Dear Caldwell Family,
I am writing to express my sincere thanks for the Cymbeline funding that made my participation in The Hatchling possible. It was lovely to meet you during the performance on the Sunday, and to thank you in person, but I hope this letter gives you more insight into the project.
The final product of The Hatchling was a piece of outdoor puppetry and durational storytelling, combining community theatre, puppetry and kiting into one weekend-long event. Starting as an egg, the ‘she’ dragon hatched in Plymouth City Centre, growing slowly over the first day as she discovered the world. Coming to rest under a tree, she then grew overnight into an adult, testing her strength throughout the day, and interacting with her audience as she explored further. Finally, she felt a call towards the sea, where she met the mythical pearl kite and underwent her transformation into a kite herself, to be able to fly into the night over Plymouth Hoe.
As you may be aware, the initial idea for this project started 6 years ago. Therefore, to be able to join the ranks of the team involved, especially as a cast member alongside other professionals, was an incredible privilege. Throughout the rehearsal process, myself and the other Exeter students were integrated fully into the cast of puppeteers, which allowed us to throw ourselves into the learning experience.
The structure of the four weeks of rehearsal was very playful and exploratory, as the creative team had not yet established the language of ensemble and puppetry that the puppeteers would use in the performance. It was also very collaborative; there were many discussions amongst the cast and creative team to determine the best puppeteering practice for this performance. Therefore, each day had a clear structure to help develop our ensemble, and train ourselves to be able to manipulate the puppet. We always started off with a conditioning warm up to increase our physical strength and stamina as an ensemble, as we were required to be able to physically move the puppet for quite long periods at a time. In addition, we often made a ‘broomstick dragon’, where we mimicked the shape of the dragon with sticks. This allowed us to build our sense of ensemble connection without the technical difficulties of the puppet. These kinds of exercises taught us to recognise and facilitate emotion behind each movement of the dragon, and to learn how to keep the bubble of consciousness alive in her.
I have learnt so much from the entirety of this project: from the creative team, my fellow professional puppeteers, and the final performance. The most significant learning moments from Mervyn Miller, our director, were his teachings around the essence of puppetry. For example, he stated that ‘everyone thinks that puppetry is about doing a lot, but really it’s about not doing very much at all’. This meant that as a collective we had to allow for moments of breath and stillness within the dragon, as this then created space for the audience to project their own meanings upon the dragon’s thoughts and actions. I also learnt from my other puppeteers that calm was necessary to the success of the ensemble; the trust that we had established in the rehearsal process allowed us to maintain our relationships and connection through difficult situations, and a calm attitude helped us to navigate problems seamlessly. Finally, I learnt from the audience that this form of theatre has the power to be transformative to a community. The impact that this production left on Plymouth was palpable; from the anticipated whispers about the project that I overheard on buses, to the readable joy at her small interactions with some members, to finally the ecstatic roar from the crowd when she successfully launched into the air as a kite. This performance not only had an impact upon the people involved creatively, but on the whole city.
My ability to take part in this project has inspired my development in my theatre-making career: I am particularly interested in ensembles and how to collaborate in different ways, having experienced a strong collaborative and trust-based environment within this ensemble. At our final rehearsal, when we summarised our experiences, a collective feeling was that this rehearsal process was unique in its approach to collaboration and bond with its ensemble, and thus I aspire to bring this culture into other projects. I am excited to take this knowledge and experience forward to new projects and productions; thank you again for providing this opportunity. Yours sincerely,