A not-for-profit community group based in Staffordshire, (UK) bringing people together to build and develop a community and audience for puppetry in the “Creative County.”
The Staffordshire Puppet Tree is a voluntary group where local people can meet together in a friendly, informal setting to discover the art of puppetry and present shows, benefiting the local community and enable them to become involved with something very creative and rewarding.
This all began in March 2023 when plans were put in place to stage two, one-day events, called the Puppet Tree Jamborees in Stone and Stafford. The first took place on Saturday June 10th 2023, in Victoria Park Stafford and introduced local people to the wonderful world of Puppetry. Then, four weeks’ later, on Saturday July 8th 2023, the second Puppet Tree Jamboree brought the fun and excitement of puppetry to people in Stone, Staffordshire.
Both one-day events featured puppet shows by local school children and by professional puppeteers as well. So that everyone attending could not only watch shows, but actually get “hands on” and involved with puppetry either by making their very own puppet or by performing with puppets on a specially made stage for children to use.
In the weeks leading up to the Puppet Tree Jamborees, children from Castle Church Primary School in Stafford and children from St Dominic’s Primary School in Stone, were invited to join the weekly, Puppet Tree after-school clubs where they learned, not only how to make their own puppets, but learned also how to produce and present their own puppet performances at the Puppet Tree Jamboree.
A group of older children from Castle Church Primary School, also made large parade puppets of butterflies and fish and a large model of the Yellow Submarine and these were all part of the Opening parades at both events. Both Opening Parades were led by local youth marching bands, who all performed brilliantly and in doing so, announced the start of each event and provided the children with a lovely opportunity to march along and show off their puppet making skills to the local communities.
In addition, both Opening Parades were followed by local children performing their own dance routines. In Stafford, they choreographed their own superb performance and in Stone, children and instructors from the newly established Sanctuary Dance Studio, got the day’s programme off to a fantastic start with a lovely performance too.
I’m very grateful to Karen and Oliver Hand of the Sanctuary Dance Studio in Stone for opening up their premises for us to stage the Puppet Tree Jamboree indoors due to the predicted poor weather. It didn’t “rain on our parade” but by the afternoon, we were greatly relieved to be indoors. It’s a fantastic venue and I extend my thanks to Karen and Oli for “saving the day!” – Thank you!
A couple of weeks earlier, the Friends of Victoria Park in Stafford, had a one-day puppet making course so they could, in turn, have a puppet making table at the Puppet Tree Jamboree so that any child that wanted to, could make their own puppet to take home with them.
In this way, we accomplished the aim of inviting people, young and old, to become involved with something very creative and rewarding, have lots of fun, make new friends and discover the wonderful and exciting world of puppet theatre. All the shows and activities at both Puppet Tree Jamborees were completely free of charge so that everyone could come along and “have fun with Puppets!” And this they certainly did as can be seen in the faces of the children in the photographs here.
The professional puppet shows included the most famous puppet of them all, Mr Punch. Presented by Professor James’ (London) Punch and Judy Show, he soon had lots of children very engaged and excited including the Stone Town Mayor, Cllr Jim Davies! – Even after the show, they were “having fun with puppets!”
One character who was more than happy to entertain and delight people as well as attract a lot of attention was Muffin the Mule – and his friends. They were brought along by Will McNally, the grandson of Ann Hogarth, the puppeteer who operated Muffin on the TV shows in the 1950s. In fact, the original marionette of Muffin, (now 90 years old,) – the very same one that appeared on BBC TV in the 1950s, came along with his stand-in, (since at 90, you can’t really do as much as you once were able to,) and performed with all his friends throughout the day.
Mr Punch also appeared, not in his traditional form, as a glove puppet, but as he did when he first came to Britain in 1662, as a marionette or string puppet. David Leech, assisted by Prof. James and Nicky Barron, presented a Puppet Pantomime, “Mr Punch & the Pirates.”
A veritable feast of puppet theatre would not be complete without a fairy tale! A modern version of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s story of Hansel & Gretel, a ‘family-friendly,’ puppet pantomime was performed by David Leech with the help of Nicky Barron but varies from the original story and includes unexpected characters as well as a very funny and surprising twist at the end.
The main aim of the Puppet Tree Jamborees was to encourage and inspire people, children and adults, to become actively involved with the wonderful world of puppet theatre. In addition to the local children staging their own shows, 9-year old Maggie Watson presented her very own version of Little Red Riding Hood.
Mr BuzzKing’s Marionette Show a variety show provided an exciting opportunity for children in the audience to operate some puppets for themselves as part of the show’s finale and to become a puppeteer!
These events, The Stafford and Stone Puppet Tree Jamborees are very much a part of Bob Pelham’s legacy. Bob Pelham created something wonderful for children and especially after the long, dark, grey days of the 2nd World war, brought something colourful and exciting to the toy market, something different, for children to enjoy and play with. Many of those children are now professional puppeteers.
Both these events demonstrated that anyone ‘can-can’ do it – Everyone can have fun with puppets! We aim to develop and continue the work and activities we’ve started and establish regular community events and activities when people can be involved with the wonderful world of puppetry.
More information, email David Leech: firstname.lastname@example.org or to keep up to date with all the activities of the Staffordshire Puppet Tree visit the Staffordshire Puppet Tree page on Face Book: www.facebook.com/Staffordshirepuppettree
We gratefully acknowledge funding and support from the Stafford District Arts Council; Support Staffordshire; Stafford County Council; the Community & Heritage Lottery Fund. We also wish to convey our thanks to Mrs J Cranwell, Mrs J Roberts, Mrs H Brewer at Castle Church Primary School and Mrs Lisa Hibbert, Community Engagement and Events Officer for Victoria Park for all their help and support with the preparations for the Stafford Puppet Tree Jamboree.
We also wish to convey our thanks to the Stone Town Council, the Stone Town Mayor Councillor Jim Davies; Councillor Jill Hood; Mrs Stephanie Yahya at St Dominic’s Primary School; the staff at Stone Town Library and Chris Armstrong of Autocare. Very special thanks to Karen and Oliver Hand from the Sanctuary Dance Studio for opening up their premises for us to hold the event indoors. This saved the day! Thankfully, it didn’t “rain on our parade” but the weather changed by afternoon, so we were very grateful to be indoors. We convey my thanks to A Little Bit of Stone, The Stone & Eccleshall Gazette, Stone Festival Committee, Stone Town Council and BBC Radio Stoke for their help in advance promotion of the Stone Puppet Tree Jamboree.