I recently visited Woodnook Primary School in Accrington to do two different shadow puppet workshops with two different age groups. Class 3 had been working on “The Iron Man” by Ted Hughes and their teacher, Mrs. Macleod, thought it would be a perfect story to make into a shadow puppet show with her class.
I agreed wholeheartedly and was very inspired by the idea of working with this story for a shadow puppet show. I had read the book when I was at primary school myself but thought I had better get a copy from the library to refresh my memory. Our local library in Bentham is one of the ones threatened with losing its paid staff so I had a New Year’s resolution to make a point of using it more.
The copy of the book that I received was a very recent one with very interesting, award winning, illustrations by Laura Carlin which actually use photographs of paper-cut figures and shapes and their shadows. So I took this along as well to provide a bit of extra inspiration for the class should they have a different version of the book, (I figured the more different versions of the illustrations they had access to the better). I did however go through all the different ways the Iron Man is described in the book with the children. They knew the book really well and remembered nearly all the clues to his appearance eg. taller than a house, a foot as big as a single bed etc.
We also did a bit of work on music and sound effects for their shows, and the class worked on different scenes from the book in groups and performed their shows for each other at the end. The class seemed to really enjoy using the OHP (over-head projector) that I brought in and the lighting gels for their shows. Children in primary schools now have never seen traditional OHPs before and the children saw it as a very magical device, (which it is of course).
The children all did really nice work and came up with some fantastic puppets and performances – particularly considering they had never made shadow puppets or performed a shadow show before. The children who chose to do the scene at the beginning of the book with the Iron Man at the top of the cliff did a fantastic joint narration, (they had memorised that section of the book together as a class previously).
The second, older group (class 5/6) had been working on the “Light & Shadow” topic previously in class. It was suggested that we could potentially use “The Highwayman” poem that they had been working on in class as source material. This struck me as quite a hard subject matter for a shadow show for children because of all the period costume that they would be unfamiliar with. Horses are quite challenging to draw as well. So I gave the groups the option to either do “The Highwayman” or to come up with a story and characters out of their imaginations. I did, however, use the poem as an example to help them think about how to draw and cut out a character as a shadow puppet for a show.
The second group, despite having slightly less time than the first, did remarkably well and came up with some very creative character and story ideas. They also did some very nicely cut out puppets and performed their little shows for each other at the end.
I also did my “Jabberwocky!” suitcase show for both classes to give the children inspiration for their own shows at the beginning of the session.
If you would like a shadow puppet workshop or a show for your school or youth theatre group CLICK HERE to get in touch. The content of the workshops can be tailored to fit your group.
If you are thinking about a puppet show as a treat for the whole school, remember that it is the 150th Anniversary of “Alice in Wonderland” so CLICK HERE to find out more about our adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s fabulous book.