Thursday, 15 March 2018

Puppetry Skills for All

I've been working with a group from the Tricycle Theatre making puppets ready for their performance in April. I thought I would share some notes about simple ways to bring puppetry to life.

The best way to make fantastic character expressions is to believe your puppet is real. By doing this, it will react to any situation like a person or animal would.

Make the expressions bigger than they would be in real life for the best results.

Every puppet has its own personality. Will your one be silly, happy, sad, curious or a mix of these? What is its name? Where does it come from? What does it like to eat? All this information will help make it more real.

Puppet eye contact is important. It makes the puppet seem more alive.

Not using eye contact is also very useful. If you ask the puppet something using its name and it looks at the ceiling or away, it is obviously trying to ignore you.

If the puppet turns its head in towards your body, this can express concern.

Bob the puppet up, down and side to side to show excitement and happiness.

 Keep the mouth slightly open to show a small smile. Tight shut can look like a frown.  Open the mouth, tilt the head back and wiggle it to make your puppet look as if it is laughing.

Dropping the head expresses sadness.

If you want your puppet to have a voice, open the mouth when you speak. Generally, people do the opposite and it does not look so effective. Getting the mouth movements right will sustain belief in the puppet’s character.

When the focus is off your puppet, make it fidget a little and gently move your hand up and down to make it look as if it is breathing - a puppet should never be completely still.

Puppets are special and can bring magic to your performance. Try and keep your puppet in character throughout the show.

The most important thing to remember about working a puppet is, if you believe it can be real, everyone else will believe. All the other hints work brilliantly if you try this first.

Feel comfortable with working your puppet. Relax and enjoy!

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

The Creative Unsticker for Young People.

I started this list as part of my business course, but this weekend, I was working with sensitive teenagers and adapted it. I've had great feedback so far and wanted to share it with you. If you give any of these a go, I'd love to know what you think - whatever age you are.
  1. ·         Write a journal. Write thoughts that come to you, stories that you experience, goals, daydreams, ‘thinking out loud’ ideas. You could add intentions for the day, speculations for the future, or/and how you are feeling.
  2. ·         Change your space. Look around you and see what colours there are and the level of light. Try shaking things up to suit your mood and style. Can you add art, inspirational quotes/pictures or a music source that helps with how you feel?
  3. ·         A fresh perspective. Look outside your usual network for advice and a different frame of reference. Brain-storm your work and life objectives with someone, or research from different sources. Sometimes a complete change of environment can help too.
  4. ·         Daydream. Sit back, breath deep and imagine an ideal scenario. A holiday you can go on when the work is done, a mental image of you achieving an accolade, your life running exactly as you wish it a year from now. Put yourself in the picture and daydream about how it would feel and who would also benefit from this. Often when we see what we want, we enable it to become a reality.
  5. ·         Celebrate creative diversity. Listen to unfamiliar music. It can make a difference to your mindset and get things flowing. Look at art that doesn’t appeal and try to see what others may see in it. Go outside your comfort zone by trying different reading material, films and theatre performances. Listen to different languages and enjoy how they sound. Visit exhibitions, go to festivals and keep your mind open to find wonder and curiosity through creativity.
  6. ·         Play. There is a big difference between being ‘childish’ and being ‘child-like’. Compare some country leaders to some spiritual leaders - I am guessing there’ll be no shortage of examples here. Play can be through sport, being with children, time with friends or even time alone. Being playful, light-hearted and carefree can be life changing.
  7. ·         Find your creative passion. Open your heart to one thing you love. When you feel stuck, allow your emotions to freely experience a favourite song, watch a segment from your favourite film or comedy sketch or an actor’s monologue. Read a passage from a favourite book, look through some photographs or art collections and feel an emotional response down in your core. Within a few minutes you’ll feel different.
  8. ·         Create a greeting card poem. Turn a problem or sticking point into a daft rhyme with the aim that the last line will give you the solution.
  9. ·         Practice a creative endeavour. Ten minutes a day on something creative can be a life changer. The added bonus is that you can become rather good at your chosen subject within a year if you do this. Do something that you will enjoy and have a desire to get better at.
  10. ·         Walk the walk. When inspiration has left you, do a different task in the mindset and style of a future you. This ‘future’ version is confident, is on top of all jobs and is ‘on it’ in every way. Make a drink, pop down the shops or make a call. Be your authentic self, but a more brilliant and accomplished version. Have the ability to laugh at yourself. The more you ham it up, the more unstuck you will become.
  11. ·         Inspiration text. Pick up a book or magazine and open it on a random page and put your finger on a random line. See if this piece of text can answer your inner question and get you moving again.
  12. ·         Scary unsticking. Do something that gives you a healthy level of fear. Go outside and pick up a spider then set it free again. If that doesn’t bother you, walk down the street wearing something unusual or write to someone you admire. Do something that fills you with excitement and see what comes behind it.
  13. ·         Rehearse your mission statement. Either in the mirror or in front of trusted others, stand tall and clearly state who you are and what your values are. A good stance is to stand like wonder woman or super man and then soften by putting your hands in front of you and lessening the power legs. Announcing to the world who you are, can be really helpful.
  14. ·         Unstick a person. If you are struggling with another person, ask someone else to role play with you. First, ‘become’ the difficult person while the other role player plays you. See how it feels to step into the shoes of this person. Then run the scenario with the roles reversed. See if you can practice what you might say and do to overcome this difficulty. It is helpful to remember you can only really change your response to someone and not how they may be.
  15. ·         Breathing Techniques. If you are feeling anxious, work through the breathing techniques you have learned. You can use your fingers to breath up and down each one while saying helpful words (for example, up the finger while breathing in ‘I am…’ and down the finger while breathing out ‘relaxed’).
  16. ·         Express Yourself. Without disturbing too many people, sing really loudly, dance your heart out, laugh and run around. Use your body to express who you are. Smile as much as you can to feel good about yourself (remember the 30 second smile).
  17. ·         Puppet mascot talk. If you've been on one of my courses, you will have one of these. if not, choose something that can be your personal cheerleader that represents your values in life. Put it somewhere you can see it and use it as a sounding board. Bring it to life and talk to it. If you feel brave, make it talk back or whisper in your ear. Even if it just moves its head it will remind you of your positive inner voice. Keep a note of the values that it represents and use these values to move forward with an issue. For example, if you value love, find a loving solution to the issue that is bothering you.

Monday, 5 February 2018

The Joy of Puppetry

I can’t help but have a positive feeling when it comes to puppetry, but sometimes world events and politics creep in to take it away. The joy of puppetry is its ability to help us see the world as light-hearted, full of joy and love. In my work I see children having a good time, young people reflecting on life with curiosity and thoughtfulness, adults allowing themselves to ponder on their values and the older generation are given a safe place to discuss their feelings. From this vantage point, I am reminded that most people are kind and funny. I feel it is important to remember that.

Puppetry can also give us space to highlight issues that all ages may be concerned with. We can bring them into the open, examine them, reflect on them and form an opinion as to what action we can take to make a difference. That is truly inspiring and empowering. The unpleasant side of life can seem more bearable when doing something positive about it in some way.

Personal responsibility, for this amazing place we share, can make all the difference. My daughter suggested doing something every day for five minutes that helps the Earth and/or other people. I’m up for giving it a go. Are you?

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Telling Stories Through Puppets

Puppets are a great tool for allowing children to express themselves effectively. Communicating through storytelling puppet-style, can be rewarding for all involved. It provides a safe and fun space to listen to and interact with your child.

Children often use a mixture of fantasy and their own experiences when making a puppet story. They like to include things that may hurt, worry or frighten them by projecting them onto the puppet. It is also a lovely time to celebrate the special moments and more positive aspects of life. When puppet storytelling is supported by you, it removes the pressure of dealing with the world alone and is all part of helping your little one to develop into a responsible and happy young adult. We all find ourselves in situations where we are unsure how to respond and this type of enactment helps to encourage control and/or understanding.

Children love to feel that they are in charge of the play. When interacting in this way, please try and listen to their ideas and allow them to guide you. It can be good for you to step back and hand over the role of director. Child-led storytelling can help with confidence building and give a great sense of satisfaction about the finished result.

Decide on a setting:
Select a place (away from other distractions if possible). Make a performance space - e.g. a blanket or sheet over the back of a couple of chairs or peeking over the back of a sofa. Alternatively, just sit with your children and make the puppeteers part of the performance.

 Decide on a style:
Use the puppets you already have or make your own puppets - e.g. shadow puppetry, marionettes, 'Muppet' style, hand/finger puppets or even simple sock puppets. Next comes the fun part as you create your puppet’s character - e.g. a name, a voice and a style of movement.

Decide on a story:
This is a great time to show your children that you value their ideas. Use a piece of paper to make notes or draw pictures with them. It is easier to put their ideas together this way. Try to create a framework of a beginning, middle and an end. Encourage your children to put a crisis or dilemma in the middle section. 'Goodies' and 'Baddies' help make an exciting story too. A happy ending helps to structure the puppet performance for a younger age group, and so remind the children to add one.

Try and aim for something simple, especially in the beginning. Guidelines and a little structure help to focus all involved on a desired outcome. For example, you may give a limited time to devise the play, or you may give them the title of the play and the length it would have to be. These limitations helped you to get moving quickly and it fires up the children’s imaginations. Share the task of setting these up to remind you all that the children also have ownership over these structures.

A stimulus or situation you can refer to helps to create ideas – e.g. looking at a photograph, reading a book, hearing a news story, coming home from a day trip. Use all types of experiences in your creations. Allow the children to have fun with the story and enjoy the processes you are sharing with them.

Some children may want to enlarge on the task of puppet storytelling by creating a play script, a cartoon/comic strip, or by writing a story. A real sense of performance can be experienced by making rehearsal time, printing tickets, colouring in programmes, designing seating plans and cooking interval snacks. What a truly engaging experience that would be! Obviously the level of graft required is not for everyone. Even a five minute plan, a quick try followed by the pièce de résistance is a truly rewarding way of playing alongside your children.

Friday, 15 December 2017

Puppet Activities for the Under Fives

I thought you may enjoy a few puppet activities to try with your little ones. Most of these activities are suitable for children with additional needs or limited mobility. A lot of these also work with family and friends of different ages. Grandparents and children can share these and we’ve also used them with people living with dementia.

Nursery rhymes - puppet style - choose the voice and style and make the puppet tell the nursery rhyme and act it out.

Musical statues - freeze the puppet in a shape or style when the music stops.

Puppet whispers - whisper a silly sentence to the puppeteer and they repeat it through the puppet in the puppet's voice. You have to try not to laugh. If you laugh, the puppeteer wins.

Start a story and then the puppet tells a bit and then you tell a bit more. Try and have a beginning, middle and end. If you can throw in a problem in the middle, it makes the story more exciting. A good way of starting this is to say; ‘let’s…’ and after you have said your sentence, the next person says, ‘and then…’ and you carry on adding ‘and then…’ until it becomes so ridiculous you naturally stop.

Simon says… - Ask the child to do actions when Simon Says. If you don’t start the sentence with Simon Says, (you just say ‘put your hands on your head’) the child has to ignore the action and stay still. If you say Simon Says put your hands on your head, they then do it. For this version, it is the puppet that listens for when Simon Says and the puppet does the action.

Hide the puppet - hide it in a secret place and as they go near it say - "getting warmer, getting very warm, now you're hot, really hot - or getting colder” if they move away from the puppet's hiding place. Celebrate when they find the puppet.

Put a sheet or towel over a couple of chairs to create a puppet theatre and put on a show. You can recreate a story you know (nursery rhyme, traditional tale such as Little Red Riding Hood) a film or TV show or a story from your life (a Christmas gathering, or how mummy and daddy met). Use anything you have around the house for props. We once put on a performance of Jack and the Beanstalk using a toy snake for the beanstalk, a flamingo puppet for the chicken, a ping pong ball for the golden egg and a large teddy bear for the giant. The other puppets used various borrowed hats and tea towels to look the part!

I hope you enjoy these activities. You can ask your children to come up with some ideas too. 

Thursday, 28 September 2017


I am working on a business course in Cambridge to extend my work into this area. What I love about this course is the different emphasis on where the work comes from. Instead of jumping from one project to another and following the funding opportunities, I’m being advised to clearly define what I do (and love to do), determine who will gain value from it and then create a clear pathway to making it happen. This is refreshing and valuable information.

Monster puppets 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 light-hearted. I aim to focus on bringing these into businesses as value added mascots and personality type avatars. This has developed from other business courses I’ve run where the focus was conflict management and assertiveness training.

The more I use monster puppets to work with children and young people, the more I see evidence that exploring feelings and behaviours in a light-hearted 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. 

For younger children, we often end the workshop by having a quiet 'sleep' with our monsters 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-judgemental way. I’m not sure I’ll get away with trying this in the business world, but I have a feeling we’ll observe people playing around with their creations and interacting with work colleagues in a different way. I can’t wait to see what happens.

Please contact me if you would like more details –

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Core Muscles and Puppet Play

I didn’t realise how children’s core muscles could affect so much of their learning. My sister is a deputy head for an infant school and we were chatting about the children this half term. She was explaining how some children can’t roll anymore (not tumble turn, I mean by making your body long and rolling sideways) as their core muscles are weak. Weak muscles, especially the core ones, affect how they write, how they make things and how they use their bodies in sport and play.

Could it be the increase of using technology, or the way parents protect their children from harm during outside play? Could it be a fear of risk for both children and adults? Do we develop core muscles through unrestricted play, or through organised sport for the under tens? I’m assuming it is doing both that keeps bodies strong. I know from experience that the recklessness of some child centered play is good for the body. We quickly change direction, reach for things away from us, climb things where our legs have to reach further up or down. Jump, stretch, lean out and balance in a haphazard way. I can imagine that would do great things for core muscles.

I am putting a book together for parents and carers to use when they want to use puppets. I have included details on how to bring puppets alive and what to do with them as a communication tool. I have a chapter on activities we can be involved in with puppets and I’m now adding a section on physical games to help our children’s bodies to be strong. I’ll also add some training games on how to hang up your coat or use a toilet as these are other self-reliant activities that are important to master. As always, I believe we can do so much through our puppets and play. Working a puppet properly demands strong arms, relaxed shoulders and a stomach that can help hold the puppet weight and make the manipulation look good. A good place to start is with fun activities where we play with these skills. I'm taking this advice too as our new monster puppets are quite big and heavy - thank goodness for yoga!