Attending the Broken Puppet Symposium on puppetry, Disability and Health last week was like stepping into a completely new world. And yet when I entered it, and moved about with open eyes and ears, I realised I had been part of this amazing, creative, fun, and astonishing place for pretty much all my life. I just did not know it…
While writing my presentation for the Broken Puppet Symposium, I looked back at the dolls and puppets I created in my life. I made dolls clothes on a Singer hand sewing machine around the ages of 7, or 8. Made my first doll at the age of ten. Borrowed doll making books throughout my teens from the library, and bought my first book at the age of 16. My first ever puppet, a clown, was created from this book. I still use the puppet body design in today’s classes! Nearly 40 years on…
Moving to Ireland saw the start of my Fantasy Folk Artist Dolls and Puppets. I had my work in shops, and has solo exhibitions. I work on Private and corporate commissions. Including the Waterford Crystal one, I wrote about a while back. A puppet/animated related work was that of Ballycardool by Jimmy Marukami. I also taught puppet making with two young art students from Finland, and in a group home, in the months before illness changed my life in 1998.
During this work at the group home with teenagers, I realised the Power of Puppets. I think there were about 6 youngsters in the group. All very eager to work with me. We had made the heads of the puppets and had started on the hands. One young lad of about 13 had made a clown’s head. Gorgeous. Funny. Just like himself. But when he made the hands, they were closed fists. Powerful stuff.
Puppets made their return in a big way when I started to facilitate the Life Outside the Box Puppet project with fellow members of the Irish Wheelchair Association (IWA) in 2015. This project catapulted me into the Puppet Symposium. I just didn’t see it coming!
Yes, I know I was invited to talk about the project. And yes, I was a little scared to say my bit amongst researchers, and speakers from all over the world. People who are involved with puppetry for years, and know what they are talking about. As it turned out, I also know what I am talking about.
I know the journey I made from childhood in dolls and puppets, from being an artist, witnessing the powerful ways puppets can explore challenges in our lives. I’ve seen it. And lived it. I just didn’t realize that what I have been doing in my work, especially working with others with disabilities, while living with disability myself, represents a unique experience.
Puppetry and disability
One of the first speakers Moira Jenkins, a lawyer, puppeteer, and lecturer, talked about the UN Convention of the rights of a person with disabilities – Which by the way is still not ratified by the Irish government – to be involved in the arts. More than just participation. We have every right to be respected as the originator and creator of our own work. (Article 30(2) Including puppetry.
Arts as a practice, not therapy.
I was nodding like a lunatic at so much what Moira was saying. Especially when it came to those horrible terms like ‘service user’ . Also when it came to context providers not just content providers. I created the context with my project, and so did my fellow members! Proud of that. My talk has led to the invitation to give guest lectures at the university Moira lectures at, and a collaboration about Disability Rights and Puppetry.
Over the two days I filled my head with images, and words, and stories, and opportunities. Some I listened to at the symposium, others via Skype while lying on my hotel bed. Thank you Emma for providing this option for me.
The speakers at the Broken Puppet Symposium
There were speakers from Japan, UK, Brazil, Germany, Finland, Portugal, Ireland, and other places. Subjects were: Well being, Disability, Hospital and care settings, and mental health. But even within these there was such a variety of subjects.
The speakers were either researchers in the field of puppetry, for example Persephone Sextou’s ‘Theatre for one’ with children in hospitals, to Caroline Astell-Burt who teaches at the London school of puppetry. Antje Wegener who uses puppets with kids dealing with trauma. Or puppeteers with their own story to tell. (See all names here). I loved how Oscar Goldszmidt worked with youngster with cerebral palsy, and enabled them to manipulate puppets. I was in awe with the presentation by Andrea Markovits from Chile, who talked about the puppets and traumatic memory project. Exploring the pain felt by the public of the past regime in Chile, the families of the disappeared, the tortured. Silent puppets. Beautiful puppets. Powerful stories.
Puppets as story tellers
The talks that touched me most were the ones where puppets explored and at times transformed the lives of their makers. Often by surprise. Puppets made Emma Fisher informed her thesis about puppets and disability, which was initially about others with disability. For some the puppets they created supported them during mental health challenges.
… after the Broken Puppet Symposium
The whole experience left me filled with images, and thoughts, and questions of where to go from here? It feels like there is no going back now. No going back into my box! It is all hugely exciting. I am aware my body is not yet as excited as my head, but I am certainly going to take small steps into this world which has been presented to me. Loud and Clear.
Puppets have been part of my life. A hidden part of my life. Deep in my psyche.
They, and me, are ready to come out and play!!
- To finish this amazing week, I learned that The Life Outside the Box project was also mentioned in a Journal about theatre.
- Further symposium Images by Nik Palmer
- A version of this story was first published on Corina Duyn’s Blog
- About Corina Duyn on Dao, and other story