‘Puppetry is a therapeutic tool’

Vida healthcare’s Progressive Training Manager tells us about her new venture in puppetry.

“I didn’t know you could study Puppetry!” is the usual response I get when I tell people what I am currently studying. Well you can and the world of puppets is alive and well.

People have used puppetry as a means of expression for centuries. They can say and do things that humans can’t and they exist in a world that is magical and mysterious. Their use is varied from being used to parody the world of politics (think Spitting Image), to create drama in theatre and do what actors cannot (think War Horse, Lion Witch and Wardrobe) and of course our childhoods are full of puppets (think Andy Pandy, Muppets, Seasame Street, Rainbow, Bagpuss and Roland Rat).

To me Puppetry is both a Performing Art and a Therapeutic tool. It allows me to express myself as a maker and also as a performer but one who is slightly out of the spotlight. When someone picks up a puppet, your eyes are drawn to the movement of the puppet while we can ignore the human standing beside them. We want the magic and are willing to overlook the obvious. When a puppet looks into our eyes, they look into our soul. It is an exposing experience for both Puppeteer and onlooker.

I don’t know when I found Puppetry, I think it found me. In 2016 I first took a Summer School Intensive with the London School of Puppetry. The LSP was started 30 years ago by Caroline Astell-Burt and Ronnie La-Drew. They were originally based in London, then moved to Grassington and are now situated in Derby. They run short courses in all aspects of Puppetry and also are the only school in the UK to offer an Advanced Diploma in Professional Puppetry. I have been lucky enough to have a place on the Diploma Programme and began my first module this summer.

If I approached any other place of work that boasted ‘the work is intense and the hours are long’, I may run for the hills. But at Puppet School, I spring out of bed and aim to be in the studio for 8.30am finishing well after 9pm. The place is awash with creative energy, wonderful interesting people and great food. The students are encouraged to cook and eat together and wonderful creative partnerships are formed.

This summer, we had two projects to work on: a 90-second piece and a 5-minute piece. The first was to take two characters and create an ‘encounter’. We chose The Wolf (my puppet) and Little Red Riding Hood who meet and just want to drink tea together. We performed this on a tea trolley in a local care home in Derby to an interested and sometimes bemused audience. The 5-minute piece I hope will form part of a therapeutic approach as I wish to expand on my own work here as creative practitioner/ musician to include Puppetry. Either to offer a window into an enchanted world or to offer a voice for people who may feel silenced.

Theresa McNally

Progressive Training Manager

Red Riding hood and her new found friend the Wolf sharing a pot of tea in their tea-laden world.