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The People’s Puppet Project combines puppetry, therukoothu and a message about heritage conservation

If a performance parade of five-metre-tall puppets doesn’t grab eyeballs, nothing else will. The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) and the Urban Design Collective (UDC) is jointly organising an international workshop to highlight the issue of its heritage and conservation—using, you guessed it, puppets.

They have roped in Australian puppet theatre company Snuff Puppets to conduct the workshop, titled People’s Puppet Project (PPP), in which participants will be involved in designing and building puppets, among other activities. “We heard about them in 2012, when they were in Mumbai as part of the Oz Fest,” says Devangi Ramakrishnan, co-trustee of UDC. According to Melbourne-based Katrina Chandra, production manager of Snuff Puppets, they will teach participants how to make costumes and perform with puppets. “The performance is developed using everyone—sometimes participants have musical skills. Or we may use local musicians to create our sound,” she says.

Open to anyone above 13 years, with an interest in theatre, the 10-day workshop will be followed by public performances in and around Pondicherry’s Boulevard Town and a performance at the DakshinaChitra Cultural Centre. The team will also be collaborating with Indianostrum theatre, who will give them inputs on local theatre traditions, including therukoothu. “The idea was to use public performances to highlight the issue of heritage conservation and promote the local heritage and culture,” says Ramakrishnan.

Pondy ahoy
She explains that they picked Pondicherry because of the distinct style of its Tamil quarters—with the thinnai and the thalvaram. “They used to be called Talking Streets because of how the thinnais facilitated interaction on the streets. We’ll be using them as a backdrop and will highlight the role they play and why they need to be conserved,” Ramakrishnan adds.

Fun off stage
Besides building a giant puppet, there will be warm up games, story-telling sessions about the city, and a lot of hands-on creativity, says Chandra. “There are different options when creating the puppets in terms of moving parts—the eyes and mouths can open and close, and the hands can wave,” she adds.

Small talk
“We’re really looking forward to the French/Indian food,” she adds. “One of our team is French so he is interested to see Pondicherry. The team really enjoys meeting new people and learning new things as well as sharing and teaching.”
Workshop is on from December 15 -24 and the performances from December 26 – 27 in Pondicherry and December 28 at DakshinaChitra. Registrations close tomorrow. To register, visit urbandesigncollective.wordpress.com/2014/11/26/peoples-puppet-project-pondicherry-faq/

— Janane Venkatraman

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