Using Puppetry to explore Verbatim Theatre.
Jen Kilgour, Pigsticks Productions, created the puppet. I highly recommend her – she is enthusiastic, has a great eye for detail, and is a fantastic partner to work with!
As with all first days, a lot of time is spent finding your feet. Jen and I built a gazebo in the middle of the room to give a darkened space. I played with Bobi, the puppet, and established some movement, mannerisms and characteristics. The flow that the rods in Bobi’s arms gave was magical, and really easy to manoeuvre once I got the grip of it. The biggest challenge was getting Bobi to pick up and release their mobile phone. We got there eventually!
I made a point of starting every day with goals to achieve, and then noting down what I had achieved, along with feedback. This was helpful, not only as a plan for the week, but to remind myself of what I was achieving. I am incredibly self-critical (which can a positive, but also a downfall) and I tend to focus a lot on what I can do better, rather than taking the time to congratulate myself on what I have done well. Noting down my progress helped me a lot when I walked away from the studio every night, and then encouraged me on the way back in the following day. I also filmed everything I did, which is a necessity when working alone with a puppet.
When I left that night, I felt disappointed in myself – for no particular reason, I had received good constructive feedback, and just needed to relax and that “moment of inspiration” would come to me. But for now, I just closed my eyes as I pulled out of Queen Street Station and waited for that moment.
I didn’t have a great sleep. I was so restless, it felt like my brain was still trying to figure out what I was trying to make. I did some more reading of research materials on the train. It finally clicked. The focus for the story, the new narrative I was to play with, the different true scenarios all finally had a common theme, suddenly conversations I had forgotten about were coming back to me and I remembered what I was doing. I started writing part of a script, and made my way into the studio. I ran my new narrative passed Jen – yes!
Our first task was to run a workshop in Shadow Puppetry. It was a real shock to the system having to think about something else and ignore what I had been spending so much time thinking about, but workshops can offer so much inspiration. I showed the attendees some puppets, and we all sat down to our own puppets with a scene to play in. I showed them a video from Richard Bradshaw, and we played with torches and the OHP. It was great fun to see what everyone was making. My favourite part of running a workshop is when people begin to play. By the end of the workshop, everyone had joined one scene, and all of their puppets were interacting. We played with colour, scale, revealing puppets, and water, all in 90 minutes. I wish we had had more time!
After a break for lunch, it was back to Bobi. Jen thought of a wonderful idea for a big block of wood so that all the shadow puppets could be placed in there, therefore easily lit by Bobi and high enough for the audience to see. The narrative was coming along much better. As I was using verbatim theatre, some stories were really troubling me, and I had to step back a couple of times and have some coffee and make shadow puppets.
I went to my aerial class when I got back to Edinburgh. It was a relief from the intensity of the week and working with tough material.
Show day (sharing day). First things first – set up the space downstairs. This was where we realised we should have done all of this yesterday. With the sharing at 16.00, we were beginning run-throughs at 14.30. Jen was incredible and jumped in to play Bobi’s mum, while also playing the various soundtracks, and playing powerpoint projections onto a screen for text messages. It felt suddenly so real. Everything that we had worked on over the week, all the preparation, was all coming to end.
The sharing couldn’t have gone better. While we panicked just before with pre-show jitters, our adrenaline took over, and we received fantastic positive feedback; Bobi was believable, the stories were interesting, the form was powerful, and everyone loved sitting on the floor right next to Bobi.
Before we knew it, it was time to pack it all up, and head back through the Edinburgh.
THE END … OR IS IT?
This residency has been absolutely fantastic. Not only have I learnt so much about combining puppetry with verbatim theatre, I performed my own work, with a brand new puppet, and grew so much in confidence as a theatre maker. The positive feedback was so humbling, and I cannot wait to see what happens next for Bobi.
SPECIAL THANKS TO;
Jen Kilgour (Pigsticks Productions)
Babis Bozoglou (Technician, design of Bobi’s light sources)
Alan Richardson (Surge, Mentor)
Melanie Jordan (Surge)
Ruth Siller (Surge)
Karen Veitch (Surge)
Kirsten Kearney (Surge)
Claudine Quinn (Zoom Club)
Stewart McLaren (Mix Up Theatre)
The Young People who told me their stories