I work each summer with teens in a program to produce puppetry work inspired by a museum art collection. Their puppetry reach has grown. At first, very brief and simple stories were presented as part of private museum tours with the shows giving another layer to nearby artwork. Now, two weeks of public shows are presented in the local libraries. I work with them really a very short time (up to 22 hours – due to museum budget as well as my touring schedule) on writing, then puppet building, then performance skills. In that time, we are to prepare at least eight stories (since each docent writes their own piece) to be public ready. The writing is a project in itself – to offer something child friendly and cohesive, with a compelling plot. The construction of puppets is new to all of them, and generally I have to do a lot of basics, with their input on what they envision, so they can decorate and we can be done in time. Then, the performance skills of teamwork, voice, and particularly, movement take practice. That’s right, folks – puppetry is not as easy as it looks!
So, I do the best I can, with the time available, then they are on their own as museum staff takes them around to the libraries. I attended the last show this summer. It was a wonderful group of teenagers, all with interest in some art form – some writing, some visual art, some performance. The stories had shaped up pretty well, as far as the writing, and flowed smoothly. The manipulation was erratic, however, due to lack of time and direction in rehearsal and this led me to wonder – should student work
be out in public when it is sub-standard? Yes, puppetry has a visual component that can be charming at any manipulation level, but is this doing the art form a disservice? Should the public (who are not their parents or friends) excuse this in a public venue?
Some of the audience were too young to be there, which happens often in public spaces. But the appropriate age children were attentive and responsive.
I do lots of work in schools, with children presenting for each other and for school families and although the work is high quality for what it is, I would not consider it public ready: it illustrates the culmination of a process, which happens to end with a product. However, in a public venue, it has to be all about the product, as that is all the audience can know about it. Which leaves me wondering…. When is it ready?