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Devoted & Disgruntled 12: What Shall We Do About Theatre and the Performing Arts Now?

Furry Wisdom: Talk to the Animals

Elspeth Murray - 15 January 2017

WHO WAS THERE

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Why I called this session:

Last year I called a session ‘Talk to the Animals’ which let people come and chat with some hand puppets I brought. I also called the session on wo/mentoring. During 2016 I took part as a mentor in the Federation of Scottish Theatre's ‘Step Up’ mentoring programme and I also extended the work I'd been doing in workshop settings with the animal puppets in improvised interactions. The mentoring interaction and the puppetry interactions seemed suitable for a kind of merging and this is roughly what Furry Wisdom is.

Who came along and what happened:

I met most of the people who came into the Quiet Breakout Space not face to face but through the eyes of the puppets. This was an interesting way of meeting people and inviting them into the space. (I was using the back of a chair draped in my black shawl as a play board).

Bridget the Badger welcomed Gwen and Lauchlan and Frances. There was mutual curiosity about what this encounter would involve. They/we (this is weird because I'm writing as Elspeth about being the one behind Bridget and I don't know if she's a she or a we're a we) talked about what had been happening in the big space (or the tiny space in which Bridget had traveled to Bristol) and where we're from and how we're doing. You know - stuff.

Frank the Fox started a conversation about food and animals and peanut butter and what it's like to want to eat meat or not to want to eat meat. And we sang some Old Macdonald because Lauchlan can moo. And twit twoo.

Paul came in while Frank was hosting the space and I look forward to seeing his photos at some point - and maybe adding some here.

Ellie, who knows Frank and friends from time spent together in a studio in France last summer, joined us.

After having some time chatting also with Bridget the Badger and Strange Creature, we had some face to face chat about spirit animals and what we can learn from allowing wildness and nature to help shape and inform our thinking and feeling.

Nicky was part of the conversation and has had first-hand experience of the way puppets can unlock the imagination and help soften and deepen our interactions.

Emma, who had been looking forward to meeting Strange Creature, and Tom, who had some stimulating conversation with Frank about his roots and his particular blend of wild and sophisticated, also joined the session towards the end.

What the session left me with:

A fuzzy sense of what had just happened. Most of it was spent behind a puppet and coming out of it, it was mostly a blur. Walking and talking with Frances really helped me to reflect on what had happened and make notes that were super useful in writing this report.

Ellie was keen to see the puppets take part in the wider conversations in the big space and to bring their disarming energy out into the human realm. This feels daring - I'm writing this up at the start of Day 2 and I don't know what's going to happen today. (But I am reading Brené Brown's “Daring Greatly” so … maybe that's an encouragement to be a bit goofy with puppets. If any gathering can handle it, it's this one, right?)

I have questions - again - about people's expectations about puppets being ‘for’ children. I know that they can disarm adults and help to inspire meaningful and often quite deep interactions. The invitation to interact seems to be a key to how adults meet puppets.

It brought up questions about how we see ourselves as animals as opposed to/in relation to non-human animals. We think we're so sophisticated and really not so wild. I'm reading “Being a Beast” by Charles Foster about his immersive research into the habitats of foxes, badgers and otters which is helping me explore these humnan/non-human boundaries.

I also heard about - and want to follow up on - the prize-winning photo of a Bristol fox and also Sparkle and Dark Puppets.

Many thanks to everyone who brought their animal curiosity to the session!

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