#01: AN ADAPTABLE (AXE)OSKELETON…Let the grind begin

by fingerplayers

DANIEL:

The Maker’s Lab rolls into its second iteration with exciting new ideas by our maker, Loo An Ni in response to our theme, Puppetry and Sustainability! As she will share more below, we are looking forward to working on a piece of puppeteering equipment. How will that change the style and movement in which we puppeteer our puppets? How will the puppeteer’s body move in tandem with the puppets?

The conduct of a lab for puppet designers and makers is in itself an experimentation for us at The Finger Players and we certainly hope to build year upon year on our experience. In this second iteration, we will implement a major scheduling change – to conduct our jamming sessions in October instead of in December. This will change the flow of the maker’s exploration and we hope that it will allow us to dive deeper into our creations. Stay tuned for our monthly journals!

AN NI:
Hello, I am An Ni, maker for The Maker’s Lab 2021. An interest in objects and spaces pushed me to try various roles in theatre, from design and construction to wardrobe management.

WHAT

My response to the brief for Puppetry and Sustainability is to create an adaptable exoskeleton –  a wearable device that helps the performer when manipulating large objects. For more information, https://exoskeletonreport.com/what-is-an-exoskeleton/

WHY

Creating an adaptable exoskeleton stems from 2 reasons: 
Firstly, objects used in local shows are often highly specific and therefore single use. This is at odds with the three Rs (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) rule in sustainability. Is there a way to create a system which is adaptable, where an object can be used multiple times, yet versatile enough to answer different design briefs? I hope to reduce instances where unnecessary waste is created by extending the logic of using a metal straw vs plastic straw: in which it takes a number of uses before the object becomes sustainable.

Secondly, I would like to explore creating larger-than-life puppets and wearables. Examples of them include the works of MoonBull studio (http://moonbullstudio.com/larger-than-life) and carnival costumes (https://www.pinterest.com/ContrabandEntertainment/carnival-costumes/).  A large puppet will usually mean an increase in weight, resulting in a more tired performer. And so, besides having more than one performer operate the large puppet, is there a way to enhance the puppeteer’s physical abilities to allow one performer to move confidently without fatigue or fear of injury being an overly big concern?

Ekso Bionics lists comprehensive reasons why humans will benefit from an exoskeleton (https://eksobionics.com/why-do-we-need-human-exoskeletons/).

In particular, “to gain strength and endurance” and “to be more flexible” can be applied to theatre, especially with regards to puppetry in performance..

HOW

My plan is to create an exoskeleton that helps the performer with manipulating a large puppet (see Image 1).

Image 1: Sketch of exoskeleton and attachment parts.

The exoskeleton acts as a base which can separate into parts so they only use what is needed. The number and types of parts will be dependent on the outcome of my prototyping process. The puppet is also an attachment which can be swapped out for different shows. These attachments are modular too – for example a wing which can be separated into bones and joints, and repurposed.  

I am inspired by back-support exoskeletons, in particular Ottobock’s Paexo series (https://paexo.com/?lang=en) and Ekso Bionics’ EVO (https://eksobionics.com/ekso-evo/).

Thinking more and Moving ahead

In this lab, I will start with building for these types of “puppet appendages” – an oversized arm and an oversized head. I will need to define the number and type of attachments, and how they are connected to the exoskeleton.

The assessment criteria by Maurice et al. in their article, Evaluation of PAEXO, a novel passive exoskeleton for overhead work (https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10255842.2020.1714977), will be useful in formulating the parameters for thinking and evaluating my exoskeleton. For this lab, I would like to think about my exoskeleton using the following parameters:

  1. reduce performer’s fatigue
  2. discover ways of manipulating object that may not be previously possible
  3. must not increase physical strain on other body parts

Being mindful of the lack of technology and scientific equipment that were employed in the published report, we will instead be working closely with a Puppeteer Consultant to trial the exoskeleton. The Puppeteer Consultant’s feedback will be used to track the parameters’ success, such as asking how he feels before and after each session.

Other considerations are that it will be a plus if it is washable and quick changeable (in performance).

Other areas to study include ergonomics, the human anatomy, marionette stringing, pulley systems. 

This article is a monthly reflection by Loo An Ni, the maker of The Maker’s Lab as part of an ongoing 9-month experimental laboratory. The Maker’s Lab is curated and managed by Daniel Sim, a core team member of TFP. The ideas and reflections within the article are drawn from An Ni’s observations and discoveries as a maker, designer and researcher. Instead of being taken as conclusive, we hope that they serve to be a starting point for thought-provoking conversations and perhaps even debates. We would love to hear from you and can be reached at tfpmakerslab@gmail.com.

If you wish to follow An Ni on her journey with The Maker’s Lab, click on the ‘Subscribe’ link below now!