Puppet Origin Stories: Samsui Woman

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: Samsui Women – One Brick at a Time, 2015 and 2017

This life-sized puppet was made in 2015, and was modelled after a puppet made for the 2004 production of Furthest North, Deepest South. The pioneer batch of apprentices at The Finger Players (TFP) – Ellison Tan Yuyang, Jasmine Xie, Joshua Lim and Myra Loke created this together with all the other puppets and props in the production of Samsui Women – One Brick at a Time. They were mentored by TFP Co-Founder Ong Kian Sin.

Production photo of Samsui Women – One Brick at a Time

In order to build the puppet accurately, much research had to be done on the history of the Samsui Women: how and why their outfits came to be (dark blue apron with red hats), how the hats were tied with just stiff red fabric and so on. Till today, the colour choices the Samsui Women made pertaining to their uniform still remains a mystery. Some say the red was chosen because it stood out amidst the concrete and allowed people to spot them better. Some say those fabric colours were simply what was made available to these women during that time.

the “limbless” body
the “faceless” head

This puppet had two major segments – the “faceless” head and the “limbless” body. The body was rather straightforward to create. Foam was stuffed into the sleeves and the front of a black long-sleeved t-shirt, which covered its skeletal structure, creating a more three-dimensional puppet. Black fabric was then sewn onto the base of the t-shirt to extend the length of the puppet, creating the illusion that it was floating. As the puppet had no “face”, the Samsui Women’s signature red headgear became the mouthpiece of the puppet, and this was the most challenging to make.

A few video tutorials were referred to while creating this head-gear, but the makers had to adapt it for their specific purpose. There were many failed attempts at creating one that would allow the integrity of the head-gear to remain while manipulating it. Whilst the actual Samsui Women might have starched their fabric repeatedly after every wash, it was something that was not possible for this production as there was no time to fold and unfold it after every show. Eventually, a piece of hard paper of the right weight was slotted into the fabric prior to folding, to ensure that the shape of this head-gear could be maintained. 

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