Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Therapeutic Puppetry

Here are the rest of my notes from the workshop with Suzanne Down.

Friday she showed us how to do a puppet show where one of the puppets was itself a puppeteer! The Mother doll had a little felt sewn Wee Willie Winkie hand puppet tucked over her hand like a glove and she did a puppet show for her baby which she held in her other arm. When Suzanne does a nursery rhyme she always does it three times. She said the rhyme, sang the rhyme, and then hummed the tune of the rhyme. We talked about how the children absorb these nurturing qualities and how in the public school teachers aren't allowed to touch the children at all, so if a child needs extra nurturing one way is through this therapeutic puppetry. Suzanne also told us that the puppetry teacher and the early childhood director at Rudolf Steiner College go to a homeless shelter and work with the mothers using the Mother rod puppet/archetype to provide healthy modeling for them. We also added the rod hand (puppeteer's non-dominant hand) of the puppet -- having added the elastic band hand (puppeteer's dominant hand) already on Thursday. We also made our little swaddled babies for the Mother to hold. We practiced carrying the baby and transferring her -- securely -- from one shoulder to the other shoulder as well as holding her out -- securely -- to see the world, like if you are showing Baby an ant running along the garden path. The whole thing with holding the baby is that you have to make sure she looks like she's safe from the child's point of view, and you curve the felt hands to make them hold the baby in that way.

On Saturday, Suzanne showed us how to do a table play. This is a setup where the puppeteer is behind a low table and the table is spread with silks and other props to create the stage. To soften the edges of the table, she recommends laying a sheepskin down before you lay down the silks. You can also make a lap stage for yourself out of a lightweight piece of wood and curve in the middle a little bit where the puppeteer sits instead of making it an exact rectangle. We talked specifically about Protection stories and adding layers and layers of extra "skin" to add comfort and security. The extra skin is often a vessel, like when the animals take shelter in the classic story The Mitten. However, to add a therapeutic protection element, you wouldn't have the mitten burst at the end and have them all flying out into the snow! In the story Suzanne demonstrated, Mother was out walking in the garden and the wind blew her straw hat right off her head and carried it far away to a field. Two bunnies find it and make it their home. Then a little mouse comes along and joins them and nibbles a little hole in the hat where he could squeeze through and look out and see the world. An actual hole is in the needle felted hat, with a flap behind it of matching wool fleece. When the mouse nibbles, he is pushing aside the flap. When you put the hat on Mother's head before the story begins, you move the flap back to fill the hole so the children can't see it. Then Suzanne added even more of a feeling of shelter and protection with additional silks:

"Autumn wrapped itself around that little house (here she wrapped the hat with an autumn colored silk). Winter flew its frost and ice and snow fell over all the land (here she covered the hat and all around it with a silver silk) and still the hat stayed there.

"Then one day the warm sun shone down (pull back the two silks) and all the little friends started to come outside and the little hat still sat there. Spring came. One day Mother went walking. She walked right past her garden. She walked further and further. Once, twice, three times she saw something in the meadow far away. Could that be my hat? My little hat became a house. She sat and watched the animals for a long time. She decided, I will leave it there. That is a good place for my hat. (Mother goes back home, which is a silk-covered chair standing next to the puppeteer with its back facing the audience) That hat stayed in that meadow for a long time with all those little friends living in it. I wonder, if we walked in that meadow, would it still be there with all those little animals there safe and happy." Then Suzanne covered them again, first with the Autumn silk, then the Winter silk, then a gauzy rainbow silk, then the own silk which had been wrapped around her neck and covering her lap as she sat behind the table stage (this was a thicker rainbow silk), taking one end from around her neck, then the other end and covering the little house, humming the entire time.

We talked about the advantages of a table scene, the restrictions of a table setup (Mother can only go left-right and can't utilize the depth of the table) and we came up with ideas for our own story using a hat of Mother's and needle felted her a hat and some other props we had in mind. My Mother has a mind of her own and strongly asked for a blue and green striped hat which ended being much more of a winter hat than a summery sunhat (which is fine, you can do protection stories in any season) and it quite makes her look like a snowboarder! You want your Mother to really BE the mother archetype so some of that is in her appearance but it is more in how gentle, caring, and loving she is with the baby, so that it brings that feeling of security to the child. Your Mother can be a little on the young side.

Puppetry with adults can be a reminder OR a teaching of the archetype of mother. One day in the beginning (before we made the Mother puppets) we brainstormed the mother archetype and we focused on how Mother makes you feel inside. The question Suzanne asked us was "How do you feel when you think of the lifted qualities of a mother?" These were our words:

filled up

So if your Mother brings those to the child, you have been successful. The Mother archetype is in the soul realm and curves. The Father archetype is in the spirit realm and uprightness. Mother is nurturing. Father is action. They are also connected with the left and right sides of our body.

Feminine - L
connected to the heart
inward, rounding, curving

Masculine - R
out into the world
straight line

We embody all the archetypes within ourselves. This is why fairy tales speak to us so deeply.

By the way, it's fine for your swaddled Baby doll to have a gender. You can call it he or she during the story, not just "my little one". The children will identify with it either way. For the remainder of Saturday, we practiced having our puppet walk along the table edge. Suzanne recommends thinking of the walk as a subtle lemniscate. It is NOT a bouncing motion.

Sunday was the last day of the workshop! We began it with a lesson on how to create stories of our own. Suzanne had us lay blank paper and a pencil down on the picnic table outside, then take a silent walk around the school playground, animal pens, and garden. We walked in silence for about 45 minutes. Our job was to find three things that really draw in our interest and to not only observe them to to observe how our body was when we were showing interest. One of the things that the Mother shows the children is caring interest. When she looks at them to say good morning, for example. So you need to think of how you move your body to show that. Then we were to come back to the table and silently journal our experiences. My 3 were a tight sunflower head which was just bursting to open, the amazing energy of the chickens as they scurried and pecked, and the feel of the wind and the sense of air all around me. I was -- apparently -- the only person who kept my list to three! But I noticed that there can be a lot of things which are lovely in the garden... that's different than something really grabbing you and pulling you in and absorbing all your senses. So I wrote down what was very strong for me. Then we were to draft a written version of a Protection story using Mother's hat which we felted yesterday and incorporating the three things that we saw this morning. Either them in particular (like if you saw a ladybug on your walk you could put a ladybug character in your story) or something which comes from them (like if you saw a worm burrowing into the soil and that makes you think that Mother could be digging in her garden). After we each wrote our stories, we read them to one another. Then we went inside to needle felt any new props that we needed as a result of creating this story. In the afternoon, we practiced our stories and then told them for one another, and then Suzanne sent us off into the great blue yonder and told us to practice them over and over in front of an audience and that we will continue to improve with time, gain confidence, and the stories will grow and evolve and branch out into new stories. The number one thing is to not put your Mother doll away until you feel you are good enough to perform a show. Get her on your hands and give it a whirl! If you wait until you think it's "good enough", you'll never do it.

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