GROUND-BREAKING THROUGH THE ARTS: CARROWBEG ENTERPRISES AND MAYO CRAFTS, WESTPORT

Miley and Biddy live on, as County Mayo service users develop a Glenroe-inspired storyline for their shadow puppet show. Jarlath Cunningham, Project Facilitator, Carrowbeg Enterprises/Mayo Crafts, Distillery Road, Westport, Co. Mayo

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In October 2000 last year, the Linenhall Arts Centre approached our centre with a fabulous idea–a drama puppet production. Producer Cathal McCarty asked us to hold auditions to select ten participants. The project was enthusiastically received by staff at the centre, and the idea was welcomed by trainees at an advocacy meeting.

When the ten trainee participants had been selected, Cathal met with them to decided on a storyline and script. The story developed through drama and musical activities which he facilitated. Different games were played and role-playing helped to establish a starting-point. Trainees identified easily with the characters of Miley and Biddy, and the story that developed was called ‘Miley, Biddy and the Alien’. The puppet show was to be geared toward an audience of children, and to be performed as part of the Roolaboola drama weekend in Castlebar in December 2000-

Trainees had art and drama workshops over the following weeks; everyone cut out shapes of the puppets they would use. The puppets were designed by the trainees themselves during their workshops, with the help of Breda Burns and Katie Newman (Linenhall). The workshop sessions were videotaped, which showed the large amount of interaction that took place and helped the facilitators to develop individual potential. At the end of each session, trainees and production people sat and discussed progress and any difficulties they were having.

The story of the puppet show revolved around Miley’s tractor. Each morning when he gets up, he tries to start his tractor, but it won’t start. He doesn’t know that at night an alien drinks all the diesel. Miley calls in the gardaí and they stay up one night and see the alien stealing the diesel. So Biddy gives them a great idea–she knows that aliens hate orange juice. They proceed to fill the tractor with the orange juice. Lo and behold–the alien tries to steal the diesel again, but gets sick on the orange juice and flies off. Everyone is happy, and Miley can get back to work.

Ours was a screen puppet show, with the actors working behind a screen and a light throwing the puppet images onto the screen. Every puppet had a trainee handler. There was a pre-recorded soundtrack. One of the trainees narrated the story and Padraig Joyce added special effects. After a lot of rehearsal practices, there was a full ‘dress rehearsal’ a week before the show, for all the trainees and staff in the centre. A few mistakes were made, but those were addressed so that we would be ready for the big show for the children.

The first show was on Friday, 8 December 2000–boy, were we nervous! We all got ready behind the screen, peeking out through holes in the curtain. The crowd filtered in and by showtime there was a full house. The atmosphere was electric.

Two trainees introduced the show to the audience. Cathal McCarty and Mícheál Sweeney went out in front of the screen to teach the songs and dances to the children so that they could take part during the show. The reaction of the audience was fantastic, with cheering and clapping–there was a real sense of pantomime. At the end, there were looks of satisfaction on everybody’s face and a great feeling of success after all the hard work. Compliments flowed in from everywhere; drama critics who attended said it was ‘ground-breaking’, ‘superb … what dynamic interaction’, and ‘great story, well-directed and produced’. Since December we have been toying with the idea of taking the show on tour. We have also received radio airplay and have got very positive responses from our local community.

A lot of positive things occurred in the production of the show; the different interactions in the group dynamic were very beneficial to trainees, staff and the production crew. The outside producers who worked with us on this joint project highlighted the value of empowerment through the outside influences of people beyond the service-providing staff. The links forged the Linenhall Arts Centre by our centre and others in the Western Care Association have been very positive indeed.

Cast:

   
Miley: Mícheál Sweeney

Biddy: Marie Maguire

Inspector Crowe: Anne McCormack

Alien: David O’Neill

Spaceship: Robin Cooper

Can of Diesel: Sheila Burke

Police Car: Gerry O’Malley

Orange Juice: Siobhán Cameron

Tractor: Jarlath Cunningham

Music assistant: Peggy Kearney

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