Puppets, Drama & Masks
From Junior Kindergarten to adult, everyone loves the look and feel of real wood. We collect scraps from cabinet makers and show participants how to play with the pieces until they look right, glue flat surfaces together, then add features, a handle and a fabric body.
The result? A sturdy little rod puppets that can be used for all kinds of dramatic presentations. Every puppet is unique and everyone can do it.
One half day session is enough time to make the puppets, talk about how to work a puppet and how to make up stories for puppet shows, and give small groups a chance to share their creativity with the class. You can get an instruction sheet for scrap wood puppets, in PDF format, here.
We need an open space for drama workshops—the gym, the library, or a classroom with desks pushed aside. Participants should wear comfortable clothes that can move. To begin, we ask the whole group to form a large circle for some exercises designed to warm up bodies, voices, imaginations, and co-operative spirits. We do some stretches, and voice work that focuses on how to project and be loud without straining throats, how to change your voice from high to low, and work the muscles that pronounce words, aiming for clearer and stronger articulation. The warm-up finishes with some tongue twisters and amusing poems. We all say them together, which helps the shy ones open up and everyone enjoys them.
Next, small groups go off in various corners and choose a nursery rhyme that everyone knows, and plan how they can it act out without words. They are encouraged to used their bodies to make pictures, with an emphasis on using your imagination and of course, co-operation.
All the groups come back to share their work, and if the others can guess what nursery rhyme youve acted out, congratulations, youve successfully communicated it to the audience. Now the group performs it for us again, with everyone in the class speaking the words, so that the whole group becomes a chorus as the small group acts it out.
When everyone has had a turn, we sometimes repeat the game; the rhymes are still to be acted without words, but this time everyone should add a sound effect. Weve seen this activity produce some incredibly imaginative work in groups from primaries to teenagers. The energy, flexibility, and trust of fellow performers would be envied by many professional actors.
We usually finish this session, which takes about an hour and ten minutes or one block of a school day, with a whole group game like telling a story with each participant adding one word at a time.
We often follow this one block workshop with a second session in the same half day. In that case, we would come back after recess with more drama/improv games such as household machines, in which small groups create toasters, washing machines, etc. Or the whole group creates an imaginary machine in which every person becomes one part that does an endlessly repeating sound and action that somehow connects to another part of the machine. This is a perennial favourite with lots of opportunities to learn about moving in space, projecting sound, cooperation and more.
Our mask making workshops are suitable for grades four and up. We've deveoped a simple approach that is very sucessful.
We introduce the students to mask-making traditions from various culture. Then, they make their masks out of a durable, tear-resistant felt called flexi-firm, and colour them with crayons, coloured pencils or permanent markers.
They can then work in small groups using creative drama techniques to create a presentation.
We've prepared a booklet on our mask workshops which you can see here.
It can be tricky getting the position of the eyes holes right, so we provide a simple template for that. You can see it here.
The simple, beautiful effect of cardboard cutouts with windows of coloured acetate, placed on a cotton screen and back-lit with an overhead projector has to be seen to be believed.
We like to begin this workshop by introducing students to a particular visual style, such as Egyptian hieroglyphics, Inuit print making or African art. We encourage them to design their puppets on newsprint first, paying attention where appropriate to drawing principles such as scale, proportion and perspective.
This design is then cut out. The part that will move on the puppet is cut off at this point, and an extra hinge/overlap piece added to the moveable part. Then both parts—the main body and the moveable part—are traced onto cardboard, cut out, and linked together with a split pin.
Window holes cut in the cardboard and backed with colourful bits of plastic acetate sheets create colour, definition and decorative touches. Each puppet gets two rods (straightened coat hangers or welding rods), one for the main body and one for the moveable part, and it’s ready to hold up against the screen.
Small cutouts of scenery can be placed directly on the overhead projector, and shadow puppets on the cloth screen will appear to be in front of huge mountains, trees, oceans or monsters.
For participants aged ten and up. You can get instructions, in PDF format, for shadow puppets and other cardboard puppets here.
We are also available for some longer school visits. A week might begin with a performance of one of our shows for your students, followed by puppet/drama workshops for several classes and end with a presentation of student work.
We've also taught drama and puppet making at The School of Dance and the Ottawa School of Speech and Drama for many years.