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Harold Boy’s National School (Dalkey) Residency

For twelve two hour sessions from January to April 2012 I worked with twenty-four nine year olds (third class) in Harold Boys’ National School in Dalkey. It was funded and supported by Dún Laoghaire - Rathdown Arts Office and the Blackrock Education Centre and I worked in collaboration with their teacher Lorna Mc Dermott and the special needs assistant Patricia O’ Neill. Earlier I posted some images of the boy’s work and a short film of the residency will be posted shortly on Dún Laoghaire - Rathdown Councy Council Arts Office website. You can also see images of and info on the work on Harold Boy’s own website.

I started by visiting with a suitcase of puppets inviting the boys to interview both me and the puppets to discover as much information as they could. They asked about how the puppets were made and what stories they came from and learnt a lot about how I work. I gave them clipboards to note down what they found most of interest. We then brainstormed together questions they thought I should ask them in turn, to discover a little of who they were and what kind of work we might do together. Then, again on the clipboards, they answered these questions. From these notes and the group discussion I got ideas of what would interest them in terms of story-making, materials and techniques - for example clay, papier mache, animation, film. As the first session was very discussion and writing based and a bit laborious for all concerned, for the second session I wanted something very hands on which could tell what they liked in terms of story. I asked them to each make a simple storyboard, just four images, depicting the most interesting parts of a story they particularly liked. They then chose one of these ’scenes’ and made a clay model of it, using clay tools and texture makers, sticks and skewers. We photographed these at the end of the session with the boys choosing the angle of the shot. In the next session to continue the ’getting to know you’ theme, we looked at some famous artists’ portraits, and undertook some research into their own faces - feeling them eyes closed, exploring them like topographers, comparing them to maps, drawing them using mirrors in various ways and then modeling self portraits in clay. The following week after some discussion about television and film they began to build heads from recycled materials - plastic milk bottles, toilet rolls, newspapers and tape, and in the following weeks used papier maché, fabric and other assorted materials to make these into hybrid rod and hand puppets. For the final sessions we used various games and more clipboard exercises to playfully discover who each character might be and how they might relate to each other. For example the boy’s puppets interviewed each other using microphones made from silver sprayed toilet rolls. They also visited each others puppets on tables laid with sheets of paper on which they could offer brainstorms of who they might possibly be and then folded the page to hide the ideas so the next contributor could have a ’blank slate’ - at the end the owner of the puppet had lots of ideas to pick and choose from and the boys enjoyed moving from puppet to puppet like a party game. After these exercises they made ’passports for life’ for their puppets, detailing not only the standard passport information but also things like Talents, Likes, Dislikes, Life events, Accidents etc. Through these and more activities we came up with six categories of story / settings which the boys chose from to form six groups. We returned to storyboarding with each boy drawing one scene of a four scene story which they used as a basis for simple improvised performances for each other. We filmed these and on watching them we suggested ways to improve the performances and drew up some puppet performance rules. Performance sessions began with a group warm-up and usually ended with their showing each other their improvisations using simple booths made from school furniture and sheets. On their last day each group chose how they wanted their puppets filmed, taking turns to frame up the shots etc for their own ’puppet television’. Although, as always, the time flew and it felt like we were all just beginning to learn how to collaborate together when it was time to finish, I think it is fair to say it was a very rich experience for us all - boys and teachers alike were very positive about it. On completion of the residency the school invited the parents in to see an exhibition including the puppets and a selection of their filmed performance work.

The Boy’s Puppet Performance "Rules"

Hide Puppeteer

Remember to let your puppet breathe

Keep your puppet up in view

Move your puppet’s head

Use human details, eg: sneeze or cough, clear throat before speaking etc

Speak clearly

The speaking puppet moves in the rhythm of what it says. Listening puppets look at who is speaking (or not if they want to make a point of it) and keep still

Use puppet arms sometimes

Take turns to speak

Consider how your puppet might enter or leave the space in interesting ways

Using a narrator is a possibility

How might a setting and props help your story

Work as a team



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