From the colourful Sarel Seemonster in Wielie Walie to Jane Taylor’s controversial paper shredder crocodile in Ubu and The Truth Commission, puppets have long been a familiar sight on South African stages. This year, puppets are literally bigger than ever before.
Standard Bank’s choice to award their Young Artist Award for Theatre to Janni Younge, known for her innovative use of puppets in visual theatre, highlights the art community’s current interest in puppetry.
Critics have attributed the spark of the puppetry trend to the growing global interest in Asia whose cultural influence is expanding together with its economy. The traditional use of shadow puppets in China and the legacy of Japan’s ‘bunraku’ puppet theatre community has resulted in a renewed worldwide interest in puppetry to which South African artists are not immune.
“Puppetry adds a magical dimension to a performance,” says Brink Scholtz, director of The Adventures of a Little Nobody by local Grahamstown drama company UBOM!.
Puppets have always been at home in children’s theatre and Scholtz believes this is because children find it easier to relate to little green creatures like the Little Nobody than they do to adult human actors.
Dylan McGarry and Adrian Gravett were inspired by ‘Gelede’ puppets from Burkina Faso when conceptualising the Arkworks Circus in which local children act as the puppeteers.
Self expression through puppets
“African puppetry has a strong spiritual basis and the belief is that the puppeteer is not responsible for what the puppet does. So the shy, younger members of the group are able to interact and express themselves through the protection of the puppet,” McGarry says.
In this way, puppets are also emerging as a method through which children can develop their social skills.
In a South African context, where the development of and access to arts infrastructure is lacking, the minimal materials needed to create puppets is particularly relevant.
“We created our puppets from rubbish, we only purchased a glue-gun which helped,” says McGarry.
Puppets also enjoy popularity in South Africa because of their ability to eliminate language barriers. “The visual and non-verbal elements embodied by puppets make a show accessible to a large group of people,” says Rob Murray, director of Pictures of You which was developed in collaboration with Younge.
Amathole and The Giant Match both suggest that the reason for the present boom in puppetry may be linked to the festive mood in the country.
The Giant Match is a collaborative project between the French Institute of South Africa, the Gauteng Provincial Government and Les Grandes Personnes. It features 32 giant puppets in a show which culminates in a giant soccer match.
For those who suffer from pupaphobia, this year’s Festival will be nothing short of a nightmare, but for the rest of us, the influx of the puppet community promises a sweet colourful dream.
Notify me of follow-up comments by email.
Notify me of new posts by email.
Watch more videos here
Copyright © 2015 Cue Online A Project of Rhodes University Digital Media Lab