Puppetry in Action
YIS drama teacher Sarah Macdonald likes to give students many tools to tell a story, and she recently invited puppet master Jack Lee Randall to visit grade 3 and grade 7 classes for a special series of workshops on puppetry manipulation. Mr. Randall, based in Toyama, Japan, studied Theatre Arts at Appalachian State University before working at the Centre for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta. Mr. Randall frequently visits Japanese schools to share his art, but this was his first time presenting at an international school. Says Sarah, "the students really appreciated this chance to hear from an expert in the field and to have the hands-on experience of manipulating puppets."
The unit of inquiry started with an introduction to a theatrical modern classic, the English National Theatre's award-winning War Horse. Grade 7 students watched a Ted Talk from Handspring Puppet Company, the South African based company responsible for the amazing, life-sized puppets used for War Horse as their unit provocation. Students considered the following idea discussed in the talk by Handspring founder Adrian Kohler: "An actor struggles to die on-stage, but a puppet has to struggle to live." Bringing in Mr. Randall allowed the students to explore this concept with real puppets, as he brought a variety of rod puppets and doll puppets to teach the students how to manipulate the puppets onstage and how to work together as a group to allow the puppets "to live".
Some of the puppets he brought required four people to operate them. Adds Sarah, "the students found it incredibly difficult to keep the puppet alive; I think they thought it would be easy, but as they actually tried to maneuver the puppets, they realized the depth of the technical artistry." Mr. Randall also brought in "peepers puppets" for a short, hands-on introduction to grade 3 who will be starting a unit on puppetry later this term. "Grade 3 will explore the ideas of using different forms and structures for storytelling," explains Sarah. "They worked with the smaller peeper puppets; they're eyeballs, really, and you create with your hand the characters. The grade 3's loved the idea of not being exposed themselves, but telling these stories really through their hands. Suddenly, their confidence grew because it's almost like a mask."
Many thanks to Mr. Randall for this experiential learning experience.