In Impact Stories, The arts, culture & heritage, Chiltern

Project: Teaching students how to make and use puppets in preparation for a full puppet show to their schoolmates and teachers
Grant: £3,540
Fund: Co-funded by Youthbank and the Heart of Bucks General Fund

Young People’s Puppet Theatre (YPPT), founded in 2014, promotes puppetry in schools as a means of getting young people engaged in the arts, performance and group work that often doesn’t form part of the standard curriculum.

YPPT’s projects centre around building confidence, resilience and social skills, often with children who have educational needs or who have other disadvantages, for example difficulty speaking the English language or living in poverty.

With their £3,540 grant from Youthbank and the Heart of Bucks General Fund, YPPT were able to deliver puppet-making sessions to Stony Dean School, a Special Educational Needs school in Amersham, which culminated in a final performance of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The grant helped fund all the required art materials for the making of the puppets and sets, the provision of specialist equipment including staging and lighting using professional-grade materials, transport for the materials and equipment to the school and script royalties.

The project consisted of two main phases: designing and making, followed by rehearsing and performing. During the designing and making sessions, the participating students designed and made their own complex marionette puppet, before collaborating on set designs, including painting backdrops and designing and making props.

During phase two, the students dived into learning their lines and mastering the art of puppetry, as well as learning skills including voice acting, lighting design, and stage management. All of this ran up to their final performance which was entirely run by the students.

The project has made a huge difference – and not only to the 32 pupils involved in the creation of the show. Staff were amazed at the level of concentration and focus of both the performers and the audience (roughly 120 students) and the performances were incredibly well received. The YPPT team said the boost in confidence for the pupils involved was visible and that, for the wider school community, this has set a precedent that, with the right support, the pupils at Stony Dean are capable of far more than one might expect.

In addition to the immense confidence boost brought about by the project, students were also given the opportunity to gain either a Bronze or a Silver level Arts Award for their work towards the final show. The Arts Award is a qualification offered by Trinity Guildhall and is a means of certificating the skills gained by the students during the project. Many of the students at Stony Dean struggle to gain academic qualifications due to their disabilities and so this was a fantastic opportunity to recognise and celebrate their achievement.

 

“William*, a lad in my form, came to me yesterday and he said ‘Mr Fox, I was really, really worried about this project, and I wasn’t going to turn up today’ but because the project works so well, and because of the encouragement of the teachers, the staff and the YPPT, he actually came to me this morning and said ‘I turned up today, Mr Fox, it was hard, but I did it.’ Then he spoke to me at lunchtime today and said it was amazing.

This is a child who struggles very much with his self-confidence so for him to have overcome his anxiety and to have come to school for the show was a significant thing for him.”

– Drama teacher at Stony Dean School

 

“From the moment the narrators took to the stage I was overcome with many emotions… the pride I had when the pupils were delivering the language of Shakespeare, the engagement from the audience, many of which have attention deficit and short term memory issues, all of whom listened politely and enjoyed the performance. The professionalism and the professional feel the production had, made me feel like I was sat in the theatre. It blew me away!”

– Neil Strain, Head Teacher at Stony Dean School

 

*Name changed to protect the privacy of the student.

 

See some of the highlights of this fantastic production here: