Friday, November 29, 2019

'Invisible Octopus'" (2) Puppet Design dictated by illness/disability

Living in the shadows of an Invisible Octopus 

Working on ‘Invisible Octopus’ inexplicably forced me to examine and establish
the truth about what is my normal.

one of 'The Girls' in her wheelchair in the garden,
aware of  'Invisible Octopus' 

"During the past five months I have been working with Dr. Emma Fisher through a mentoring bursary from the 
Arts & Disability Ireland Connect Scheme. The aim was to write a script for my existing puppets, as well as explore alternative forms of puppetry to accommodate the physical challenges due to my chronic illness/disability M.E.. In this paper, which I will share in sections over the coming weeks, 
I explore the background to ‘Invisible Octopus’ and the challenges, opportunities and personal revelations it brought. 

See here for first part: (1) Background

Puppet Design dictated by illness/disability

Since facilitating Life Outside the Box and becoming emerged in the Broken Puppet Symposia I have delved deeper into using puppetry to explore and convey my personal experience with chronic illness/disability M.E. Illness also impacted on the type of puppet I make and use. 
To date, most of my puppets have been marionettes with clay head, hands and feet. However due to the decline in my health again, it is increasingly more difficult to hold the marionette’s cross for any length of time.  ‘The Girls’, two nearly identical puppets, one portraying the challenges of physical movement, the other the freedom of mind, were possibly the last puppets to be made as marionettes.

twin marionette puppets sitting side by side - Corina Duyn
'The Girls'

During 2017 I adapted my puppet design to suit my physical ability.  
Póilin, a ‘wheelchair-lap-puppet’ can sit independently.  I can animate her head via the rod in her back, by moving the the small screweye just visible under the pink shoulder sponge, with my thumb.  I can animate her arms either by attaching a rod in to her elbow, or by attaching a long rod attached via velcro in the palms of her hands. 
She can walk, although not great yet, by putting my thumb in the ring on her back, and puling it up or downwards. It has strings attached to her knees.
This new design relieves the difficulty of keeping my arms up to animate a marionette. 

Póilin sits with pride.
Póilin in the garden

During the summer of last year I started working on ‘Miracle, Miracle’, a very small table-top-puppet in a wheelchair, but unfortunately, I have not been able to finish her. But her chair was modified for 'Invisible Octopus'.

unifished puppet in a wheelchair
'Miracle Miracle'


As part of developing a script for 'Invisile Octopus' several props were required. I was able to create them with the support of Lorraine Shanahan, who was one of my past puppet-making students. 
I have the idea, which were developed further with Lorraine (my creative Personal Assistant). She would do a lot of the physical making, and I do the finishing touches. A good working relationship, which allowed me to create again, although in a very altered way. 

Puppet hospital bed, approx 60 cm long

We made a puppet size hospital bed out of a cardboard box, dowels and casters. All found in my studio. I was looking for fabric to make the blue hospital blanket. Wonderful to find a white tea towel in the press, and a very old tub of blue dye, exactly in the colour I wanted. My mother had bought that maybe twenty years ago as part of a batik set at a car boot sale.

“Use everything - use everything wisely - everything has significance.” *

Puppet lying in a hopsital bed
One of 'The Girls' in hospital bed

As with all the props, all materials were already in my possession. So all had a memory attached.
We made more cheerful bedding too for when the puppet is at home in her hospital-type bed.  Like me.

We also made a recliner like my own, using up the small remains of upholstery fabric left over from my own chair. I had just  enough. The wheelchair  (see top image) was adapted from the ‘Miracle Miracle’ puppet. We also made a few some smaller items, like a backback, again modelled on my own.

I must say, that despite the logistical obstacles to make the props, I am very pleased with the creative achievements. However, the emotional response to seeing my puppets in these disability aids is rather more challenging. It is very close to the bone. And that is without them being animated.

With PA support I also made ‘Octopus’, a fabric glove puppet (see next chapters for more about Octopus).  My mother gave me this fabric over twenty years ago and seems to have been waiting for the creation of 'Octopus'. It had the perfect colours... 

It was a joy to realize that I could sew by hand while in my recliner chair. This way I could Still create. There is always a way!

Having explored shadow puppetry with my mentor Emma too, as an optional way to tell part of my story, I cut tiny birds and a tree, modeled on the contorted Willow in my garden,  out of paper for use in my story. This was also possible to do in an almost reclining position. 

I am currently exploring the possibility of designing of a stage set with interchangeable walls. One wall will have a window with a view into my garden, some walls will represent my small bedroom, and one wall will depict the clinical walls of a hospital ward. All very much in the idea stage...

Increasingly more housebound, I visualize the walls of the puppet set slowly closing in around the puppet, like the sides of a box folding in closer and closer on the puppet. 

I realize that as my world is becoming increasingly smaller, I am creating my world in puppet size.

To be explored in Next chapters:

  • The metaphor of Birds
  • Introducing 'Octopus’
  • Hanging on by a string
  • The play of shadows
* Abstract may be quoted, but please reference the source: 'Invisible Octopus', Corina Duyn, 2019., (please include direct link) and date accessed. And it would be great to hear from you where you have used my writing. Thank you

Ben Okri, dangerous love. P 363


Unknown said...

really like what you are making here. the blue of that blanket is spot on!

Sue said...

Wow... I never really considered puppetry this way. Thank you for a different take on enabled. Beautiful.

Corina Duyn said...

Thank you both for stopping by and leaving a comment. It means a lot to know that my words, images and thoughts are reaching beyond my walls.
Best wishes to you both