Hey, I’m Danny, I’ve worked at Terrapin for a few months now as a full-time puppet builder and up until now the workshop team and I have been working collaboratively on our 2024 school touring show Feathers.
But I’ve also been set the task of an extra solo build. We’re talking dragons!!!
The Story of Chi is a theatre work that follows a young girl, Chi, whose family has been faced with a sudden tragedy resulting in intergenerational tension between contemporary living and traditional practices. But Chi is not alone: she is sent some celestial guidance in the form of Mizu, a playful adolescent dragon, who has been separated from his parents. Chi and Mizu form a strong friendship in a time of unsettled family dynamics, leading to understanding, peace and family unity.
After three weeks of collaboration in the workshop with designer James Lew, and building multiple dragon prototypes, I was off to Adelaide with a large box of ‘excess baggage’ (Mizu is eight feet tall), for a week of creative development alongside Terrapin artistic director Sam Routledge and assistant director Emma Skalicky. The creative development took place in the OzAsia rehearsal spaces and the work is a new collaboration with Terrapin, Contemporary Asian Australian Performance (Sydney) and La Boite Theatre (Brisbane).
On day one we were introduced to the creative team: our director, three co-writers, designer, three performers (including Tasmania’s own Stephanie Jack) and our puppeteer. Together we read through the script to get a feel for the plot, characters, movement and, for me in particular, the puppetry. I then introduced the prototype puppets that had travelled with us from Tassie. To my delight, our eight-foot Mizu fit very nicely onto the back of our puppeteer, Sam Lau. Mizu is built around an aluminium-framed hiking backpack, with the head suspended on bungeed rods articulated by the puppeteer’s hand, while the tail is sculpted in sections from polyethylene foam and hangs behind the dragon with an organic movement that coincides with the puppet’s.
In terms of the form and scale the prototype puppet was ideal because it was unrestricted enough that Sam was able to safely test its limitations with a full line of vision and navigate what having a tail… entails!!
Throughout the week we watched Mizu interact with the performers on stage, played with silhouettes in shadow with our cast, trialled smoke machines and how different materials will hold and disperse smoke under theatre lights. In the last few days Matt Hsu joined us to add music, soundscapes and live instruments into the piece for our showing on the final day.
Showing day: Along with the other artists and invited guests, we had 70+ primary students join us for the presentation. The students were around the age of 12, which is the approximate age of Chi. We received fantastic feedback from all in attendance in a Q&A session after the presentation, lots of thoughtful questions and discussions were had and, all in all, a very productive, wildly collaborative and rewarding experience.
I now look forward to the new year and talking more about Mizu’s aesthetics, materials and functionality for the finished dragon puppet!
Image credit: Emma Skalicky