Puppets galore

Victor Yerrid, a master puppeteer at the Jim Henson Company, will perform with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra in SSO Concerts For Children: Nature Tales.
Victor Yerrid, a master puppeteer at the Jim Henson Company, will perform with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra in SSO Concerts For Children: Nature Tales.PHOTO: SINGAPORE SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA

Children and adults can look forward to several foreign and local puppetry performances next month

Innovative puppetry performances give parents interesting entertainment options for their children and themselves next month.

Paper Monkey Theatre and Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) are collaborating with overseas puppeteers for their shows this weekend.

Paper Monkey Theatre has invited puppeteers from Malaysia, Thailand and Macau for its No Strings Attached puppetry festival, now in its second year.

The festival will be held at Goodman Arts Centre this weekend. Its line-up includes Malaysian group ACX Productions' Wayang The Tapir, a show with an environmental message using shadow puppets and overhead projectors to create the impression of watching animation; Ting A Tong Theatre's The Musical Twin Pigs from Thailand, which uses piggy banks as puppets; and News About Xiao An by Rolling Puppet Alternative Theatre from Macau, where puppets interact with a live video stream in a tale about a bereaved youngster who buys a TV set to keep him company.

Paper Monkey Theatre's own performance, Doggy And MeowMeow, was inspired by its director's walks through Dakota Crescent where residents have moved out because the area is being redeveloped.

Director Andy Pang says he was inspired to create the work after pondering the plight of stray animals displaced by urbanisation. Pang, 30, adds that he wanted to take the idea of origami further. The puppets are each made from a sheet of A2-sized paper, which measures 42cm by 59.4cm.

Paper Monkey Theatre's artistic director Benjamin Ho says the No Strings Attached festival is in line with the group's vision to help establish Singapore as a global centre for puppetry, where practitioners from all over the world can gather here to learn about puppetry.

Speaking on the phone recently from Shanghai where he is working on a project, Ho, 49, says: "There is a dream I have that Singapore can be a puppetry hub because it is so accessible. Asia has a very strong heritage of puppetry. Why don't Westerners come and learn from us? Sometimes, it's also shocking that Asians do not know about (the various) puppetry forms in Asia."

He cites centuries-old art forms such as wayang kulit, a kind of shadow puppetry, in Indonesia; and bunraku in Japan, where dolls about half the size of a human act out a narrative to the accompaniment of a samisen, a Japanese lute with three strings.

Another upcoming production is a show created by American Victor Yerrid, a master puppeteer at the Jim Henson Company, which is behind the iconic Muppets characters.

SSO Concerts For Children: Nature Tales aims to introduce children to classical music through the use of puppets such as Leopold the Leopard, a hand puppet similar to those on Sesame Street, and an "11-foot-tall talking tree", says Yerrid, 45, in an e-mail interview.

Held this weekend at the Victoria Concert Hall, the performance showcases the SSO playing Beethoven's Symphony No. 6 In F Major, Op. 68 "Pastorale", also known as the Pastoral Symphony.

Yerrid, who will be visiting Singapore for the first time, hopes to draw young children into listening to "this incredibly visual piece of music" by letting the puppets tell the story.

"We try to give them a concrete piece of information like, what happens next in the story is, the characters cross the magical waterfall and they see a beautiful beach. When the music starts, our greatest hope is that they imagine what was talked about," he says.

Yerrid - a classically trained musician who plays percussion instruments such as the marimba, the timpani, and the piano and "a little bit" of guitar and ukulele - graduated from the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. Having taken acting classes as a child, he became fascinated with children's music and started working as an intern at the Jim Henson Company.

"For me, whether it's playing music, puppets or acting, it's all the same sort of performance energy. It's different mediums to express yourself and, for me, puppetry was a natural fit," says Yerrid, who adds that his three daughters - nine-year-old twins and a seven-year-old - helped with ideas for the show.

In contrast to the cross-cultural collaborations by Paper Monkey Theatre and the SSO, The Finger Players' Maxx The Cat has a decidedly local feel to its puppetry.

Maxx The Cat features the adventures of a stray that has lost its leg and is adopted by a girl, Sam. It was commissioned by the National Arts Council as part of the line-up of Arts In Your Neighbourhood, a biannual programme that aims to provide arts experiences for everyone in the heartlands.

Maxx The Cat, a free performance, will be staged at Bedok Town Square on Nov 11 and at Ang Mo Kio Central Stage on Nov 18.

Its director and playwright, Thong Pei Qin, 30, says: "Arts In Your Neighbourhood encourages the appreciation of art in familiar surroundings. Here, seemingly ordinary objects in a child's bedroom can be imagined to transform into curious creatures.

"The design of Maxx The Cat also incorporates local influences with the set items depicting recognisable locales such as East Coast Beach and the dragon heritage playground in Ang Mo Kio."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 31, 2017, with the headline 'Puppets galore'. Print Edition | Subscribe