I was commissioned by Spare Parts Puppet Theatre in Fremantle, Western Australia, to design large-scale puppets for a street theatre event as part of the 2005 Perth International Arts Festival. The brief was fairly open, the only guidelines (apart from budget of course) being the festival themes of ‘transformation and transcendence’ and the Indian Ocean.
I worked with director Philip Mitchell, puppet maker Jiri Zmitko and sound designer/composer Lee Buddle to research and develop the concept of local sea creatures that have got together and invented rudimentary technology that allows them to explore the above water world, much as human divers explore their own.
What resulted after some months of design and construction, was a series of shows that appeared in central city locations, involving four puppeteers and an actor (an antagonistic ‘aquasapien hunter’), and plenty of strange noises, squirting water and bubbles.
The designs of the creatures were based mostly on small crustaceans that inhabit local reefs. The largest, a stationary ‘pod’, was a sort of ‘mother-ship’ or above-water diving bell that looks like a giant sea urchin, which occasionally calls out to the other creatures when they need to refuel with water. Children were especially attracted to Shrimpy, a red car-like creature that could move briskly on a large internal scooter, and ‘ate’ any small objects placed before it, depositing them in a rear section via a special tube.
Part of the idea was that these creatures were making an effort to blend in, through such means as wearing a suits sewn together from salvaged scraps (courtesy of Cherie Hewson) and appearing vaguely humanoid. They handed out business cards written in a strange aquatic language and also ‘tagged’ humans using stickers on the ends of strange limbs.
The Pod sprays water during a hot summer day in a Perth mall. A puppet jellyfish sometimes emerged from the top to signal the other creatures.
The ‘Blue Naut’ meets and greets. The puppeteer inside remained entirely invisible; even their feet appeared as six interlaced stilts that moved like an insect. Part of the original concept was that the lower tentacles would seem to ‘puppet’ the upper arms with rods.
Small children delight in the fact that any object placed before ‘Shrimpy’ soon gets eaten and reappears in his ‘junk catchment area’.
The ‘Yellow Naut’ makes a friend. Different children had very different reactions to the puppets, which must have seemed enormous to them.
Below: A poster distributed to the public prior to performances. There was a subtle subtext to the show relating to the Australian Government’s inhumane policy towards refugees, their paranoid ‘be alert but not alarmed’ anti-terrorism campaign, and their sometimes racist undertones.
Early concept sketch for a