REVIEW – Esme: Duck Day, Australian Puppeteer, Spring 1997
Written by Anita Sinclair
Esme: Duck Day
Performed by Denise Rundle. Presented by Polyglot.
I went to see Esme: Duck Day early in August at the Richmond Primary School in Victoria. The Infant Department provided an age group that varied over the recommended ‘under five’ range. Also present was the group from down the road: little ones from the Australia Greek Welfare Child Care Centre, the perfect age group.
‘Esme: Duck Day…combines the elements of a formal puppet show with aspects of a group time experience at kindergarten/ child care. It aims to create a verbally interactive experience for the children…Denise and Esme interact with each other and display a range of emotions. Some are quite obvious for young children such as angry or happy, but some are more complex to identify, like sulky or insulted.’
Esme: Duck Day is unabashed didactic theatre. It makes no apologies for its intention to teach. Support material accompanying the show develops the theme of learning possibilities, assisting group leaders themselves to realize what had occurred during the performance and, importantly, why it had been included.
The following are some of the communication skills that the presentation hopes to address: non-verbal communication skills; storytelling; problem solving; exploration of alternative behaviours.
Devices used during the performance include: repetition; rhyming; frequent verbal exchange with the young audience; singing with the children. At all times, the images created and the interactions that occurred operated at a level that little kids can relate to, such as the drama and humour about a lost hat and the horrors of snail icecream! Esme and Denise tease the children with ‘mistakes’ such as describing the sound made by a cow as ‘miaowing’.
The aims of the show are very clear, the devices employed are tried and true, with little children responding to them on cue. Those children in the audience who were very likely to be only now catching up with spoken English were given substantial assistance by the actions of the puppet and Denise’s movement, facial expression and voice. Denise made a point of bringing in Greek words later in the show.
Esme as a puppet performer had the advantage of size, being a rather large hand puppet. The arm-through-neck-to-moving mouth made the manipulation an easy, therefore wise option. Esme could look everywhere, at everyone. So for me it was disappointing that Esme had ‘bobble-eyes’. These drive me crazy in theatre as they flash under lights and move madly – not maddeningly, though that too – but dementedly. I noted also a tendency for Denise to play to her own left, so that much eye contact was missing stage right.
I have mixed feelings about the latter part of the event, which moves closer to ‘workshop’ and away from ‘show’. This is a segment devoted to the perusal of Esme’s photograph album. I expect that this is where the age group matters a lot. Very small children, in small, crèche groups, would no doubt gobble this up, bringing in all the language and conceptual experiences that Denise is seeking for them.
To sum up: a very valuable experience for young children, with long lasting benefits. Buckets of follow-up potential, both in language development terms and puppet building.
I took the time to gather a couple of quotes from Claire Stathis, the Vice Principal of the Richmond Primary School: ‘A very creative language presentation’, ‘The children responded very well.’