Ideas for writing come from everywhere: the idea collecting part of a writer’s brain is always on alert. I want to share my experience in an annual writing project with teenagers that takes place at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art here in New Orleans.
These stories are created for presentation as puppet theater in local libraries, so there are specific considerations relevant to puppetry as well as universal factors in basic good writing. I will briefly describe the process, but mainly wanted to showcase the creativity of these young writers and artists, in finding story inspiration in art work.
I have led this project for several summers. This year, seven absolutely wonderful teen docents taught in the children’s summer art camps and were trained to lead museum tours. They were also given time to select a favorite artwork in the museum which they used as inspiration around which to build a story. I spend only about six afternoons with them. I bring in a few puppets from my collection and discuss how to choose the best technique for each story:
Shadow puppets were not an option due to light control in the libraries. I don’t work with marionettes, and we also had time and staging option limitations that eliminated that technique. Last year some miming puppets were used by one group, but we decided that was unwieldy because of the extremely simple staging the museum chooses to carry to the sites. So, traditional hand puppets or rod puppets were the best options. We discussed that technique choice, beyond personal preference, was based on what the characters needed to do: Was picking up props crucial? Then hand puppets may be the best choice.
We then looked at a pile of children’s picture books I brought in. We discussed how an overarching theme could be woven into a wide variety of stories. I presented the concept of using a mentor text, and they chose a few favorites of the picture books.
Each decided on an over-arching theme they saw in their selected art piece and created a simple plot sequence. They were instructed not to write a word-for-word script – just a list of events in their story, which would be fleshed out later. Some preferred to draw the sequence as sketches in sequential boxes.
I met with each artist, and they described what they planned to make so that I could bring in the necessary materials and tools (I wish we could meet in my studio – maybe next year!). They built for a couple days, then began rehearsals. I invited written notes to be made by all for critique purposes, and rehearsals continued to prepare for the shows!
Following are synopses of each artist’s story with inspirational artwork. I am endlessly fascinated with the diversity of ideas they come up with!
INSPIRATION: The Mourners, by Benny Andrew
STORY: “The Nose” An outcast girl from an unusual family finds a large nose, which she adopts as a pet.
ART CONNECTION: Gloomy appearance of painted people inspired a family in which a shadowy world was normal.
INSPIRATION: Second Line # 2 by Keith Duncan
STORY: “Jazzin’ It Up” A street musician does not know what is wrong with his horn until discovering a bird flew into it.
ART CONNECTION: Two specific people in the street parade scene inspired an imagined encounter with a problem they must solve.
STORY: “Luna Flora” A girl living in a crowded household seeks a peaceful place to rest.
ART CONNECTION: The girl alone in the field of flowers inspired a fairytale-like quest.
INSPIRATION: Helen’s Gate, by Sharon Kopriva
STORY: “The Wolf” Two deer must outsmart a hungry wolf.
ART CONNECTION: The wilderness landscape, along with use of actual sticks in the multimedia work, inspired a story imagining characters in this setting. By the way, actual sticks were used for the deer puppets’ antlers.
INSPIRATION: Fat Kids From Outer Space, by graffiti artist TARD (ADULT LANGUAGE)
STORY: “Super Carrot” A young carrot and his father must protect their tomato plants from a hungry monster.
ART CONNECTION: The depicted cartoon-like characters inspired the story events. (Work shown not selected piece.)
STORY: “The Scrappies and the Fancies” Child friends from a poor and a rich family trick their parents into understanding that their different backgrounds are not important.
ART CONNECTION: Photographic image of an inter-racial young couple inspired the story.
STORY: “The Mask” A boy told to clean the attic finds a mask that allows him to converse with his dog.
ART CONNECTION: The mask like form inspired the story which featured a boy and his grandmother.