Saturday, October 06, 2007

Puppets and storytelling

Liz Hartz, one of the 230 attendees at the BATA Symposium asked me about the story with which I generally start my (smaller) puppet making workshops. It's a Mohigan story from a Joseph Brushac collection. Liz asked if I could send her the story, so I did but thought I'd post it here as well. Joe Brushac has collected quite a few stories that are very inspiring and this one comes from a Mohigan story teller.

I generally introduce puppet-making with my story teller puppet who tells the story while 3 volunteer group participants act it out.
Sweet Orr the storyteller puppet.

The princess with her little puppet.

So here's the story:
Once upon a time there was a beautiful Mohigan princess who lived in a village by a river. What she liked to do most in the world was play in the woods and make dolls and puppets. One day she was playing (and there's always props when you tell a story this way) with a little puppet when along came a wise old woman, a magical wise old woman. They talked and became good friends. When it was time to part the little princess became quite sad. The wise old woman told her not to worry, that if she was ever in trouble, she could whisper to her little puppet and the wise old woman would hear her. And so they parted, vowing to stay friends forever.
The wise woman who has a few tricks up her sleeve.

The little princess went back to her village and the next day was a big feast day. Now the whole audience can be tribe members and we can all be eating our really wonderful feast. (Here I encourage group participation.) Then the smells of this feast waft through the forest where a monster lives. So the monster sneaks up to the edge of the forest and looks around. Yummy. He decides he wants to take someone home for dinner.
The monster and side kick which appears at the end of the story.

Now all puppets have special gifts and the monster was no exception. His special gift was this: when he sang everything fell asleep! So he opened his mouth really wide and the villagers all fell asleep. Then he went around and smelled everyone to see who he would take home with him. (The monster can actually go around and sniff everyone - kids love this) After smelling all the villagers he choses the princess of course. And then he takes her to his cave in the forest while she's still asleep and puts her under some deer skin, thinking he needs some greens with diner. So he goes out into the forest looking for greens.

The princess wakes up and finds herself in a difficult spot(you can ask the audience if they remember what she can do if she's ever in trouble)! Our princess remembers to whisper to her little puppet and magically the wise old woman appears. Yes, indeed, the wise woman agrees that the princess is in a really bad place so she says they must put the little puppet under the deer skins and mumble some magical words over it (mumble mumble) and then the puppet looks just like the princess. The real princess is a little worried about leaving her puppet but the wise old woman reminds her that she can make new ones as soon as she's safe in her village again. So off through the woods they go.

Then the monster comes back and discovers the puppet, which looks like the princess but sure doesn't smell right. And he goes out into the woods again and starts to track them by smell. The wise old woman has a few tricks up her sleeve though. She takes out a rock and throws it on the ground and mumbles more magic and it becomes a mountain range. But the monster smells his way right over the mountains. Then she takes out a branch and throws it on the ground and mumbles more magic and it becomes the densest forest anyone had ever seen. But the monster follows them right through that forest by their scent.

Now if someone follows you by your scent what can you do to throw them off your track? (I ask the participants and there will be lots of ideas and someone will always have the right one about water) So the wise old woman and the little princess come to the river's edge and the wise old woman pulls out a toy boat and mumbles magic words over it and it becomes a big boat and they sail down the river to the safety of the princess's village.

The Mohigan story ends here but I like to resolve things for the monster as well. So one day the princess is playing in the woods with a new puppet and along comes the monster. They have a conversation, and he confesses that he's so monstrous because he never had any friends. He never got socialized or learned about consequences (kids like it when you give the monster some of the problems they face) so it makes him a little monstrous. The little princess has just the thing for him! She teaches him to make puppets and dolls and the wise old woman comes along and they all play together happily ever after.

It seems like a really good way to introduce puppet making and various idea like "all puppets have special gifts" and "the most interesting stories have a problem that can get a little worse but then gets resolved by the characters' special gifts" and that "puppets don't have to do everything themselves," that working together with a wise elder can be a good thing.

Here are some links for paper puppets, shadow puppets, and narratives and folktales:
Lani's Paper Puppet People zine
"Owly Shadow Puppets - Lesson Plan
Professor D. L. Ashliman from the University of Pittsburgh has an amazing collection of stories, a wonderful resource.

And finally here's a slide show of pictures from the BATA symposium. These are paper puppets and the BATA altered book pages all interspersed. Thanks to Ellen, Gretchen, and Jennifer Schwartz Wright.


Nicole Brandstrup said...

Beautiful Blog! So kind of you to do a reflection on your experience at the BATA symposium. You brought and instilled energy, zest, and hope for many. Thank you for being our keynote and helping to make our symposium super.

Lani Gerity said...

You are very welcome Nicole!
I had a great time!

BATA President, Gretchen Miller, MA, ATR-BC said...

What a treat to read this morning!
Thank you for sharing this and being part of BATA's Symposium this year- it was wonderful!

Lani Gerity said...

You are very, very welcome Gretchen! What a great time and my goodness, I love Columbus! The art museum, great food, and Byzantium beads! Oh and the book arts store, I can't forget that! And then all of the BATA folks made me feel SO welcome! So I should thank YOU!