A great first outing for Festa Italia Lancaster!

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I was invited to provide the family entertainment for a new festival in Lancaster (organised by Lancaster BID) by “The Melodrome Mobile Stage“.  It was an Italian themed festival called “Festa Italia” with food and entertainment in an Italian theme which would also hopefully promote interest in Lancaster’s Italian businesses.

I was invited to perform my two Shadow Puppet Suitcase shows “Edward Lear’s Nonsense” and “Jabberwocky!”, unusually with both shows within each 30 minute set.  I normally stick to one show per set to avoid having to swap 2 sets of puppets over mid-set.

My first set was in Church St. where a lot of the Italian businesses are and I started off with the Edward Lear’s Nonsense (as this has more puppets) and swapped to Jabberwocky afterwards.  This was relatively manageable as even though this show has scenery it only uses 8 puppets and Edward Lear has at least twice as many.  I also had Rough Magic Theatre’s Tim Austin as puppet wrangler (aiding me getting the two sets of puppets swapped around).

It had looked like it could be raining all day when we set out and we were worried no-one would be there but there were plenty of crowds and the occasional showers did not put people off.  We were also fortunate that it was dry at the times we were performing.

We met lots of the other acts in the Green Room in Lancaster Museum including a group promenading in Venetian Carnival inspired costumes:

Our second set at the Melodrome Stage in the Market Square attracted much larger crowds and we, the audiences and the Melodrome Stage were all very pleased.  We were very fortunate that at the time of day we were due to perform at the Market Square the sun was going in the right direction so we did not have to rely on artificial lighting and got really clear shadows.  Normally speaking when we perform this show that is not an issue as we just perform in the right direction for the sun and get the audience to move to the right position, (or perform for people who are already in the right position) but in this case there was already an area for the audience with seating etc. set up for the Melodrome stage so it was convenient things turned out as they did!

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It seemed to be a very successful day all round and there were crowds there for the bands and food etc. long after we had finished at 4.45pm.  This was great as at most festivals I’ve attended people start to head home at around 4.00pm!

We had a great day and were well looked after by the Melodrome team.  It was also a first successful outing for the Shadow Puppet Suitcase shopping trolley!

I had had an idea some time ago to do a new version of the suitcase theatre with a bigger screen and puppets by converting a pram, (you can see the previous post about it HERE).  I had been concerned that it might be too low down and David Goboff suggested I look into shopping trolleys instead.

It occurred to me recently that I needn’t wait to build a whole new theatre on top of the trolley but that I could simply strap my existing theatre to the trolley and be able to use it right away.  Feedback I have had so far suggests that not having the theatre strapped to me makes the shadows clearer as it is not moving around as much.  It is also easier to operate the puppets though slightly more challenging to lower the “curtain”.

I decided to try this set-up now as I am currently expecting another baby (due in February) and so did not want to be strapping the fairly heavy suitcase to me.  I am available for bookings up to the end of this year and from September next year and Rough Magic Theatre’s Tim Austin will also be available for his solo shows: Mad Hatter’s Tea Party walkabout, The Interrupted Wedding shadow puppet show and Jolly Rodger Pirate Parties for summer next year.

Please get in touch if you are wanting shadow puppet workshops in schools this year and family entertainment for Christmas events or Festivals of Light.


The Iron Man at Woodnook Primary School

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.