Monday, 1 September 2014

Summer School: Carlisle Puppet Pageant 2014

Lady Margaret Balfour Puppet ready to parade 

Those of you who have been following me for a while will know that the beginning of August can mean only one thing; the insanity of a summer project. This year was a little bit different (don't worry, there was plenty of insanity) as rather than a full on everyone we can think of doing everything we can think of two weeks of madness leading to an extravaganza event kind of affair Prism Arts ran a two week summer school. The summer school focused specifically on the making of several puppets, including two giants, and a small musical and theatrical performance that formed part of Carlisle's Pageant Parade. Last year our summer project focused on a large puppet parade to celebrate the start of Carlisle's pageant week. As the parade was a success the council wanted it to happen again this year and were one of the funders for the summer school.

Making appliqué fish for umbrellas (props for dancers)

Making appliqué fish for umbrellas (props for dancers)

Making appliqué panels for fire serpents

It was a full on and very busy two weeks but was also a lot of fun with everyone working hard and producing some fantastic work. We made giant puppets complete with costume, costumes for quadrille dancers and fire serpents, fire serpents, fish umbrellas and hats and a greyhound puppet called Elvis (complete with blue suede shoes.) We sewed, printed, constructed, decorated, rehearsed and generally worked very hard to produce our puppets and performance and then we took to the streets. Despite it being a bit chilly and somewhat breezy (something of a challenge when in control of a ten foot giant) the parade went really well and everyone had a great time.

I ran some free machine embroidery sessions

Free machine embroidery on one of the hat fish

Detail of embroidery

The theme of the parade was the Tudors so we started with the Salkeld Screen in Carlisle Cathedral as our inspiration point. Part of the council commission and funding was to make two giant puppets so we chose to make Lady Margaret Balfour (Henry VIII's grandmother and local mover and shaker) and Septimus Severus. Now, a couple of things about Septic, as we affectionately named him, that you should know; he's the only known black Roman Emperor and he was the original instigator of Hadrian's Wall, up until the 1800's the wall was known locally as Severus's wall. The more astute amongst you will have picked up that being a Roman Emperor he can't, really, have been a Tudor. However, the council specifically requested him and he does feature on the Salkeld Screen, which was good enough for us.

I also ran some printing sessions, preparing fabric for the giant puppets costumes

Printing using stencils

Block printing

Detail of block print

Block printed fabric for Lady M's skirt

We also put together a small musical and dance piece featuring the 'pramelan' (which is essentially the Gamelan, a beautiful Javanese percussive orchestra, mounted on prams) and a quadrille dance. All the dancers and musicians were costumed and were accompanied by fire serpents, inspired by the carvings on the Salkeld Screen.

Lady Margaret and Elvis Puppets

Elvis detail

Lady Margaret's Costume

My main involvement was working on the costumes for both the performers and for the giant Lady Margaret puppet. Both had their own challenges but I think that making a dress for a ten foot woman is probably one of the more difficult pieces of costuming that I've undertaken. However, I'm really pleased with how it's all worked out. I actually took over Lady Margaret's costume after the end of the first week as the artist who had started it and drafted most the pattern pieces could only be with us for one week. I had to alter her designs quite a bit but I think that between us we made a pretty good job.


Another of our crazy puppet creations

Severus's Head

Attached to his body

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