Artist in Residence for the Song Room, West Australia

Rachel Riggs puppeteer

Rachel Riggs puppeteer

Rachel writes from overseas, Ive recently completed another successful residency for the Song Room , an organisation which funds artists to lead workshops in low social economic area schools nationally.

Belmay shadows (10)Belmay shadows (11)

Working with the friendly staff and pupils of Belmay Primary, Perth, we spent term 1 playing with shadow puppets and term 2 exploring rod puppets.

IMG_20150323_134415503I brought in a collection of my puppets from around the world to show a variety of styles, though Perth city had just had a visit from Royal de Luxe with some of the worlds largest marionettes, so the children had their eyes opened more then usual.IMG_20150618_134649356The students made rod puppets from their original designs of pirates, mermaids, magical creatures and super heroes. Using my scrunchy tissue paper technique, the heads were sculpted and cloth costumes decorated, ready for making up stories of sailing the seas, to the moon and back in space , or

IMG_20150615_134911243superheroes saving others.

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Aprofessional development session was held after school for teachers to share their learning with other staff in the school and for me to develop further puppetry in the classroom ideas for their creative skill sets.

pd song roomIMG_20150618_155252183IMG_20150618_152646324All the puppets went on display around the school in the reception area, library. art room and language study area with quotes from the children about their artistic achievements.IMG_20150618_152545147

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Puppetry at Walker Art Gallery Liverpool

Adam Bennett of DNA spent the day yesterday at the Walker Art Gallery with a mixed age group of children and adults making puppets and then having fun learning how to perform with them. Here are some photos of their creations

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Each 90 minute session wasn’t much time to make a puppet from scratch and learn how to perform with them. We used a simple rod puppet design that gave a working puppet quickly.

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The characters were based on Greek Mythology. There were a few Medusas, Zeus, some Poseidons, Athena, Artemis and a few “random villagers/townspeople” for the gods and monsters to perform simple scenes with.

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Adults and children alike enjoyed the creativity of making and the joy of playing with their creations.

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DNA rock Glastonbury Festival – again

In late June we made our presence felt on the Kidz Field of Glastonbury 2015 with Chicken Licken on the main stage, the DNA Glastontree in the makendo tent and The Hoodies doing some walkabout. This year involved three full days as well as Thursday afternoon so we were kept busy

Chicken Licken at Glastonburyimage

Both Kidz Field and DNA celebrate 21st birthdays this year. We were proud to contribute to the largest free outdoor event for children in Europe. The man in charge Tony Cordy has done an amazing job keeping the spirit of the free festival of wonder, entertainment and creativity within the growing enterprise and variety that is Glastonbury Festival. Ema Cordy was a gracious and generous host in the Theatre Tent this year (and last year too!)

Baby puppet at Glastonbury

Our walkabout act this year was a life size puppet teenager clutching a talking puppet baby trying to convince parents and children to mind the baby so he could go out and watch the bands. He even had a go at pretenting the baby was a lost child so he could leave it in the lost kidz portacabin.

A last minute addition was Rebecca who stepped in when another had to drop out. She helped with the sound and the walkabout. Thanks Beccy!image The Kidz Field is Glastonbury’s most magical place full of wonder discovery laughter excitement and creativity for any age. One of the mottos of the Kidz Field is

It’s never too late to have a happy childhood, or help someone to have one

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Shadow puppets yr 3 Preston

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The setup in the classroom

Working with 60 students in 2 classrooms to create and perform short performances in a day can be a challenge, but with the DNA shadow puppet show/demo using our OHP & pop up screen we gave these children a fun creative challenge.

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They learned about the science of light, projection, lenses and filters, gave themselves some drawing and writing tasks in storyboarding, design and technology challenges in the crafting of useful shadow puppets and backgrounds and finally confidence in public speaking and performance from the safety of behind a screen.

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They played out stories from Greek Mythology as well as traditional folk tales. By the end of the day they had been seriously challenged, learned lots of skills and understandings by being creative and told us that they had had a really enjoyable day at school today.

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Imaginary leaps play event at Matargarup First Nations Refugee Camp

Matagarup Concert (24)Matagarup Concert (21)
A few weeks ago, DNA puppetry and Imaginary leaps were honoured to be invited by the Swan River Noongar Aboriginal Elders to run family play activities at Heirisson Island, Perth, Western Australia for a fundraising concert to support homeless Aboriginal people and their fight for their Homelands.
Matagarup Concert (39)

The Imaginary leaps team included Adam Bennett & Shakera Ahad visiting from the UK puppeteering Thurtinkle in Terry Jones Fairy Tales

terry jones fairytales - dna puppetry

terry jones fairytales – dna puppetry

Francis Italiano from Sensorium Theatre was king of the Cardboard Cubby Houses with the older kids building a cardoard box city for the younger ones.

Matagarup Concert (65)Matagarup Concert (51)Matagarup Concert (53)Matagarup Concert (52)Matagarup Concert (28)And fantastic face painting from Rebecca & Joanna Riggs Bennett all day longMatagarup Concert (38)Matagarup Concert (60)The littlest ones had fun in the baby play area with Bobby the puppet and the baby nestMatagarup Concert (70)Matagarup Concert (42)And heartfelt messages of support were tied to a wishing tree in the garden play areaMatagarup Concert (50)Matagarup Concert (67)Matagarup Concert (48)For more information on the Concert and the Elders fight for Aboriginal respect and recognition in Australia see

http://thestringer.com.au/respect-for-anthony-mundine-who-travelled-the-continent-to-meet-the-matargarup-homeless-10362#.VYaV7EbD9dd

 

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Touring Chicken Licken

Featured Image -- 2713Performer puppeteer Adam Bennett is currently touring Chicken Licken all over the UK. Here he reflects upon taking a classic performance out on the road again, and his efforts at negotiating a run at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2015

As soon as the final show of Caucasian Chalk Circle at the Royal Lyceum Theatre finished, I was back on the road again with Chicken Licken. In fact the following morning I was on the road at dawn heading from Edinburgh to Maidenhead to pick the show up off Steve Tiplady who had been substitute performer for me while I was on a four week run in Edinburgh.

I arrived to find Steve already half way through the morning show delighting the audience at Norden Farm Centre for the Arts and it was a rare pleasure to see my show performed by another puppeteer, although not the first time. I have taught the show to Mark Down and Mark Whitaker before, both highly reputable performer/puppeteers. Melvyn Rawlinson also performed his own slight variation of the show which was equally delightful. Afterwards, over lunch, Steve and I plotted putting together the next DNA show Tom Thumb, collaborating on the show with Rachel Riggs (DNA’s Artistic Director) and creating a show for me to perform but one that Steve can also perform when I’m otherwise engaged.

Up and down the country through the Spring weather, thousands of lambs in the fields gambolling and the slow yellowing of the rape seed crops I travel to theatres and arts centres some very familiar others completely new. Google maps is my new friend and tailbacks on the M6 my nemesis. Most of the shows are completely sold out and the audiences as always are a delight. Once you’ve played to 3-6 year olds it’s hard to go back to other ages of audiences. They are instantly responsive with their enjoyment, genuinely vocally fearful of the fox and constantly willing to help out with the storytelling when required; reminding me of where I’m up to, warning the Little Red Hen of danger, trying to guess the animals of the ridiculous dough shapes I’ve made.

In July I will be playing outdoors at the Wordpool Festival and Mouth of the Tyne and I will also be at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe (Summerhall, Cairns Lecture Theatre, 3:35pm) from August 5 until August 28th. If you’re going to be in Edinburgh at this busy time, make the effort to come along and see the show, let others in Edinburgh know that even if you’re not a young child anymore you won’t see better puppeteering at Fringe 2015 and you won’t see a better audience response either. Guaranteed. Or your money back.

I’ve never stopped enjoying playing Chicken Licken and I don’t think I ever will. Pure pleasure and delight.

Chicken Licken does the seemingly impossible – appealing to 3 – 6 year olds and fans of The Great British Bake Off. Adam Bennett is the only star of this one-man cookery show, casually making bread – Mary Berry herself can’t match his self-assured style and natural relationship with the viewers. Though performing classic stories, the audience genuinely don’t know what is going to happen next, and even more remarkably, it seems Bennett might not either. He makes a production that has been around for 15 years feel as fresh as a newly-baked loaf.

Flossie Waite – Children’s Theatre Reviews
Playfully taking theatre for young audiences seriously

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Making Michael

 

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DNA co-founder Adam Bennett shares his thoughts on developing the puppetry on ‘The Caucasian Chalk Circle’ for Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

Adam Bennett, the puppeteer, is genuinely brilliant- truly, he makes some white rags and a polystyrene head into something genuinely moving.- Katie Craig, Mumble Theatre

Being asked to develop the puppetry and contribute a key character as a puppet into a big main stage production is a challenge. There are so many unknowns even after developing a concept and discussing it with the director (Mark Thomson) and designer (Karen Tennant). I believe that it is always best if possible to begin rehearsal with the actual puppets and props that will be used in the performance. A puppeteer develops the performance exploring the movement and visual potential of what is in their hands, and any small changes makes a big difference to the potential.

design sketchHowever, with this production my concept of representing the baby with a piece of cloth at the beginning of the play and assembling a child onstage as the play progresses meant that I could only commission the very fundamental parts to bring to day one of rehearsals: I asked the excellent designer/maker Georgina Solo to construct a head and two sizes of bodies which could have arms and legs attached to it if necessary. The head needed to be able to be attached and detached from the body easily and quickly.

I envisioned a 3-stage process; at first Michael was simply a piece of cloth that could be tossed about carelessly as just another symbol of value in the self obsessed lives of the Governor and his wife. Only when Grusha arrives and sees it as a human being to be cared for and loved does the figure begin to take shape. First with a head emerging out of the cloth and then as the play progresses developing into a fully articulated figure.

puppet makingAs I discussed the design concept with Karen Tennant I wasn’t sure how much of the figure could be source from stage paraphernalia. The concept was ‘farmers holing up in an old theatre creating a  show from the old props and costumes lying around’. Within this concept I thought a beautifully made puppet may not fit.

Michael rises as Grusha stands undecided

photo Alan McCredie

Rehearsals quickly established that the play should definitely start with the baby portrayed by a simple piece of cloth, but working out when and how the head should appear proved tricky. It wasn’t finally settled until the 1st preview. The production features more than 40 minutes of live music and songs composed by Claire McKenzie, one of which which provided a heightened moment when the baby transforms into an ‘angel’ rising from the travel chest while Grusha stands undecided whether to take him with her or leave him to die.

Chalk Circle rehearsals

Head on hot water bottle with prototype arms and hands. Photo Aly Wight

Another exciting moment of discovery for me was when Grusha is ordered by the Governor’s Wife to fetch hot water bottles and I realised that a hot water bottle is exactly the right size, weight and temperature of a small baby. When I placed the bottle wrapped in cloth with the head attached into Grusha’s arms, actor Amy Manson immediately changed her physical and emotional relationship to it.

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Michael in his ‘transitional state’. Photo Alan McCredie

Early in rehearsals I realised that found objects for arms and legs were not going to work for the design style and the performance style of the production that is developing. I asked for materials to make arms, legs, hands and feet. I needed to find an easy and quick method to attach the arms and legs to the body in full view of the audience. I hoped that it would be easy enough so that Amy would be happy to do it herself. I also wanted a transitional stage where the arms and legs were ‘half-formed’ floppy bits of cloth, but the body was taking shape.

A simple baby-grow outfit served as the transitional state, although it took a while to convince the director that it could be allowed in the world of the play. Mark Thomson needed to know where it had come from – much more than the head – but with Karen Tennant’s help we created a version that was acceptable.

After making Michael’s arms and legs I experimented with using magnets to join them to the body. This worked with the arms but not with the legs. I inserted the arms and hands into a small child’s hoodie jacket provided by the designer. She’d also settled on a christening dress as the piece of cloth at the beginning of the play. The legs required carabinas firmly glued to the top of the legs which could be quickly clipped onto the body and ensured that they couldn’t turn too far around at the same time. The legs were glued into a little pair of bib and brace trousers.

There was only so much puppetry I could work out during rehearsals and one brief scene required some extra hands to give the child full articulation. The excellent Jon Trenchard and Liam Gerrard helped out. It was fortunate that during rehearsals the Manipulate festival was happening in Edinburgh and reknowned director Sue Buckmaster was able to help out with a little puppet whispering, bringing Michael more fully into focus. Sue and I will be presenting one night of puppet whispering for the benefit of a paying audience on May 12th 2015 at BAC, Lavender Hill, London.The Puppet Whisperer advert

 

 

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