“Travels Through India Conducting Puppetry Workshops” — Carol Sterling

“Travels Through India Conducting Puppetry Workshops” — Carol Sterling

This is the second of two articles shared by alumna Carol Sterling about her Fulbright experiences teaching puppetry in Uganda and India. The articles are published, with permission of the author, as they were printed in The Puppetry Journal. To read the first article, please click here. To read the second article in this series, please click here. Carol Sterling is a former President of the UNIMA-USA and a former education consultant of Puppeteers for America. She is the recipient of the Puppeteers of America’s Marjorie Batchelder McPharlin Award for Contribution to the Field of Education.


 

Travels Through India Conducting Educational Puppetry Workshops

by Carol Sterling

As I reflect on the Educational Puppetry workshops I conducted as a Fulbright Program Specialist for six weeks in India in early 2015, it was clear that the partner puppetry companies, schools, and cultural organizations I worked with in five cities was greater than the sum of its parts.

The 200-plus regular and special education teachers, drama students, and puppeteers I worked with acted as catalysts for each other, discovering new talents within themselves. They also saw how the power of puppetry arts ceased to be “just entertainment” and became vibrant teaching tools for student learning across areas like English, Social Studies, Science, Math, Health and Safety. Travel back with me as I share selected moments from the workshops.

UNIMA-INDIA organizes workshop for local and visiting puppeteers in Delhi

The atmosphere is charged with intensity as Indian puppeteers and visiting puppeteers from Iran, Afghanistan, Iran and Taiwan explore how they can expand their performance skills and conduct workshops in their local schools. This was no ordinary workshop – not when UNIMA-INDIA organized it.

Curriculum themes from bullying to the importance of washing your hands, to brushing your teeth were brought alive by these gifted storytellers. It was a puppetry love letter from the participants to their peers in the laughter-filled workshop.

New Delhi Special Education Teachers

It’s a day splashed with sunshine in a special education school set in a congested neighborhood outside of New Delhi. Teachers youths and adults with social and emotional challenges sit barefoot on the carpeted floor and improvise puppetry skits. Teachers role play with puppets in socio-dramas, touching upon the delicate issue of “using our words” instead of violence. The goal: acquainting them with alternative positive behaviors to resolve conflicts amiably.

National School of Drama, Theatre in Education Program in Agartala

It’s a muggy 90 degrees in a classroom as the mosquitoes bite our bare feet! The air is charged as the Masters students share their final puppetry projects for their peers. One team creates four puppets of Mother Theresa and then plays the game, To Tell The Truth, so the audience of peers can guess who the real one is and who are the imposters. All skits are conducted in the local languages spoken by the students who represent different parts of the country. Other students serve as able interpreters.

To celebrate their week-long class, the students perform through the local streets with the Giant Puppet of Mother Theresa carrying a baby to delight the community.

Kalkata beckons children, puppeteers, and teachers

Each of the three programs I worked with had a unique soul and spirit, opening windows to the world a bit wider. Working with puppeteers from the Dolls Theater of Kolkata, young people and representatives of six different school districts learned how to create puppets from discarded plastic bottles, paper plates and envelopes and strategies to bring the curriculum alive.

On the road again to Kochi in the state of Kerala

A teacher in the local schools breathlessly tells me of her cosmic leap from just being a lecturer of curriculum content to her new role as an educational puppeteer as she brings Indian history alive! I am awed as she weaves a story of an Indian hero, Mahatma Ghandi, into a living picture of heartbreak, then bravery and ultimate triumph.

Up the mountain 6000’ to a school that serves children of the tea plantation workers in Murran

The driver of my car climbs up the road as he yields right of way to the elephants and oxen and tea plantation workers with bushels of tea on their heads, as we climb up the dusty and narrow road.

We reach our destination of the High Range School. Teachers of children of the tea plantation workers learn techniques and strategies with puppets to share aspects of the curriculum. And, in so doing they share so much more, They share the music of their lives – the high notes as well as the low, the crescendos, the preludes and the quiet pauses. The participants relish the opportunity to bring Indian curriculum alive.

Three cheers to my host, Dadi Pudumjee

I want to publicly thank my friend and colleague, Dadi Pudumjee, President of the Executive Committee of UNIMA and Founding Director of the Ishara Puppet Theatre Trust for inviting me to India. It was a joyous personal and professional experience.

And lucky me! My first week in Delhi coincided with The 13th Ishara International Puppet Theatre Festival, one that brings puppeteers, artists and performers from around the globe together to celebrate storytelling through the puppetry arts. Alongside the best talent India had to offer, over a 100 international puppetry companies have participated in the festivals.

Epilogue

Reflecting on my Indian experience once again reminded me of the power of our art form, the puppetry arts, to serve as a bridge to people, in our local, state, national and international communities. We, as puppeteers, have the power to connect as caring humanists as we discover how much we are all alike.

In the service of working as an educational puppeteer, I am honored to provide training to teachers, puppeteers and drama students, people who will inspire ours and their most previous resource, the children of the next generation.

 

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