Friday, 18 August 2017

Puppets in the life of arts facilitator Corina Duyn

This post was first published on Corina Duyn's Blog, on the 13th August 2017, and shares the personal story of puppets in the life of the 'Life Outside the Box' facilitator Corina Duyn.


Attending the Puppet Symposium  last week was like stepping into a completely new world. And yet when I entered it, and moved about with open eyes and ears, I realised I had been part of this amazing, creative, fun, healing, and astonishing place for pretty much all my life. 

I just did not know it...

photo of Persephone Sextou and puppet Johnny Dwyer having a private moment.  Corina Duyn is holding the puppet
Persephone Sextou and puppet Johnny Dwyer having a private moment.
 (I am allowed to witness this...)

Johnny's Ancestors

While writing my paper/ my presentation for the Symposium, I looked back at the dolls and puppets I created in my life. I made dolls clothes on an Singer hand sewing machine around the ages of 7, or 8. Made my first doll at the age of ten. Borrowed doll making books throughout my teens from the library, and bought my first book at the age of 16. My first ever puppet, a clown, was created from this book. I still use the puppet body design in today's classes! Nearly 40 years on...

Fantasy Folk

Moving to Ireland saw the start of my Fantasy Folk Artist Dolls and Puppets. I had my work in shops, and has solo exhibitions. I work on Private and corporate commissions. Including the Waterford Crystal one, I wrote about a while back. A puppet/animated related work was that of Ballycardool  by Jimmy Marukami. I also taught puppet making with two young art students from Finland, and in a group home, in the months before illness changed my life in 1998.

Puppet Power

During this work at the group home with teenagers, I realised the Power of Puppets. I think there were about 6 youngsters in the group. All Very Eager to work with me. We had made the heads of the puppets and had started on the hands. One young lad of about 13 had made a clown's head. Gorgeous. Funny. Just like himself. But when he made the hands, they were closed fists.
Powerful stuff.

I still feel bad for leaving these youngsters without finishing their puppet. I was too ill to even sit up, not to mind teach. 19 years later I still want to work with them. They probably have kids of their own by now, but if they read this, please get in touch.

Moving on

Puppets made their return in a big way when I started to facilitate the Life Outside the Box Puppet project with fellow members of the Irish Wheelchair Association (IWA) in 2015. This project catapulted me into the Puppet Power World, and into that of the Puppet Symposium. I just didn't see it coming! 

Yes, I know I was invited to talk about the project. And yes, I was a little scared to say my bit amongst researchers, and speakers from all over the world. People who are involved with puppetry for years, and know what they are talking about.
As it turned out, I also know what I am talking about. 
know the journey I made from childhood in dolls and puppets, from being an artist, witnessing the powerful ways puppets can explore challenges in our lives. I have seen it. I have lived it. 
I just didn't realize that what I have been doing in my work, especially working with others with disabilities, while living with disability myself, represents a unique experience. 

Puppetry and disability

One of the first speakers Moira Jenkins, a lawyer, puppeteer, and lecturer, talked about the UN Convention of the rights of a person with disabilities - Which by the way is still not ratified by the Irish government - to be involved in the arts. More than just participation. We have every right to be respected as the originator and creator of our own work. (Article 30(2)  Including puppetry. 
Arts as a practice, not therapy.

I was nodding like a lunatic at so much what Moira was saying. Especially when it came to those horrible terms like 'service user' which I was labeled when a member of the IWA... Also when it came to context providers not just content providers. I created the context with my project, and so did my fellow members! Proud of that.

Puppets as story tellers 

Over the two days I filled my head with images, and words, and stories, and opportunities. Some I listened to at the symposium, others via Skype while lying on my hotel bed. Thank you Emma for providing this option for me. 

I was in awe with the presentation by Andrea Markovits from Chile, who talked about the puppets and traumatic memory project. Exploring the  pain felt by the public of the past regime in Chile, the families of the disappeared, the tortured. Silent puppets. Beautiful puppets. Powerful stories.

There were speakers from Japan, UK, Brazil, Germany, Finland, Portugal, Ireland, and Costa Rica (I think).
Subjects were: Well being, Disability, Hospital and care settings, and mental health. But even within these there was such a variety of subjects.

The speakers were either researchers in the field of puppetry, for example Persephone Sextou's 'Theatre for one' with children in hospitals, to Caroline Astell-Burt who teaches at the London school of puppetry. Antje Wegener who uses puppets with kids dealing with trauma. Or puppeteers with their own story to tell. (See all names here).  I loved how Oscar Goldszmidt worked with youngster with cerebral palsy, and enabled them to manipulate puppets...

The talks that touched me most were the ones where puppets transformed the lives of their makers. Most of the time by surprise. Puppets made Emma Fisher come out as disabled. A bit like coming out as LGBT. It informed her thesis about puppets and disability, which was initially about others with disability. For some the puppets they created supported them during mental health challenges. For example Kate James-Moore, and Aaron Jean Crombe. I think it was Joni-Rae Carrack, who said 'Puppets can be both objects and subjects',  in her talk about anxiety. Kate said that 'puppetry saved her life'.

The whole experience left me filled with images, and thoughts, and questions of where to go from here? It feels like there is no going back now. No going back into my box!

black and white photo of corina duyn lifting her puppet out of the box at the Puppet symposium
To me this photo says it all:
Puppet Johnny Dwyer and myself 

stepping into life...

© Photo by Nik Palmer  of Noisy Oyster
More photos by Nik see HERE

What next?

I had the pleasure of spending some time with Marisa Latimer after the symposium. She told me about her travels with puppets. Through college, working with puppeteers, stories from Japan. Expanding on the world I kind of knew existed.
Listening to her, I remembered the exact location of a puppet theatre in the city of Haarlem, where I lived 8 years before moving to Ireland. I always wanted to go in. I never did. 
I also remembered a very vivid dream of a kind of underground puppet theatre/museum. I remembered that I had copied puppet making books from the library over 20 years ago. How I have one business card with a puppet sitting by a pile of books, for at least 19 years.
That I was part of the puppet festival during a doll making week in France the year I got ill. 

I had communications with Kate, Aaron, Emma and Perspehone. And a meeting with Moira. Which has led to the invitation to give guest lectures at CIT, and a collaboration about Disability Rights and Puppetry. And other future possibilities for my work...
It is all hugely exciting. 
I am aware my body might not (yet) be as excited as my head, but I am certainly going to take small steps into this world which has been presented to me. Loud and Clear.
I hear you!!

Puppets have been part of my life. A hidden part of my life. Deep in my psyche.
They, and me, are ready to come out and play!!

To finish this amazing week, I learned that The life outside the box project was also mentioned in a Journal..., see link below.
The puppet making classes are going well, and I have already four more students lined up.
And I am now a member of the Irish UNIMA (International Union of Puppets, a non-governmental organisation affiliated to UNESCO)


group photo of speakers and puppets at Puppet Symposium UCC, cork
Most of the speakers and visiting puppets at the symposium.
Mad bunch!

Further reading and links

Friday, 11 August 2017

Attending the Puppet Symposium - an account in images

A visual account of the Puppet Symposium at UCC, Cork, last week
Corina Duyn taking puppet Johnny Dwyer out of the box, photo by Nik Palmer
Johnny being taken out of his box
by Corina and Pascale
photo © Nik Palmer of "Noisy Oyster"
Persephone Sextouand Corina Duyn's puppet Johnny Dwyer
Persphone Sextou with Johnny Dwyer
Love at first sight

More photos by Nik Palmer see HERE

Other photos of the speakers at the symposium see UNIMA facebook page

Johnny, taking it all in

Corina Duyn, seated in wheelchair giving her presentation at the puppet symposium UCC
Corina Duyn giving her presentation at the Symposium
images from UNIMA research committee  Facebook page

Corina Duyn, seated in wheelchair giving her presentation at the puppet symposium UCC
Corina Duyn giving her presentation at the Symposium
images from UNIMA research committee  Facebook page
puppets attending the puppet symposium UCC
Puppet gathering at the Symposium.
images from UNIMA research committee  Facebook page

Group photos of speakers and their puppets at the puppet symposium UCC
Most of the speakers and puppets at the Puppet Symposium.
images from UNIMA research committee  Facebook page

Film screening at the puppet festival

Monday, 7 August 2017

Puppets created and performed by people with disabilities

The Life Outside the Box Puppet Project was mentioned in the
'Puppetry as reinforcement or rupture of cultural perceptions of the disabled body.' 
A paper written by Laura Purcell-Gates & Emma Fisher. 
Published in 
Research in Drama Education: The Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance. 
Published online: 26 Jun 2017.

To link to this article: 

This article proposes puppetry as a practice uniquely situated to intervene in ideological constructions of the disabled body both onstage and off. Examining our current and recent practice-based research that uses puppetry to intervene in cultural perceptions of disability, we put forth a provocation, asking readers to consider the ways in which puppetry practices can be deployed to enable performances by disabled puppeteers as well as in ways that engage with cultural constructions of disability. We suggest that puppets, as bodies that are materially constructed, can both reinforce and rupture such constructions. 

page 364 (2nd page - 2nd paragraph in the online document):

... Disability arts practices in Ireland that engage with puppetry include both theatrical and therapeutic practices. Theatrical engagements include explorations of how disability might be differently enacted in society, such as artist and writer Corina Duyns collaboration with fellow members of the Irish Wheelchair Association to create a puppetry community arts piece titled Life Outside the Box which premiered in 2016, with puppets created and performed by people with disabilities to explore the idea that people with disabilities can gain freedom by stepping outside of societys disability box.1  Therapeutic practices include the development of artistic skills in people with disabilities, such as the Arts in Dis- ability workshops of Dublin-based Artastic, a street spectacle, entertainment and arts education organisation, in which adults and children with disabilities construct and puppeteer direct-manipulation puppets.2 Countering the isolation of children in hospitals, including children with disabilities, and enabling creative conversations that connect them to the wider community was the core aim of Helium ArtsPuppet Portal Project in 20092010.3 

  1. Life Outside the Box website with link to book and DVD:
  2. Website with images from Artastic arts in disability workshops:
  3. Helium ArtsPuppet Portal Project website: 

    Link to this article: 

    Laura Purcell-Gates & Emma Fisher (2017) Puppetry as reinforcement or rupture of cultural perceptions of the disabled body, Research in Drama Education: The Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance, 22:3, 363-372, DOI: 10.1080/13569783.2017.1329652

    RiDE: The Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance is a refereed journal aimed at those who are interested in applying performance practices to cultural engagement, educational innovation and social change. It provides an international forum for research into drama and theatre conducted in community, educational, developmental and therapeutic contexts. ... read more