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.