TML 2021 #07: Detailing the parts, Physiotherapist Sessions and onwards towards rehearsals

by fingerplayers

This journal is an entry in The Maker’s Lab series. Click here to read the previous entries.

Daniel: After our fitting sessions in December, we invited Li Sann back for two more Physiotherapist Sessions where we asked her to focus on two aspects – firstly, the makes of Debris Girl and Table Boy and whether anything can be further improved, and secondly, the movement strategies of the puppeteers in manipulating the large puppets. While TML is maker-centric, the many interactions between puppeteers, maker, designers, director and physiotherapist have always reminded me that the process of puppetry involves many perspectives. As such, only through thoughtful and responsible design and making, sensitive direction, and efficient and ingenious puppeteering can a puppet flourish in its life.

Part of a puppet from the character ‘Debris Girl’ for the production NO DISASTER ON THIS LAND

Harness Improvements

After I could see where the puppets were going visually, I went back to resolve the issue that perpetually plagued the harnesses. The shoulder straps tend to leave the body when puppeteers pushed the puppet structure in front of their bodies which further causes the hip strap to ride upwards.

I referred to 3M Futuro waist support once again and applied the 2 layer Velcro system to the shoulder straps of the harness. The 2 layer Velcro system consists of a slightly elastic base strap that will hold the waist strap in position snugly around the user’s waist. An additional layer of elastic straps is then pulled and Velcro-ed to the base strap to increase the tightness further and to add increased strength in holding the support system.

2-layer Velcro system

We tried out this modification in our Physiotherapist Session and found that it improved the holding ability of the harness. It was also easier to dress the puppeteers as the inner neoprene layer held the shoulder straps in place, and the Velcro that fastens the outer elastic layer is attached to the hip strap, not under the shoulder strap.

A detailed look into the modular Puppet Structures

Main joint unit

The structure joints are designed to be modular as well, starting with only the main unit. This main unit can be attached to the structures in various ways to achieve different joint effects.

Along the way, more and more parts were added to achieve different functions such as:

Left control rod joint for Debris Girl
  • A hinge joint to allow perpendicular rotation of the connected rod
Right control rod for Table Boy
  • A rotation and hinge joint to allow perpendicular rotation and left-right twisting of the connected rod
Hinge extension to allow joint to close fully
  • A hinge joint to allow perpendicular rotation of the connected rod and to allow it to close fully
Locking unit to restrict the amount of perpendicular rotation in the hinge joint
  • A hinge joint with locking unit to restrict the amount of perpendicular rotation

The dilemma with modular systems is always how generic the parts are versus how specific they can be. A specialised part can be small, just enough to perform its function. On the other hand, a part designed for adjustability becomes H U G E so as to accommodate different applications. An example of this is the hinge with locking unit for Table Boy’s puppet.

These huge inelegant structures are a glaring reminder of the struggle between designing for multiple uses, and tailoring to suit specific uses. Every time I see it, I have a debate with myself of whether I should find a less clunky solution for the adjustable hinge parts. Perhaps the first step is to identify the areas where adjustability is truly needed, and use these huge parts only for those.

A huge joint!

Physiotherapist Sessions

In the two Physiotherapist Sessions, we started off by reviewing Table Boy and Debris Girl to see if improvements can be made. Small Dangly’s points of attachment to the harness were changed from two to one to reduce chafing and digging into Vanessa’s flesh. The puppet became more free swinging, but it can be controlled with practice and thus is a worthy trade-off for puppeteer’s safety and comfort. 

On top of that, Li Sann also gave feedback on how to utilise the body more efficiently for movement. One of the biggest takeaways was that if the puppet structures cannot be changed, then the movement strategy can change. One’s repertoire of movement strategies is then dependent on the strength, flexibility and awareness of one’s own body and its limitations. For example, if the weight of the puppet is not symmetrical and hinges on a part of the body (upper back), then adjusting the body posture and utilising other body muscles (hip and legs) can transfer the load throughout the body.

In the second session, Myra joined us to facilitate the puppeteers in their movements by exploring from the perspective of the script. In this session, we dived into more detailed movements such as creating a short scene with a clear narrative beginning, middle and end based on their characterisations. Myra also suggested looking at the warming up and cooling down process for puppeteers. Li Sann taught us some exercises for warming up and cooling down. She also elaborated on the importance of using these exercises to become aware of the body, understanding its daily needs and adjusting accordingly. For example, if a part of the puppeteer’s body is more tired that day, then the movement strategy for that rehearsal will have to be adjusted accordingly.

Outtake: Harnessing up!

Under the watchful eye of Li Sann