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Create a Puppet, Create Yourself

Angela Smith, Learning Projects Manager of the Citizens Theatre, sits in an office full of brown paper and string, materials she has come to have a fondness for. The fondness stems from her understanding of their power, something she has developed over the past two years.

“It’s so cheap, and you can get so many puppets out of one roll of brown paper,” Smith explains. “Anyone could find materials where they could achieve this, and it’s not expensive, and it’s actually quite quick to make, so it’s a really accessible project.”

The project she refers to is Create a Puppet, Create Yourself, an Erasmus+ funded project that explores the use of puppetry for social integration.

It’s one of those projects that you can introduce it to any age group, you can introduce it to any type of group at all, and they will get something out of it, depending on what your goal is ultimately. Everybody seems to react really positively to it.- Angela Smith

The working process

Along with partners in Poland, Lithuania, Italy and Bulgaria, the project piloted the use of puppets with a number of groups including prison groups, addiction recovery groups, and unemployment groups.

The theory behind it is that it can help people understand social interaction, and to work through problems they have been experiencing, using the puppet as a vehicle.

This is an area that was chosen by Teatr Grodzki due to their long-standing experience of puppetry being used as a form of education and therapy. Teatr Grodzki in Bielsko-Biała, Poland are the Project Coordinator, with the other partners being Youth Centre Babilonas, based in Vilnius, Lithuania, CSC Danilo Dolci, based in Palermo, Italy, and Know and Can Association, based in Sofia, Bulgaria.

“It’s been a really positive experience. The Polish partner, Teatr Grodzki, they have been fabulous - they were the project coordinators, and they really helped us. They basically managed the whole project and they kept us right throughout. They were very good at guiding us through the whole process which has been fab.”

“This was our very first Erasmus+ project, so it was all very new to us. It’s been a huge learning curve for us, but now we feel like we get it and we feel we need to capitalise on this and do more of these kinds of projects.”

Pilot groups

The learning curve didn’t just sit on the operational side of navigating a first-time Erasmus+ project. As with any art therapy or education initiative, it must be adaptable if it is to be successful with different groups, and in different contexts.

Smith explained that out of the partners, the Citizens Theatre had the most pilot groups, which put them in a great position of being able to develop first-hand experience and report back on how the puppets worked in a variety of settings.

“I think we could definitely see the impact across the board, but I think there were certainly more successful pilot groups than others, and that was partly due to who was in the group but also external factors.

In the real world, you can’t have everything exactly as you would want. You work with the space you have, you work with the time you’re given.

It was very much about adapting the core methodology that we had developed and learned along with our other European partners and adapting it to suit each different group. That was the key for the pilot workshops - okay, this is the methodology, but how does it work in the real world, and how do you have to change it in order to get the most out of it for the groups you’re working with.”

The future

Smith is keen to explore other Erasmus+ projects in the future, especially with such positive results from their first experience - it’s clear that the team at Citizens Theatre have truly embraced all they have learned through Create a Puppet, Create Yourself. As Smith talks to us, a colleague runs a puppet making workshop in the next room.

“Basically, anybody we work with, we’re showing them how to make paper puppets.

We work with a group of learning disabled adults on a Friday morning, and we did a project with them, we taught them how to make paper puppets, we taught them how to work together to manipulate them, they came up with scenes, they presented them, they absolutely loved it.

We also work with a group of adults on a Friday afternoon called the Community Collective, we also introduced it to them.

It’s one of those projects that you can introduce it to any age group, you can introduce it to any type of group at all, and they will get something out of it, depending on what your goal is ultimately. Everybody seems to react really positively to it.”

If you’re curious about making a puppet of your own, or want to find out more about the work that’s been achieved through Create a Puppet, Create Yourself, visit the project website:

Create a Puppet, Create Yourself project website

You can find out more about the Citizens Theatre on their website, or follow them on Twitter:

Citizens Theatre website

Citizens Theatre Twitter

Photo: the Citizens Theatre

This article was published on 09 Oct 2019