by Luz Cudjoe
Puppets really engage and delight children. Watching them is in itself a form of art therapy for the audience. In some parts of the world performances contain a moral message and are watched with deep reverence. A wonderful illustration of this is Indonesia. There puppets continue to be used to re-enact scenes from sacred Hindu scriptures. Prayers always precede the start of the performance.
The Wayang Museum in Jakarta, Indonesia perhaps surprisingly has a complete set of British Punch and Judy puppets. They were apparently donated to the museum by a British Ambassador who used to personally give performances to invited guests in the embassy.
The Cadiz area in Andalusia, Spain also still has a lively marionette tradition. In Munich, Germany puppets perform classical opera.
Puppets are always moved by human and not mechanical means. These movable figures come in many shapes and sizes. There are marionettes, glove puppets, rod puppets, finger puppets and shadow puppets to mention a few. They are all operated differently.
If you have not already done so, how about exploring using puppets at home with the kids. The aim of my suggestion is not first and foremost educational, but therapeutic. The aim is to work at achieving greater harmony between Mind-Body-and-Spirit. Of course, the activity also has an educational aspect.
Children are often fascinated by puppets and interact strongly with them, which can lead to an overcoming of shyness and fear and greater use of speech. The interaction also encourages concentration and use of the imagination. Psychologists use puppets to help traumatized and abused children to express their feelings.
Parents, I hope, will try to use this activity to reach deeper, unspoken levels in their relationships with their offspring. Sessions can become a form of deeply loving and healing communication. Parents need to let their child play a dominant role if they want to. Both have to deepen their understanding of leading and following, giving and taking.
The making and operating of puppets can be a form of serious, carefully thought-out or joyfully spontaneous activity. Spontaneity can be very important as it avoids the planned lesson-like feeling that is often associated with school.
It is possible to buy beautiful puppets in every form imaginable. If your child really enjoys this activity it might be worth buying a few of the sort that you cannot make yourself. A lot of fun can be had just using things that are to hand. Paper bags, paper cups and plates, plastic bottles, a sock, a pillow case with a ball tied into one end as a head, ice lolly sticks with small pictures portraying whatever you like attached at one end, a block of foam, a scrubbing brush, a scarf with threads tied to the corners to produce an ethereal, ghost-like figure can all be put to practical use. Even attaching a piece of cloth to a can makes an effective puppet. Transform a computer mouse into a snake.
The figures do not necessarily need hands, feet or a body. If you attach weights for example button, beads to a piece of cloth it creates the impression of a body. Take the stuffing out of a toy, add a rod and hey presto it becomes a puppet!
Much fun can be had through the imaginative use of decorative materials such as ribbons, cloth, sequins and other sparkling bits and pieces. Shadow puppets can be created just by using your two hands in front of a plain wall. They can also easily be made by cutting shapes out of plastic, acetate or cellophane and decorating them with such things as sweet wrappers, sequins etc. Drawings can easily and cheaply be photocopied onto acetate. Attach these cut out shapes to rods. Keep everything bold and simple.
When animating a puppet concentrated focus is called for. When operating a glove puppet the first finger goes into the puppet's head, the second and third fingers are held down as arms. You need to work with your arms stretched out. Make the figure come alive by moving your shoulders and elbows not by turning your wrists.
Operating marionettes requires long practice and great skill and may be beyond most of us.
Thinking up your own stories, perhaps incorporating the child's own ideas or using favorite stories or happenings in their own life is a great way to create a play for the puppet performance. Fairy stories work well. The underlying mood of the story can be dramatic, comic or sad and must be very visual and tactile. The play could even be based around a song. You do not always need a story. Your child may happily ad-lib and you can make up the text as you go along.
Music and sound will add atmosphere to the presentation. You can make sound with all kinds of objects. Saucepans, spoons, cups, dried seeds can all be used and are easy to find. Effective shakers can be made by filling plastic bottles with seeds, ridged surfaces on plastic bottles can produce scraped sounds. Large tins function as drums. The human voice is capable of humming, whistling, chanting as well as singing actual words.
Random clapping produces a very effective rainstorm. First using one finger, then two, then three, and then finally the whole hand. Remember that sound can become louder, quieter, slower, faster all adding a different atmosphere.
A theatre or stage is not strictly speaking necessary. There are many ways of creating a theatre. For glove puppets working above a sheet suspended between two chairs is probably the simplest.
An overhead projector allows the shadow puppets to appear larger than they actually are. Anything written on an overhead projector presents writing in readable form and does away with the need to write backwards. A white sheet lit from behind forms a screen for shadow puppets.
Explore and Experiment with Puppets with Your Child. It will be an adventure for both of you.
Dzagbe Cudjoe is a Dance Movement Therapist and ethnologist with wide experience of Dance in Africa and Europe. As an ethnologist her main field of research was into West African traditional religion. As a Dance Movement Therapist her area of specialization is working with children who have challenging behavior or severe physical and intellectual Special Needs. Dzagbe is now working on helping the parents of such children to appreciate the healing effects of dance. She is the author of the e-manual "Dance to Health - Help Your Special Needs Child Through Inspirational Dance." For more Information visit Dance to Health.