It’s true that puppet’s come in different shapes and sizes, yet for me, none quite so grand and regal as our larger than life Aslan puppet. King’s Christian College is a school that does not do things by halves and Director of Performing Arts Christine Harm wouldn’t have it any other way.
In January of this year I met with Chris to discuss the possibilities of using puppetry in their senior production of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, as adapted by Glynn Robbins from C.S Lewis’ classic tale.
Back then I could not have known how astonished I would be of the quality of performance and of the high level of commitment shown by four student puppet operators and one of the school’s very own Math Teachers.
In three short months I was able to work with the lead actors and puppet operators to introduce them to the form of Bunraku puppetry favoured by DPS, consult with the dedicated team of IDT teachers who built our beloved Aslan - from designs created especially for Kings by DPS’s Artistic Director David Morton - and rehearse and direct the choreography of Aslan’s journey through the action of the play.
While Aslan’s laser cut pieces came together in the Manual Arts workshops, the puppeteers spent hours pacing through the steps that in groups of three, they would need to take together on stage. For weeks they got used to the idea of wearing a 50kg puppet, supported between them by wood and aluminum harnesses. They practiced moving together while using the principals of puppetry to keep Aslan alive at all times and developed the language that would be Aslan’s grand and powerful physical vocabulary (all the while tied up in loops of rope to help signify tension and movement cues).
Come opening night there were gasps from the audience as Aslan made his first entrance on stage and I could not have been more proud as I watched the team journey with him through Narnia, and to see nothing but a fierce and wild King of Beasts launch himself through the air to end the reign of the evil White Witch.
- Helen Stephens, Artistic Associate (Dead Puppet Society)
Image: Mr Mal Rawlings
What began as a tentative email following a National Drama Education symposium last year, has become one of the most exciting ventures the Performing Arts department at King’s Christian College has ever undertaken.
Having been aware of the work of Dead Puppet Society for a number of years, I approached Nicholas Paine and David Morton via email last October to see if they might be interested in an industry collaboration, staging the classic work of CS Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. My premise was that, with Aslan being such an iconic character, it would be extremely difficult for a student to adequately portray him on stage, but the physical presence of a over-sized puppet would possibly be a far better option, to represent the power and majesty in his persona.
And so began a partnership between the King’s Performing Arts Department, King’s IDT Department and Dead Puppet Society, spanning across the Pacific Ocean, as Nick and David commenced a performance season at the Lincoln Centre in New York City. Many emails back and forth, plus the inimitable presence of their Australian Artistic Associate, Helen Stephens who worked almost on a weekly basis with our students, has meant that we were able to realise the extraordinary dream of being the first school in Australia to build such a puppet, using our staff and students throughout the process as an invaluable curricular and co-curricular experience.
Rehearsals were ‘interesting’, to say the least, as our cast learned to negotiate the space with a 3 metre wooden puppet, manipulated by three puppet operators at a time. It was thought best to have two puppet ‘teams’ to allow more students an opportunity to be a part of the process, as well as allow them rest time between sessions. Who knew that operating a huge puppet could be so physically and mentally taxing? Well, we do now!
The expertise of the team at DPS is second to none, and we are so very grateful that they thought the project was not only worth their consideration and investment, but also for all the time, effort, energy and trouble-shooting they were able to provide for our school and students. I cannot find adequate words to express the benefits that have come from this project across our High School context, and have no doubt that there will be rewards reaped for many students in the years to come, simply from having been a part of such a unique, challenging and ultimately successful endeavour.
The production opened at King’s Church Auditorium on Thursday April 27, playing for three nights, as well as a matinee on Saturday. However, as with all school productions, the bonds of friendship and camaraderie forged in the hundreds of hours of rehearsal, along with the many memories of all the hilarity and struggles that have gone on (especially with THAT puppet!), will last much longer than those three days...
- Christine Harm, King's Christian College
Image: Mr Mal Rawlings