You know when you’re wandering around Liverpool’s Festival Gardens in the dark, clutching the hand of your grumpy five-year-old? Perhaps you don’t. But imagine if you were, and you suddenly recognised one of the amazing people involved in the Lantern Company’s Luminous Landscapes event as one of your students! Here, Siofra McKeon-Carter, a final year Drama and English student, answers my star-struck questions after a really memorable event:
How did you get involved with the Lantern Company?
I got involved through their student placements as I had worked with one of their team before on NCS The Challenge. (By that way, that’s also a fab organisation for students to work for over the summer, and you can find out about them here.)
What did you do as part of Luminous Landscapes?
I was part of the team working the puppet Rose, aka the ‘old lady, keeper of the lakes’. Rose may be elderly, but she’s also around ten feet tall.
How did you prepare for your performances?
We actually met Rose about two weeks before the performance in order to start getting to grips with her movement. She was going to be on the platform built into the Gardens’ central lake, and she was protecting her garden from destruction, and mourning over the loss of the ice caps in the water. We knew from this that she needed to be a gentle creature and one that moved with purpose and thought.
The puppet’s on a three wheeled circular structure and sometimes those wheels didn’t always cooperate, but after a lot of wiggling and some slight tipping we began to feel at ease with her. (That’s the nature of a puppet as big as her, but we played on that as part of her character, using the slow turning to give her a bit of a shake.)
When it came to the performances themselves, we had to wrap up warm and wear loads of pairs of socks. We didn’t really know what to expect with such a large scale event, therefore it was just trial and error.
The key thing that I picked up from puppeteering was to treat the puppet as if she were a friend and person. With this in mind, I pictured my grandma, as I would take her by the arm and help her walk just as I would with Rose. It was amazing to see her character develop over the three performances. I have never really worked with puppets before, so to work with one so closely for a week, I grew to appreciate the brilliance of puppetry. As much as the audience know they’re not watching a real living person, it allows them to witness the hyper-real of the situation. Rose did things that humans can’t do…towering over me at twice my height for instance, and such features fascinated her audience.
From a practical point of view, it was … interesting. The wind picked up quite a bit on the second night, therefore we resorted to keeping the frame well within reach of an extra stage manager, as well as keeping up a great level of communication amongst the five of us.
So: give us the low-down on your relationship with Rose… How did you get along?
Initially I was most worried about handling Rose. She was incredible to be around, but it was a learning curve when learning to manoeuvre her body. It was only during our first performance that we really began to engage with her character. As a puppeteer, I was aiming to be invisible and to watch every movement that Rose made, hoping the audience would follow suit. However, the more she engaged with her audience, the more amazed they became. This is when we started using dialogue to characterise her. By using a series of yes/no questions, we were able to give her audience an insight into her life and her significance to the garden. I am so glad we developed her character in this way, as it then encouraged others to take part and ask their own questions. It was true poetry in motion to watch five year olds engage in a light hearted conversation with a puppet ten times their size!
It was an incredibly rewarding and fantastic experience to be part of and I feel like I made a friend in Rose.