Do you speak puppetry
Puppetry as an alternative form of communication
Components of the Language of Puppetry
The audience is whoever is watching the puppeteer perform with the puppet; it consists of one or more people. A teacher watching and interacting with a puppet operated by a child is an audience just as the people who come to a theater to see a puppet show are an audience. The audience has essentially entered into a contract with the puppeteer. The puppeteer's contractual commitment is to perform for the audience. The audience, in turn, has agreed to watch the entire performance and to react and interact. This reaction can be through laughter, sighs, applause, audience participation during the performance, questions and remarks to the puppeteer after the performance, or any other expression that can occur as a result of the actions and story of the puppet theatre. The puppeteer's performance and the audience's reactions are the elements of the dialogue that can be created through puppetry. This dialogue is essential to speaking puppetry.
In order to be an effective participant in the dialogue initiated by a puppet performance, the audience member must actively attempt to understand the message that the puppet and the puppeteer want to convey. This requires an attitude of honest curiosity. The audience member must try to discover who the puppet is, what it has to say, and how these elements effect him personally. He must find an appropriate manner to share his curiosity and discoveries with the puppet and puppeteer. Sharing this information opens the space for dialoguing.. The puppeteer feels support from the curiosity of the audience; he will most likely feel threatened by judgment and criticism from the audience. If he does not feel that it is safe for him to communicate with the audience, the feelings and thoughts that were attempting to come out may be suppressed. When contemplating a puppet show, the audience member should frame his thinking with such questions as: What did I like about this puppet show? What parts of the story or which characters particularly interested me? How do I feel about these characters and elements of the story? What was it about them that particularly interested me? What further information do I need to know about the story and about the characters? It is important for the audience member to watch and listen with an open mind. Nurturing curiosity instead of judgment will heighten the theatrical experience and dialogue. The puppeteer is using the puppet to express something he needs to express and to discuss with the audience. The audience members must listen with their ears, eyes, hearts and minds in order to understand this language and to enable themselves to speak puppetry.
I met Dan in Israel in a school for behaviorally disabled boys. He was ten years and had been expelled from two schools because of destructive conduct. I was teaching puppetry classes in the school. The students created their own puppets and wrote stories about them. The stories were often metaphors for their lives. By working with and developing these stories, we evolved a safe way of looking at immediate issues. Dan made a paper puppet and presented it to me and the other five boys in his group. The puppet told us that his name was The Murderer. He was a real murderer who had lived one thousand years ago. Everyone thought he was dead, but the truth was that every night, at midnight, his spirit would come to life. It would fly through the air until it came to "a certain boy's" window. It would knock on that boy's bedroom window, and the boy would open the window and let it in. The spirit would float into the room and enter the boy's body. When the boy woke up in the morning, the spirit would be inside of him, and it would cause him to misbehave. That was the reason why this boy got into a lot of trouble at school and at home.
It was clear that the puppet and its story provided Dan with a safe form of communication about aspects of his life. If he had told the story in the first person singular, he might had said something like, "I am so bad that I have kicked out of two schools! No one wants me around. I don't know why I behave this way. If I am bad at this school, I will be sent to a closed institution. I am afraid that I won't be able to be good." Listening to this, he might see himself as a horrible person, which he most certainly was not! Projecting his feelings and fears onto another being, the puppet, allowed him to step out of the focus, express what needed to be said, and begin to examine it from the outside.
It is absolutely essential in such cases that the audience remains curious and not judgmental. Dan needed our support and understanding. He was baring his soul. He felt that he was a "bad boy". He wanted to change, but he was afraid that he would not be able to act differently. We asked questions about the puppet and "the boy in the story". I focused on the element of the window. The Murderer had knocked at the window, and the boy in the story opened it and let The Murderer come in. I asked Dan what needed to happen that would enable the boy in the story to refuse to open the window. He didn't have an answer at the time. We continued working on the story during the school year, and, in time, the boy in the story was able to keep the window shut. This occurred when the mother of the boy in the story stopped working nights, made food for her son everyday and helped him with his homework at night. Then, the boy in the story was able to sleep through the night. It was clear that Dan was speaking about himself, but he was not coerced to change his mode of communication, to move from talking about "him" to confessing about "me". This would have been a violation of the safe boundaries afforded to him by the use of puppetry. Communication needs a safe area for its cultivation. An audience can provide this safe area.