Puppet Origin Stories: Toyogo Box

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: The Finger Players, all year round

These Toyogo boxes are ubiquitous within the company’s premises, holding anything and everything from puppets to props, brochures to fabric, and hair-spray to make-up.

In 2010, The Finger Players (TFP) was gifted a large number of traditional Chinese hand puppets from Mr Lim Kee, the son of a private collector, Mr Lim Seng Huat. Mr Lim Seng Huat had passed away, and the puppets that he had amassed were collecting dust at home. Mr Lim Kee believed that the puppets should be put to use, rather than staying sealed in a box. An encounter with Natalie Chai (previous TFP General Manager) led to this extremely generous donation. Natalie went down to a factory space along Senoko to collect these puppets, and Uncle Cho transported boxes full of puppets back to TFP’s space at ONE-TWO-SIX Cairnhill Arts Centre.

Previously, as the puppets were stored in paper cartons, they were exposed to moisture and dust and some had to be discarded due to silverfish and mould. Co-Founder Tan Beng Tian sorted through the puppets one by one and decided to store them in proper receptacles – Toyogo Boxes.

The next day, the company went down to the Toyogo Warehouse Shop along Toa Payoh to shop for the new home of these puppets. Over the next few years, as the company’s repertoire grew, so did the number of Toyogo Boxes, each one containing items from different projects and productions.

In the late 1990s, Co-Founders Tan Beng Tian and Ong Kian Sin’s puppetry master Li Bo Fen Shifu would tell them stories of how his puppetry troupe travelled through villages via a tractor, carrying chests containing puppets, costumes, props, musical instruments, backdrop sceneries, lights and stage frames. Every member in the troupe was a versatile artist who could not only portray multiple characters of varying genders and statuses in the show, but could also rig and tear down the stage. Day after day, stories would come alive during each performance, and the puppets would be laid back to rest after.

L: Li Bo Fen Shifu, R: Co-Founder Tan Beng Tian

In 2011, Chong Tze Chien, who was then Company Director, wrote the seminal play Turn By Turn We Turn, telling the story about a puppetry troupe and its quest to survive amidst tumultuous times. This story was inspired by the sight of the puppets lying in these almost clinical boxes, their stories waiting to be told. The donor of these puppets, Mr Lim Kee, was invited to the first production of Turn By Turn We Turn in 2011, where he got to see his late father’s passion come alive on stage.

Production photo from Turn By Turn We Turn

Champion this puppet and its story today by making a donation HERE.