Students'jackets and scarves came to life as makeshift puppets during the workshop
Students in theatre professor Adam Houghton's Acting I (TMA 128) had the chance to learn from Australian puppeteers Chloe Flockart and Rachael Woodward in conjunction with the BRAVO! Series performance of The Last Great Hunt's "New Owner."
"I had done puppet shows when I was really little, but using actual puppets with feelings and emotions — which they taught us that puppets have — was a first for me," said theatre major Joleah Long. "It was a completely new type of theatre that I had never thought about."
The puppeteers began by asking the students to find a jacket, scarf or similarly malleable object and identify a "head," or the place from which their puppets'thoughts would originate. These makeshift creatures developed over the course of the workshop, discovering their likes, dislikes, voices and movement styles.
"How long can you sustain this feeling of discomfort?" asked Flockart, encouraging the students to fully embrace each unusual — and potentially embarrassing — exercise.
As Long crawled on the floor with her jacket and started to vocalize its emotions, she initially felt far outside of her comfort zone.
"As an actor, I'm always trying to identify the most real thing," she said. "But with the puppets, it was obviously not real, and I was sort of self-conscious — who wouldn't be self-conscious when you're talking to your coat? Once I let go and was able to understand what they were saying about letting your puppet guide you, that was really rewarding."
According to Flockart, this concept of listening and responding to your puppet, as well as understanding its movement capabilities and restrictions, is the key to an immersive performance that allows the audience to suspend their disbelief.
"The line between manipulation and puppetry is thin, and your audience can smell it from a mile off," said Flockart. "The only difference is the intention behind it. Let the puppet make the decision."
Long found that the organic approach to movement and character that she observed in "New Owner" and experienced for herself in the workshop was surprisingly relevant to her work as an actor on stage.
"I learned so many lessons from a puppet, from a jacket," said Long. " said, 'to be vulnerable in a room together builds empathy, while being vulnerable in a room by yourself builds dissociation.'This will inform my acting because now I see how important it is to listen to your surroundings and take in your circumstances and to know and really connect to everything that's around you — that's what really sparks creation and beauty."