Puppet Origin Stories: Ah Ma

by fingerplayers

In 2020, at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, we spoke to the Makers and Designers of the puppets we have in The Finger Players (TFP), to create the repository that is the Puppet Origin Stories – a humble effort to highlight the background, and the making and design history of these puppets. We hope that this can be a continued endeavour at TFP, and we hope that you can go on this journey with us.

Featured in: Angels in Disguise (A.i.D), 2010, 2019.

This puppet was created for the 2010 production of Angels in Disguise (A.i.D), a classic well-loved arts education production that The Finger Players (TFP) tours to schools and communities, even till today. A.i.D was written by Ang Hui Bin, a then resident artist of TFP, and was directed and designed by TFP Co-Founder Ong Kian Sin.

Production photo of Angels in Disguise (A.i.D)

While sculpting this puppet, Kian Sin had Co-Founder Tan Beng Tian in mind, and the likeness in energy and disposition became apparent when Beng Tian manipulated it. Kian Sin also made this puppet a little smaller, so it could be manipulated by one puppeteer.

Co-Founder Tan Beng Tian in navy blue, manipulating Ah Ma

Design wise, as Kian Sin had wanted a more three-dimensional face, or a more western way of sculpting features, having the puppeteers in mind while sculpting allowed him to still retain the company’s unique design language. The head was carved from foam, but he added sand on the surface to give it a more rugged texture, and to allow light to be reflected in a more three-dimensional way. It was also important to build Ah Ma such that despite having a hunched back, she wouldn’t be hunched to the extent where she would have no stage presence, thus the degree of the puppet’s hunch was adjusted multiple times till the perfect angle was found.

As it was challenging to carve ears, all the puppets within this series had hair that would hide it. When A.i.D was brought around Singapore for performances, one question that would also always come up was why the puppets did not have mouths. The reason for this was because it gave them a more neutral expression, and allowed the puppeteer to express their emotions through the puppets in a physical manner.

No mouths on the puppets of Angels in Disguise, A.i.D

The company’s philosophy to puppetry is that puppet manipulation was a craft, and the puppeteers’ performance is another layer of artistry. This physical performance by the puppeteer should be on par with the manipulation of the puppet and thus, puppeteers should not be invisible but should instead be seen by the audience. Till this day, this philosophy distinguishes TFP’s performances from that of other puppetry companies.

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