Puppets have a lot to say

ศาสตร์เกษตรดินปุ๋ย : ขอบคุณแหล่งข้อมูล : หนังสือพิมพ์ The Nation

http://www.nationmultimedia.com/life/Puppets-have-a-lot-to-say-30289436.html

PERFORMANCE

Britain’s ‘Professor of Play’ explains how neurological theatre can pull strings for eager kids

Sue Jennings – “the Professor of Play” – added a fascinating and decidedly more intellectual diversion to the otherwise kidfriendly proceedings at the inaugural Bangkok International Children’s Theatre Festival last week.

A specialist in “neurodramatic” stage play and the stilltoddling concept of “dramatherapy” as a treatment for specialneeds youngsters, Dr Jennings gave a talk entitled “Larger than Life: Puppets for Inclusiveness” that was by turns amusing and compelling.

The organisers of the festival at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre – which continues this week – made a wise choice in bringing Jennings into the mix. She has 30 years’ experience in exploring different ways to raise kids and has written more than 40 books. Puppets, she said, have a literally charming effect on children.

As characters in a story told to entertain and educate youngsters, puppets “can enlarge the stories and the stories can feed off the puppets”. Jennings realised this while researching her PhD thesis on “theatre, ritual and transformation” among the Temiar people of the Malaysian rainforest.

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“It became clear that this tribe uses drama to prevent and protect not just individuals but the entire community – for them, the village has a soul of its own. I found it very important to see how their society is integrated. And that formed the basis of my approach to the art of performing, both as a teacher and a therapist.”

By “larger than life”, Jennings meant “the need to go beyond the body and the brain to make a difference in how people feel inside themselves”.

“In children it’s so easy to become selfcontained and separated from other people, rather than reaching out.

“It’s also important to remember that all learning starts with the body – the body is the primary means by which we learn and develop memory, a fact proved by neuroscientists, particularly in studies where trauma has occurred in the heart rather than the head.”

Jennings said her personal motto is “Keep calm and be playful”.

“All children can play and create together, even those with disabilities and behavioural issues,” she said. The approach is called “childled education”.

When puppets are used in storytelling, Jennings said, they help spur the imagination, lead to the creation of more stories – and perhaps more puppets! “We need to encourage children’s imagination, but unfortunately much of modern education tends to dump the imagination. Yet it’s the imagination we need most when trying to solve problems and form hypotheses.”

Puppets are also useful in calming fear and anxiety – they can embody any dread that a youngster might harbour, representing a monster or crocodile or an angry person. And they stimulate the creative area of the brain, which in turn “helps us to focus on our anxieties and channel our energy appropriately”.

Puppets that tell stories assist in the development of both hemispheres of the brain, she pointed out – the creativity and emotions of the right hemisphere and the sequencing and learned directions in the left.

The brain’s frontal cortex activity – including motor abilities and the senses – is stimulated. “Mirroring” takes place between similar brain activity, forming a link between child and storyteller. “Neural coupling” allows listeners to relate the story to their own ideas and experiences. The brain releases the feelgood neurotransmitter chemical dopamine, which aids in remembering events more accurately.

The human brain comprises three key parts, together forming “the triune brain”, Jennings said. A puppet that looks like a snake or crocodile will have a direct impact on the “reptilian” or instinctual brain, essential to our survival but often overwhelmed by traumatic events.

A puppet that resembles a cow, cat or gentle seal appeals to the mammalian brain we share with all other mammals, from which derive the abilities to nurture and feel emotions. And a puppet made to look like a young human boy or girl will link to the neocortex, where “higher” thinking occurs, and the very human ability to reflect on circumstances and make decisions accordingly. It’s also the speech centre.

So the right kind of puppet can be used to interact with the young audience and provide observers with a better understanding of problems they might have in emotional expression, behaviour management and anxiety, Jennings said. The puppet becomes a tool to help the child take control.

Dr Jennings noted that all sorts of stories lend themselves to puppet plays – fairytales and legends are commonly used and sometimes even the works of Shakespeare – but the stage presentations should also acknowledge local and personal culture, especially when working with migrant groups and mixedrace families. There are many classic Thai tales, such as the story of Nang Yai, retold with shadow puppets but easily adapted for more general purposes.

The Children’s Theatre Festival has a crowded roster of famous foreign troupes. Sue Buckmaster, artistic director of Britainbased Theatre Rites, led a workshop last weekend featuring a play called “RecycleRubbish”.

“It’s about two people who go around collecting rubbish and remaking it into something else,” she said. “The idea is to explore how what somebody else doesn’t value anymore can still have value. So it’s really question about true value and the possibilities in recycling, reusing and reimagining how we look at each other and things in our lives.

“Children perceive the show just like adults,” Buckmaster said. “They project their own feelings onto it as they watch, they laugh and they feel moved – and sometimes a little concerned.”

In fact, she said, it’s important to present plays that are just as good in terms of quality as those made for adults.

“We have to respect our children, show them things and introduce them to ideas so they can think about it and maybe realise they’ll have to take responsibility later in life. But we shouldn’t be telling them what to think. It is not about telling how or what. It’s just about saying, ‘Think about this,’ and letting them reflect on the kind of life they want to lead.”

Watching a show offers us time to reflect, be inspired, feel empathy for each other and alter our perspectives, Buckmaster said.

“The art is the education. Learning isn’t about testing your memory. It’s much more than that – we have to learn about being human. And that’s not really taught in school now, so, by going to the theatre and experiencing the art, children get to experience what it is to be human. We learn through experience and when we engage in things.

“Just learning facts and memorising them for tests doesn’t suit most children, so they have to be engaged in other ways, and the best ways are through sports and the arts.”

BOX

Much more to see

The First Bangkok International Children’s Theatre Festival continues this week with more shows, discussions and workshops.

See the full schedule at http://www.BICTFest.com and reserve tickets at (099) 009 3172 or (081) 441 5718.

 

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