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Puppetry with transition Year


Session 1

I told them how we would spend the first session getting to know a little about each other as we will be collaborating together, that we will be brainstorming and exploring various kinds of puppetry and ways of creating stories and that I would be using a series of games and exercises to do so.

1. Asked for their experiences of puppets before: the usual suspects Lamberts, punch and judy, magician/puppeteer, not much enthusiasm evident until they started to talk about youtube clips of puppetry, then War horse and the Lion king emerged (perhaps they did not originally consider these puppetry?) and ventriloquism, and television examples. During this discussion I took the opportunities as they came up to describe various puppet forms.

2. I showed them a Youtube clip from Slava’s Snow show "Palto" where he enacts a moving leave taking scene with a coat on a coat-stand as an example of puppetry. I told them how I would share ’inspirations’ such as this with them during the course and that maybe they might have some they want to share as well.

3. To help me get to know them and to introduce some basic story-telling I asked that they each would say their name and a short story about their name - how they got it perhaps, about a nickname, etc. I also told them that I would be asking a lot of questions today to find out as much as I could about them, but at any stage they could say ’pass’ if they were uncomfortable with sharing, but that I hoped they would be as open and generous as they could be. I took notes on what they said to help me remember who was who.

4. I then introduced them to the idea of a ’passport for life’ telling them how I usually use it as a brainstorming exercise for the creation of characters and that we might return to it in that context again but that I would like to use it for their own selves as part of our getting to know each other process. I told them I would do it too, and that I would collect them afterwards to read them but that then they would be returned to them and it would be up to them if they were shared with others or not. I also asked them to get a clipboard or folder for next week to keep all their work together. The questions I asked them to respond to were:

Name; Age; From; Good at; Not good at; loves; hates; Good thing(s) that happened to me; Bad thing(s) that happened to me; Favourite Story as a child; Favourite story/book/film now. At the end of the session we added to this (see below).

5. I then told them we would do something similar but for puppets, as a brainstorming exercise. I had brought 20 puppets, one for each participant, mostly from my own work, though I included a few bought or antique puppets as an introduction to the various forms. However the only puppet form I explained to them in advance to the exercise were the shadow puppets I had brought in case they had not an understanding of how the puppet would be seen as an audience which is quite different from the puppet in their hand. We have the luxury of a lovely big room where I had prepared 20 ’stations’ where each could work individually with a sheet of paper laid at each, and then the girls came up and got puppets from me. I timed the exercise, encouraging them to attempt to write non-stop for three minutes as much as they could imagine about the lives or stories of the puppets. I hid the questions from the previous exercise so that reading them would not ’stop the flow’ of their brainstorm but it would have informed this exercise by following it. After each three minutes I honked a horn and then the girls finished up, folded over what they had written so the next person could not see and be affected by it, and then moved on to the next puppet to their right. We did maybe five or six different rounds of this. I was interested to see that a lot of them wrote freely, clearly at no loss for ideas and used to creative writing, although not everyone found it easy. When we began to run out of time I called it a day, asked them to return to the seat from which they started and gave them some time to read the variety of answers, then I asked for volunteers to read a couple of ideas aloud. There were not as many volunteers for this as I might have expected from their otherwise enthusiastic response, but I will keep these and we may use them again later when they are forming new characters and creating stories for them. We will probably also use the exercise with their own puppets later. 

6. I then asked them to ask me questions about the actual stories / characters etc about puppets they had been using, having told them they could now form an introduction to my work. This worked well, although my attempt to back it up with images of the puppets in performance from my website was frustrated by a very slow internet connection. As part of this I demonstrated how the various puppets were operated and talked about the different ways their respective stories had come about - one in collaboration with a writer, another from a book, another interviews, another started with the puppet and the story emerged later, etc

7. I needed to keep an eye on the clock at that stage so we soon moved back to the ’Passports for life’ where I asked them to complete them by writing about what they hoped or wished for from our collaboration together. The analysis of this later was very useful to me.

8. In the sum up before clean up I supposed aloud that they were not ready yet to decide what kind of puppet form they might like to work with, but they disagreed and said they did know! I suggested a few forms, trying to lead them towards shadow puppetry as I felt they would be able to make the puppets more quickly and spend longer on other elements, but in fact they agreed unanimously it seemed, to make table top puppets. This may be because most of my puppets are of this form, but most of their curiosity had been aroused by these particular puppets too, which included the Coraline show which was made for their age group. It was clear also that it was important to them that each would have a puppet to take away with them at the end, and that they were not interested in collaborating in that respect. Intrigued by their clarity of decision making so quickly I asked did they think they knew yet whether they would prefer to start with story and then later make the puppets, or start with puppet making and then story, and they were again unanimous towards the latter. I had to think on my feet a bit then as I needed to ask them to collect and bring in materials immediately for making, so decided in favour of building from recycled materials and using either papier mache or paper pulp to cover it. So I asked them to collect, plastic bottles, newspapers, marbles and beads, etc, and later in the week followed it up with the more complete list below which their teacher would have given to them.

9. I had hoped to show them a showreel or two as part of the introduction to my own work at the end of the class, but by the time we had re-set the tables we had run out of time.


Materials list for table top puppet making from papier mache for 20 Transition year students


Masking Tape

plastic bottles of interesting shapes suitable for head base or shoulders/torso, especially litre milk bottles

Toilet  and tinfoil rolls

Egg boxes

Scrap cardboard

marbles, beads, buttons, sequins, bottle tops, anything that catches the light and might be interesting for eyes

takeaway tubs for glue

white or colored tissue papers

Hairy stuff - feathers, wools, strings, fake fur, velvet fabrics, etc

scrap fabric / old dolls or baby clothes that can be adapted

needle and thread

scrap foam, stuffing or wadding, scrap bubble wrap

plumbers foam tubes/other light tubing

toys that might be useful as puppet props


Newsprint 30 A3 sheets


Tissue paper especially white, yellow, pink, red, less so: blue, purple

Glue brushes

scissors / craft knives

permanent markers

Acrylic paint

Paint brushes


I will get Gaffa Tape, cable ties, string


Session 2

1. Showed the my own Tic Teac show reel as they came in as an example of Table top performance (albeit on a larger scale). Told them about dates of performance in case they wanted to see it. No takers for that, but it was not very ’local’.

2. Welcomed back and gave general introduction to the session. Showed them the group tables where I prepared labels taken from their ’passports’ the previous week - possible categories of shows/films that puppets might share. They chose one table to sit at according to a possible category of story that interests them, although these may not become their final groups for working in, the puppets at one table may become influenced by each other as they are made together and it might be helpful if people interested in similar stories have puppets of the same scale for example. The categories are Cooking; Singing (music); Mermaids / Fairy tales; Accidents; bullying. It will also encourage them to begin to think about story connections between puppets as they make. I could hear this happening in the room as they worked.

2. Gave out their passports for life and checked they have folders in which to keep all their work (offer that they can leave in room if they like).

3. As Feeding/inspiration: showed a you tube film of Hans Jürgen fettig’s table top puppets, how he uses geometric shapes and shadows in place of eyes to let the audience’s imagination do the work. I am not sure that they found this as interesting as I do but they did seem to graps what I asked them to do next so it served its purpose at least.

4. Research and design drawing. Felt their own heads and used paper and pencils to break down the head into basic geometric shapes. Looked at proportions together, of head and body, asked a volunteer to stand so we could work out our ideal height of puppet for their comfort (60 cms) and subsequent size of head approx 10 cms tall). They then did design drawings for this. Showed them design drawings for Dwiggons marionettes and my own ones for Tic Teac, but also mentioned how puppets can break the rules and be caricatures of human form. 

5. Demo, head building, to the scale we had decided. papier mache balls, bottle shapes, egg cartons, etc. letting materials give you ideas, playing with different shapes in different places, etc. Start w neck base on card. Asked them to build basic head structure (leave fixing eyes till later)and let them at it. By then they were eager to go.

6. Before they tidied up I encouraged them to collect necessary remaining materials for next week. 


Session 3


1. Checked in re notebooks/folders, design materials in them etc, this isn;t happening yet.

2. As some of them had come in late the previous week and didn;t really get a chance to choose seats in the various themed groups I asked were they sitting in the right place with regards to these, and some changed places the motivation for some of which I suspect were social rather than thematic but that is ok too.

3. Invited them to look at each other’s work before we started, to share ideas and learn from each other and as the puppets would be performing together. Checked in / reminder re head building - have they all done necks and bases? Used image resources / inspirations from Art Teacher Association workshops where they had built similar heads which I had on a memory stick. You can see similar work here under a years practice.

4. Did Hand Demo as a few were nearly ready for it. worked out scale in relation to their puppet heads (but again remembering puppets can use exaggerations of scale for character illumination) Broke down into basic shapes, drew onto milk bottles with permanent markers, cut and bent fingers etc. i also showed an alternative way of amking it from newspaper. One student wants to make really long thin fingers so she is going to bring in wire next week.

It had been my intention that when all the building was done I would give a papier mache demo, but the early birds were confident they did not need this and I observed that they seemed well used to it as a medium. I did however mention that I recommend that the 1 st layer should be newspaper, 2nd layer newsprint, 3rd layer brown paper or tissue paper then paint.

There was a lot of pleasure in making evident in the room and I was impressed with the standard of the work and their confidence and independence. 

5. Before they went invited them to look at each other’s work again, and reminded them to keep collecting materials, bring worksheets etc.


Plan for Session 4

1. Exhibition again. Show them their images up on

2. Demo papier maché, talk about different colours for different layers. Show some building tricks - cheeks and wrinkles, balling up wet mache and then covering with layers, or folding and building like that.. Tell them you will demo eye lids - later for during the final layer. Talk about colours of final layers, using tissue to mix colours show sample heads. Show painted one also, use it also as an example of what happens if you cut corners on papier mache and do it too thin. Demo hand covering. Plant them also first.

As they work if you can order paint, and work out some body demo pieces. 


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