I Think I Might Be A … Puppeteer!

In January I had an advert pop up on my Facebook feed for a ten week long puppetry course at The Theatre Royal Plymouth hosted by People’s Company. I was very hesitant because I suffer with Generalised Anxiety Disorder and Social Anxiety but I also loved the idea of spending ten weeks learning more about puppets. Fearing that I may have made a giant mistake I pressed submit on the form and less than a week later I was walking into my first ever puppetry class.

Me with my tea towel puppet Tegan.

I felt very unsure what to expect and walking in on the first day was nothing short of terrifying but I managed it, the group of 20ish people was much bigger than I anticipated and the ‘getting to know you’ games and warm ups are like something out of my nightmares, however as we did each exercise, as I completed each task asked of me I started to feel more capable and less anxious. I was learning slowly that nothing bad would happen if I joined in and that equally nothing bad would happen if I chose to sit out and observe. Hannah and Danny who ran the ten week course could not of been more accepting of my physical and mental challenges, never pushing me further out of my comfort zone than I was happy to push myself. The rest of my classmates for the most part seemed equally anxious that first day and there was almost an immediate sense that we weren’t in this alone.

My tiny rod puppet Roxy Cleo.

It didn’t get any easier or less scary as the ten weeks went on, sadly GAD just doesn’t work like that and at least for me exposure therapy is not effective. Despite that fear remaining though I found that as the weeks went on I was enjoying the classes more and more, joining in a little more and pushing that fear to one side, acknowledging how I felt but allowing myself to do the things I wanted to do anyway without the fear paralysing me. I felt like I achieved a little success each and every time that I allowed myself to push the fear to one side. From sticks to tea towels, paper people and sticky tape puppets, it has been quite an adventure.

In the ten week long course we learnt about a lot of different puppetry styles and although I feel like I have just barely scrapped the surface of what there is to learn it was a fantastic starting point. I have created three puppets in the ten weeks, two were started there and finished at home and the third was made entirely at home. I want to try and make more, I think I knew going into the course that actually creating the puppets would be my favourite part.

Tiny Clara made from paper tape and fabric scraps.

I really feel like a new world is opening up for me, I have loved puppets for as long as I can remember and now I get a chance to meet people who are as enthusiastic about them as I am and who are actively encouraging people to get more involved in making and performing with puppets too. I have to give a special mention here to Broken Puppet Theatre Company who I have met through the course and who have nudged me in the right direction throughout!

Me and Clara in rehearsals.

Yesterday on World Puppet Day of all days we held the end of course showcase. I was delighted that my bear Barnacle (pictured below) was asked to open the show and bless him he did an amazing job with a little comedy routine. It was magical seeing everyone’s puppets come to life in their hands, each and every one was different and had a personality of their very own. The talent and skills on display was mesmerising from fishermen to devils, bunnies, dragons and everything in between. Working in a group of puppeteers on a short segment of a story I worked with a tiny puppet that I had created and named Clara (pictured above), she got to ride a bear, meet a crone, make a deal with a giant troll queen and save her prince! It was amazing to work alongside the puppeteers that I had got to know over the ten week course.

I am so sad that the course has ended, I can only hope that I get an email someday from The Theatre Royal bringing us all back together, I feel like Hannah and Danny had so much more to teach us and we all felt like we were becoming a little company of our own. Ten weeks just isn’t long enough!!!

Barnacle Bear opened the show!

Happy belated World Puppet Day to you all, there will definitely be more puppets in Moby and Puddle’s future and I hope that you are looking forward to it as much as I am. I don’t want to stop now and I think I might actually want to be a puppeteer when I grow up!

Thank you for reading my blog,

Samantha Webb.

This is me straight after the showcase, on a high from a great performance but sad about saying goodbye.

Roxy Cleo – My First Rod Puppet

I have recently enrolled on a puppetry course with The Theatre Royal Plymouth and People’s Company. I absolutley love puppets, having grown up with Labyrinth, The Storyteller and Fraggle Rock, puppets have always been fascinating to me. I have tried to make puppets a few times through the years with varying levels of success but this is the first ever rod puppet.

My puppet Teagan.

I enrolled on the course because I suffer from anxiety disorder which is affecting my life negatively especially when it comes to sharing my children’s stories, I am really proud of them and want to share them with more children without it causing issues to my health, mentally and physically. Pushing my comfort zone to it’s limits seems like a good way to do that for me. So far I have to say it is brilliant, I am ready and at a point where I want to become more self confident. I have completed three of the ten sessions and even though it is terrifying I am loving every one. I do not think I would of been ready to push myself socially this time last year, it has come up at the perfect time for me. It will not be a cure for my anxiety but might just remind myself that life and people aren’t always so scary in fact the group I am in has been amazing and accommodating of my limitations. If you are even slightly interested in trying one of The People’s Company courses (they do a range of them) I would highly recommend them.

However it has made me want to play with different kinds of puppets, the photos of tiny rod puppets (puppets controlled by rods) was so inspirational that I had to try and make one. I have lots of work to do but when inspiration strikes you have to go for it.

So I sat down with my needle felting supplies, I haven’t needle felted since I have recovered from repetitive strain in my shoulder. I am not sure where Roxy Cleo came from, one minute she was a ball of wool and the next moment her little face emerged, fibre arts really do work like magic! The shoulder pain was so worth it to see her little smile.

I created the teeth and claws with polymer clay, they are so tiny I was worried about loosing them in the oven! It was so fiddly to glue them on and they are quite sharp but they finish her little features off so well.

Her body is sewn from scraps of fabric and if you look too close (don’t) one leg is a lot longer than the other. I had no plan of what she was going to look like and no pattern so I just made it up as I was going along, using what felt right. I cannot put into words how proud I am of those tiny shoes, they are made of felt and have little twine laces that are laced up! It was so fiddly and now I am wondering if I could make them even smaller some day!

For her rods I have used floristry wires which I had available, they aren’t really strong enough especially on her head, if they were stronger then she would have more motion but that is trial and error. I would plan more in the future and source some more suitable hardware.

I really love how she came out, Lilly Webbling suggested the name Roxy and Harry Webbling suggested Cleopatra, I couldn’t decide between them so she is now called Roxy Cleo. I used a little chalk to weather her shoes and give her a little blush and then she had her photo shoot. (You can see a video on my Instagram page too.)

I would love to make more puppets, it is amazing to see something I have created come to life with a little personality. I am excited to learn more on my puppetry course and hopefully be able to breathe even more life into little Roxy Cleo. I hope you love her as much as I do.

Thank you for reading my blog and meeting Roxy Cleo,

Samantha x