolution as we move into 2017.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Preparing for a Tudor Workshop - Melissa Waldron

Last week I was very lucky in being able to attend a talk by Lucy Worsley at Hampton Court Palace. A new BBC series will be launched soon exploring the roles of Henry VIII's wives and the talk focused on the role of each of the women in Tudor England. It was an entertaining and inspirational event.

We will set our Living History workshop in Elizabethan England. But the talk on Henry has really set the scene especially in considering the fate of Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth's ill fated mother.

Work is now being carried out to prepare a lively and interactive workshop for young people in schools. Set in a stately home outside Stratford-Upon Avon, we ask how the household will prepare for the arrival of the Queen...and Mr Shakespeare who is showing off his new play 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'. We are very excited about launching this hour and a half workshop at a primary school next week.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Puppetry For Sensitive People.

Recently, I’ve been working with sensitive children and young people. In fact, all of us are sensitive in some ways, but when children are sick, or going through trauma, their sensitivity is much more visible.

Puppetry is a lovely medium to use where laughter, silliness and care are wanted. The energy being focused on the puppet takes away the emphasis that this is about the participant’s needs and issues. Instead, it is the puppet that has our attention. It is similar to giving yourself permission to do something enjoyable such as eat cake or watch a good film. A puppet can give the same light relief with the added bonus that it is something we can enjoy together. If there is an issue to be discussed, we can make the puppet into a coat hanger, of sorts, by putting the issue onto the character and trying to help him/her. We use our brains differently when we focus outside ourselves, and this opens up options and solutions that are harder to come by when the process just remains in our heads!

The emotions that can be provoked through puppetry are perfect for sensitive people. It is possible to play around with feeling safe or threatened by creating an environment where both can be expressed openly. Finding solutions for difficult scenarios in real life can be acted out through make believe with truly effective results.

Take this example for younger children. A dragon flies into a story session and roars at the group while threatening to hurt them all, but he quickly is spluttering and coughing because he has run out of fire. He asks the group where he can go and get fire in order to breathe it all over them. It is up to the children to decide if they will tell him, help or trick him. For the puppeteer, it is a fine line between scaring the children and appearing too harmless. The aim is to take their power away initially, through being a bit scary, and then to judge when the fear becomes too much for any member of the group. At this point, the dragon’s body posture changes and his voice becomes whiny and softer as he asks them for help. The group gain their power back as they decide what to do. The puppeteer can use the dragon’s body and voice to diminish the fear and to provoke either empathy or humour (depending on the aim of the story). If the puppeteer can interject with the initial scary voice and body language to again threaten coming back and breathing fire, this can help keep the energy fresh and exciting. The fear is still there, but the group are keeping on top of it through decision making. Depending on the group’s decisions, the puppeteer can help implement the action of running away or tricking the dragon or maybe the group will decide to try and help him be kind and stop his behaviour. The puppeteer can lead the story forward, but the participants can be empowered to make the decision. When the dragon is dispensed with, the group can reflect on their decisions. How can this be used in everyday life when something is scary? Was working as a group helpful? If you have fearful feelings in real life, who can you tell? Are there dragons in real life? Why was the dragon being unkind? What else do we find scary? And so on.

Puppetry can be gentle, humorous, encouraging or unnerving, but all these emotions and more can be expressed in a safe environment. It allows us all to reflect on how we will deal with various scenarios in everyday life and helps us find solutions to problems. For the sensitive souls among us, that can only be a good thing.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

The Ancient Egyptians - Melissa Waldron.

When I was young, my mum insisted we visited museums and art galleries in the school holidays. She thought it would be good for me. And she was right when it came to The British Museum and the Egyptian rooms. The artifacts were interesting, but it was the mummies in glass cases that were truly fascinating. A few years ago I was lucky enough to visit Egypt and I headed straight to The Valley of The Kings. I rode a camel and visited the Pyramids. My interest in the Ancient Egyptians, their culture and fantastical beliefs in the After Life, is still as strong today as it was when I was a child.

This is the first era I have tackled in exploring the history workshops. It's chronologically the first civilisation in our new repertoire.

The grisly and the bizarre is a great starting point for the content of this workshop. I am currently becoming a bit of an expert on mummification and dramatic rituals. I'm going to have the opportunity to wear lavish make up and play an intriguing character. I am really looking forward to finalising the details of the new workshop for Primary Schools.