The power of puppets

Before the pandemic, the boys in the Family Home Program were well underway with rehearsals for their upcoming performance, The Lorax by Dr. Seuss. Since the first staging back in 2014, Stairway’s rendition of the Lorax, with its powerful environmental message, reached many audiences and played at the Malasimbo Music and Arts Festival in March of 2019. This year, Covid-19 would halt potential audiences visiting Stairway and participating in programs like the Youth for Change Camps, Sea Adventure School trips, and Child Protection workshops.

Following safety precautions, Covid-19 forced us to shift gears and to adapt to the new normal. What to do with a bunch of energetic youth aching to show off their performance skills? We turned our energies to shadow puppets! The ancient form of storytelling and entertainment proved extremely popular with the boys. We gathered some simple household materials like cardboard, wax paper, split pin fasteners, black construction paper, chalk, scissors, cutters, skewers, rulers, tape, glue, and lamps.

Stairway boys creating shadow puppets

We explored the past and learned about Greek culture, myths, and drama and how they shaped today’s world. Then the boys created storyboards based on Greek mythology and armed with vivid imaginations; they delved into creating shadow puppets and shadow theatres.

Vast swaths of cardboard and black construction paper littered the stage. Light banter and laughter permeated the air, someone starts singing a song from the Lorax, and everyone joins in. Someone shouts out, “What’s the name of Hermes’ mother?” “Should I make the Cyclops front-on or in profile?” “What’s the bird of Apollo called”, someone asks. “A swan,” shouts someone. “Does this look like a swan?” “No, it looks like a chicken!” laughter erupts.

During the production period, I marveled at the intense concentration and creativity that poured forth from the boys. They were focused for hours on end, meticulously cutting out and crafting various Greek gods and then bringing them to life with gold, split pin fasteners.

the Greek god of smiths, Hephaestus, comes to life with gold pin fasteners

Too eager to wait for nightfall, the boys instinctively adjust their translucent screens against the sunlight and practice with the shadow puppets well into the evening, when they would turn on the lamplights and continue in the world of the Greek gods.

Zeus hurls thunderbolts

I’m mesmerized watching the flat cut-outs run, walk, fly, and fight. I look at my phone and see that it is very late, and I look up at the wonder that’s before me. “How do I end this?” I ask myself. “I don’t dare!” Only the clanging of the dinner bell transports the boys back to the real world, leaving the ancient past until the next session on the stage.