I’ve been a little bit too busy to keep up with what’s happening in the Sidekick Project puppetry work. We’ve now finished the puppetry training stage of things and started rehearsals for the performance at APA drama theatre, which I’m happy to say should prove to be very untraditional and interesting. I’ll probably be playing the flute as well as doing string puppets, plate spinning and other crazy things.
We had some time off over Chinese New Year, and I missed a few sessions before that for various reasons, so it feels like a long time since working on puppetry stuff. Anyway, on the first day back I was very surprised to be given another new puppet to learn – the plate spinning hand puppet pictured. King (one of the other participants) is also working on a plate spinning puppet, with the idea that we can throw the plates to one another. These plates are much smaller and heavier than usual, and the sticks (apart from the one pictured on the puppet’s head) are much longer and bendier. Anyway, it’s very difficult. The most difficult thing for me is throwing the plate up in the air (using the puppet’s hands) and catching it on the stick on its head. Apart from that, I apparently spin the plate in the wrong direction. I could spin it one way after a few minutes’ practice, but after hours of trying the other (correct) way I’m not much better.
I’ve been keeping less of a complete journal of the Sidekick Project recently because there haven’t been many developments really (I posted a short clip on my new company website). I’ve continued working on the same puppet for a long time now, but I’m apparently good enough to move on. I’m starting to work on the pictured shadow puppet. It’s a lot simpler than the string puppets, but it still takes a lot of manual dexterity and adapting to the correct way to hold it. I’m concentrating on being able to move two sticks independently in one hand at the moment. Like all the other forms, getting a natural-looking walk comes from moving the whole body, not just the hands – the puppet’s steps are the same as the puppeteer’s.
Today we had a full day working with the group from Fujian who performed yesterday. They taught hand puppet techniques and worked on a hand puppet scene. The scene actually didn’t involve any horses or monkeys, and as the day went on the puppets we were using as stand ins gradually got replaced by the real characters’ puppets which were being sewn together and built while we practiced. I was very confused. There was a lot of Fujian dialect spoken, which I couldn’t understand even slightly. When they switched to Mandarin to explain things I was too slow to even notice, and had to rely on a simple Cantonese translation from Wong Sifu (although I understand some Mandarin I really can’t switch between the two). This contributed even further to my confusion.
On Sunday afternoon we had a performance in the courtyard of the JCCAC, which if I understood correctly was to celebrate this puppet company from Fujian (I’m sorry, I don’t know the company’s name) moving to work in Hong Kong. They did some rod and hand puppet performances which were very impressive.
Our teacher performed a monkey marionette piece which is incredibly cool – the monkey interacts with him a bit and jumps on his legs. A great thing about this is that the strings are used to great effect to allow the monkey to swing around move around quickly in a circle – faster than would be possible with something like a hand puppet. It’s also great to see a traditional form used in a way in which the puppeteer is not hidden, and even has some interaction with the puppet.
The day was mostly spent outside working with the marionettes, while Wong Sifu and company tidied up the workshop space. Luckily it was a nice sunny day. At the end of the day we went over the Lam Chong scene with music again, inside. I think I’m gradually improving at hitting things with a small stick – it’s good to have more space.