• Eastern Cape Rising Sun

A Scientific look at Puppets and Us

Emma Minkley is doing research focused on puppetry, with a particular interest in the puppet and its relation to the human hand.

According to her, the hand can be said to give life to the material form of the puppet, both in terms of the creation of the puppet as an object, and in the performance of the puppet which brings it to life using voice and movement. “The puppet as a representational art form has been used as a means of conveying broader messages about the human being, and in this sense my research project further explores the connections between body and mind, intuition and intellect, and practice and theory,” explains Minkley.

A significant part of her project is the digital documentation and collation of the paper archive of the South African Handspring Puppet Company (most well known for their puppetry production of Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse), which she undertook in the second half of 2018.

This archive includes the process of drawing, diagrammatic plans, set designs, character sketches and more for over twenty puppet productions conceived and performed by the company since 1981. “Through this process I was able to develop a thorough understanding of the practical process that goes in to the creation of a puppet, and further realised the significance of drawing as an art form in this regard.”

She spent four months as a visiting scholar at the Interdisciplinary Centre for the Study of Global Change at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA. Here she discovered the thriving puppetry community in Minneapolis, with a number of puppetry companies performing exciting and innovative productions all year round.

She also took part in the annual May Day parade which is hosted by In the Heart of the Beast puppet and mask theatre. This theatre works with locals from the area to develop a series of giant puppets which march through the streets of the city to take part in a spring celebration in Powderhorn Park.


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