11 June 2014

My first experience as a travelling puppeteer

Shanaaz Abrahams

I’ve been asked on several occasions what it is I enjoy doing, what my profession entails, and the kind of work I do. Each time I have to answer those sorts of questions, I light up.

What I often try to make others realise is that not only do I really love my job, I also firmly believe that in some underlying way your job is not just a simple job, it is part of who you are, and so I take pride in what I do and my duties at the Aquarium.

One of those tasks that I so thoroughly enjoy is doing puppet shows. What makes this rather exciting, apart from being the only one who knows how to do a puppet show among my closest friends, is that I have been given this platform to voice the many personalities I have ALL AT ONCE. But I don’t belong in a mental institution – I really just love my job.

Travelling puppet shows – a means of transporting education and knowledge to every child, to every school and to every home

Like many other lines of work, being a puppeteer comes with challenges and opportunities. One of these challenges is creating a personality for each of the puppets, which is the best part; I am now able to not only bring that puppet to life with a unique voice and character, I get to entertain kids and, believe it or not, adults with a personality to which they can relate in terms of excitement, eager for knowledge, age in voices, and storyline. What a great combo, right?

I was recently chosen to be one of the puppeteers to entertain and educate pupils at Lilliput Pre-Primary School in Table View. I was so excited and kept imagining what the school would look like, how big the groups would be and how much fun we’d be having – but the part I dreaded most was doing one of the puppet shows in Afrikaans. My supervisor made sure to give me the Afrikaans script a week before the time to prepare myself, but eish!

Nonetheless, the kids’ laughter and engagement with the puppets was evidence that they had really enjoyed the show. That made my job so much easier. Dankie, kinders!

To see the amusement on their faces, hear the joy in their laughter, and feel their excitement as it echoed throughout the hall was something incredible to experience. Doing puppet shows at a school or other setting is so different to shows at the Aquarium .

This experience made things so much clearer to me: this is not just a puppet show scheduled for certain times at the Aquarium, 364 days a year; this is a means of transporting education and knowledge to every child, to every school, and now that we have accompanying puppet storybooks, to every home.

When we had a short tea break, a little girl could not stop staring at me. Being the polite person that I am, I gave her a smile and a “Hello”, but all she did was stare. My colleague and dear friend Tarryn told me that she had been in one of the groups that had watched my puppet shows. In that moment it made sense to me why she kept staring. She must have been wondering who I was, and when the penny dropped the expression on her face was priceless: “I found the puppet lady!”

It immediately hit me. So many of us underestimate the intelligence of young kids. Without having to introduce ourselves, this young girl was able to deduce who I was and what I was doing there, based on what she had observed and who she could see while the show was on. She was spot on! I was the puppet lady.

I will never forget this day. It not only made me love my job that much more, it also taught me something to always remember: with a little bit of imagination, some entertainment in education, the power of a young person’s mind is not to be taken lightly. Give them the benefit of the doubt; they could have something to teach you.

For travelling puppet show bookings, queries or to sponsor a school, please contact Marguerite Venter.

Visit the AfriSam Children’s Play Centre to catch regular puppet shows at the Two Oceans Aquarium.

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