Ancient Hindu philosophers have long paid tribute to puppeteers, likening Gods to puppets and the entire universe to a puppet theatre. In a bid to keep this rich tradition alive, puppetry at Agastya has taken flight with puppetry workshops organized for both students and instructors. A puppet performance was also put up in a collaboration between University of Southern California (USC) graduates and Agastya’s students.
Puppetry workshops at Agastya are conducted under the tutelage of Mrs Usha, a close friend and long-time supporter of Agastya.
The first workshop was held for students at the Art Centre in Kuppam, with the main target group being school dropouts. Students began by trying their hand at constructing glove puppets using papier marche and cloth. Once familiarized with these procedures, they moved on to create Agastya mascots using similar materials. It is with hope that through the interactive and engaging workshop, these dropouts will be attracted to attend other lessons at Agastya, thereby rekindling their interest in learning.
The second puppetry workshop was held in Bangalore for instructors of the Young Instructor Leaders (YIL) Program. 15 instructors from four centres were divided into four groups to work on the stories of Sage Agastya and the three prodigies - Dhruvan, Prahlad and Nachiketa. These ancient stories were chosen deliberately owing to their Indian mythology origin. Mythologies – a subjective truth of a culture expressed through stories, symbols and rituals – tell how life truly is. By retelling these ancient stories to future generations, children will be able to recall and appreciate the wisdom of their ancestors. Thus, instructors were tasked to retell the ancient stories they had scripted to their students. After scripting the story, instructors had to create puppets for the characters and even dress the puppets up with clothes and accessories!
Over the course of the workshop, Mrs Usha wholeheartedly imparted the many invaluable lessons she had learnt over the years. She also taught the instructors how to make their puppet lessons more interesting and lively. With this knowledge, instructors promptly returned to their respective centres raring to teach and impart their learning to a new generation of students.
Puppetry in Play
During June to July 2009, Agastya had the privilege of hosting five graduate students from the University of Southern California (USC) at the Hubli campus. During the course of the two-month trip sponsored by Deshpande Foundation, the graduates worked closely with students and instructors to put together a spectacular puppet show aimed at raising awareness about the importance of conserving the environment.
The storyline of the performance was borne out of the graduates’ observations after a trip to a village school in the Agastya mobile van. After much research and deliberation, the graduates agreed on the focus of the performance: the water cycle; littering and sanitation; and deforestation, as well as the setting, which was none other than the forest. Meticulous consideration was also put into the design of the set and characters in the puppet show. For instance, the Banyan tree was deliberately chosen as the central set piece and narrator due to it being the national tree of India and also because of its sacred status in many Indian religions. The graduates also took special care to feature animals indigenous to the Karnataka region, such as peacocks and Indian elephants.
Of course, keeping in mind the theme of the show, the puppet team made use of recycled materials in the construction of the forest-stage whenever possible. For example, the treetop and branches were made out of a combination of used thermocol, fabric, newspaper and wire; whilst the clouds, sun and moon were made from recycled foam boards.
In addition, two Indian puppeteers were roped in to train the instructors and conduct casting auditions. The first puppeteer, who is a specialist in shadow puppets, was in charge of conducting an all-day workshop for Agastya instructors. The other puppeteer, who specializes in marionette and hand puppetry, held an audition and selected 26 children based on their hand-eye coordination skills. Children selected then had to attend daily after-school 2-hour rehearsals on weekdays and full-day practices on weekends. During these rehearsals, children selected as puppeteers had to practice moving their puppets in coordination with the soundtrack, whilst those selected as dancers had to learn to incorporate the use of dandia sticks in their dance moves.
Needless to say, all these hard work did not go to waste. The four shows that were staged received resounding applause and immense praise from family members, fellow students, and the community alike. At the same time, both the performers and graduates from USC had an unforgettable time (read about their experience here!). Indeed, Agastya too is proud and honoured to be the organizer of this highly successful collaboration.
Click on the following videos to watch the performance. Enjoy!