Student workshop inspires climate change puppetry

  • Date

    Thu 20 May 21

A plastic bottle and tin can transformed into climate change art

Second-year drama students have explored the issue of climate change, learning valuable puppetry and story-telling skills along the way, during an intensive online workshop with theatre professionals.

Students logged on from their homes in Japan, Portugal, Lithuania, Pakistan, Wales and beyond for the week-long workshop, led by Essex graduate Dr Sue Buckmaster, who co-founded the Theatre-Rites company 25 years ago.

With the help of Associate Artist Charlotte Dubery, Dr Buckmaster led the students through practical exercises using found objects from their homes, culminating in each student making their own puppet and giving a three-minute object-led solo performance.

Students prepared for the workshop by researching Theatre-Rites’ past productions, watching films on climate change, finding ecological stories important to them, and collecting waste.

During the week they learnt how to build a rapport between object, puppeteer and audience, and how to tell compelling, visual stories through discarded waste products.

Speaking about the use of puppets, Dr Liam Jarvis, who co-facilitated the workshop with support from Dr Nora Williams, said: “Puppetry is something we can innately understand as audiences because it’s an extension of underlying object relations formed in our childhoods. But the craft of puppeteering is more complex than child’s play. It involves comprehensive training to find the hidden life of an object.”

The tasks resonated with the students. Megan Greenhill, who was inspired by her research on the impact of sanitary products to create Mandy the Menstrual Waste Puppet, said: “It shocked me the amount of plastic waste that comes from sanitary products. I felt so naïve knowing I could have changed something so simple yet so detrimental…It was fun to create a loveable character that could teach morals and produce lots of smiles.”

“The expertise that was brought to every session was almost overwhelming, the level of knowledge that guided the activities was truly outstanding,” she added.

Read Megan's interview in full.

Megan Greenhill and Mandy the Menstrual Waste Puppet
"The expertise that was brought to every session was almost overwhelming, the level of knowledge that guided the activities was truly outstanding."
Megan Greenhill department of literature, film, and theatre studies

The students impressed the professionals too. Charlotte Dubery said: “The second-year students were such a delight to explore and play with. They worked incredibly hard and it was a real pleasure.

“I cannot imagine what it must be like for them to be forced to live their university experience online this past year - I have nothing but awe and admiration for them all! It was such a playful and joyous week, and I hope we have been able to provide them with an insight into object-based work and a fun toolkit they can carry with them next year and beyond.”

Dr Jarvis said: “Our intensive weeks offer students a unique, transformative opportunity to work in professional circumstances.

“The students all rose to the challenge, built their confidence and displayed staggering reserves of creativity. They leave with a deeper appreciation for the craft of object-led theatre, a more profound awareness of global ecological challenges, and an appetite to apply what they have learned in their future careers.”

Dr Buckmaster said: “At first I thought doing the residency on zoom would be detrimental to the experience and learning for the students. In fact it was completely the opposite. It felt appropriate, at the end of a year of study and creativity online, that the creative process and product continued to explore this medium. It will, for sure, become a more common part of all our future practice.

“Also, the fact that the students had to create individually meant that we explored what a performance inspired by object theatre could be from so many different perspectives. The results were an excellent way of sharing a rich amount of possibilities that this approach to art-making can take.

“This was inspiring for the students, the teachers and for Charli and myself. It was also an excellent way of continuing to develop the theories Liam and I have developed in our forthcoming book celebrating 25 years of Theatre-Rites.”

Header image courtesy of Olivia Marshall