A couple of weeks ago I attended a puppetry workshop at Northern Stage run by Rene Baker. A puppetry workshop without puppets. And it was absolutely astonishing.
We spent two days working with materials, exploring what the materials like to do, what we could do with them and, most intriguingly, what we could do together (where the ‘we’ is the material and a person). Through several sets of exercises we started to get to know the materials and to find ‘moments’ with them, all the time recording by photographs and short video clips.
Finally, we reviewed the photos and videos, selected and named the moments which stood out for us, and put them into a story-board for a piece. In two days we obviously weren’t going to produce a finished piece, but I did make a short video from our story-board, to give an impression of what could have developed.
We started with three materials; leather, small pots and pans, and envelopes. By the end of the first session we left the leather alone: somehow, having very clear animal origins, it felt too freighted with meaning and expectation. In contrast the envelopes began as a challenge, they seemed duller to begin with, but the exercises got us working at them, finding out what we could do together. The pots and pans lasted to the second session, but on the final day we had to focus on the envelopes.
We worked in two groups on the story-board, and from the same exercises and material we came out with two very different stories. In our group the envelopes became the occasionally overwhelming sea of life, becoming metaphors for the varied demands on our lives. The naming of moments was a powerful tool for transforming the simple exercises with envelopes into pieces of performance.
There’s a follow on course in June: I’m looking forward to it.