This month some of the RADA in Business team, along with RADA staff were treated to a workshop in puppetry – led by the remarkable Finn Caldwell, whose credits include War Horse and recently the unique children’s show Elephantom – in which the central character is a mystical floating elephant spirit. Whilst we weren’t afforded the luxuries of such sophisticated ‘ripstop’ materials and elaborately molded heads, we proved that all you need is a roll of brown paper, masking tape and flexible knees to instantly create a believable puppet.
In three hours, and starting from a blank canvas, Finn managed to get us all to produce a mini saga of our own, in which our central character was a paper doll. There are five golden rules to ensuring your puppet is realistic and more engaging than the three puppeteers who operate it. Rhythm, Weight, Focus and Stillness are all headlined by Breath. This latter is the starting point – in order to give life to your inanimate object, you must give it breath, and visible breathing. This is where the magic starts. But then, we in RADA in Business already know that breath is the crucial element to all communication. Think, Breathe, Speak is the principle that underpins our training – and applying the technique of proper, effective breathing to the operation of a puppet is the crucial source of presence. By practising it in this context, it was a stark demonstration of how such a seemingly incidental human action, can create such a significant impact on the audience.
The workshop was a brilliant team activity. The success of the group work relies on the level of awareness of other team members, and how our actions would impact on one another – quite literally in making the puppet coordinate. At best we were communicating without talking – and three separate actions, behaviours and intentions were to meld in one being – the puppet!
Finn’s puppetry skills and puppets are mesmorising. Elephantom - though aimed at children aged 3+, was actually created with all ages in mind, and is currently appearing the New London Theatre.