Community Artists. Part 3.Puppetry in Alice Springs and Horsham.

The last two weeks worth of blogs have been about the way Community Artists are matched to communities and the roles they perform in the process. This week I continue the investigation using more experiences from the Festive Factory archives.

Red Dust Theatre based in Alice Springs, Central Australia, was producing a production requiring their cast to manipulate specially constructed puppets. At their invitation and again through a grant process, Festive Factory were invited to be artists in residence providing puppet construction and performance workshops.

Prior to the commencement of the residency, the workshops were advertised to the general community. The response included a combination of interested beginners and people who had made a start in development of their own shows, all within the field of puppetry.

Participants learnt a great variety of new techniques for construction and manipulation and we witnessed great inspiration for development of their own personal projects. This was part of the ‘value added’ that flows on, and is key as to why Community Artists can play such an important role.

Participants already working as soloists had the opportunity to connect with other practitioners and compare notes, seek alternative solutions to their particular build issues, and glean performance techniques to add to their skill base. The impact on the artistic and local puppetry community, carried a greater value than being restricted purely to the benefit of the cast of the original production.

The town of Horsham in the west of Victoria, has a very energetic arts community and we were invited to run a weekend intensive workshop in puppet construction and performance.

The (approximately 15) adult participants learnt a range of construction techniques useful for making puppets including making plaster moulds, handling latex, carving, and sculpting to name a few. They learnt about what puppetry actually is, and can be. They were taught the basic principals behind ‘found object theatre’ using house hold objects and sophisticated puppetry including, rod puppetry, marionette (string) puppetry gloves, combination puppetry (such as rod and string), paper puppetry and shadow puppetry. They discovered the joys and difficulties of single operator and multi operator puppets. They learnt that teamwork plays a vital role in the successful presentation of a puppet play. Once again these workshops were publicly advertised so that a local skills base could be established in a regional town.

The value of an intensive workshop lies in the planning. It means that more complicated techniques can be taught quickly as frequently timing in a ‘wet build’ is crucial. (‘Wet build’ means techniques involving clay, plaster and latex for example. These are three mediums where drying, curing or ‘setting’ are relevant).

Next week, I share the experiences and the privilege resulting from an invitation to work with a small but enthusiastic population in preparations for the important 150th anniversary celebrations of the small town of Penshurst in the South West of Victoria.

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