In May-June 2015, I ran a 9 week puppetry project at Athelstane Public School (a primary school in south Sydney), collaborating with the youth theatre company Shopfront as part of their Room 13 program. Room 13 is supported by Arts NSW & Australia Council for the Arts Fresh AIR 2014-2016 Artist in Residence program funding. The aim of the Artist in Residence program is to improve children and young people’s access to quality school-based arts education by supporting professional artists in residence in public schools. It encourages longer term engagement between artists and public schools with residencies of a minimum of one month.
I worked with students in Grade 3-6 (i.e. 8-12 year olds) including a group of students with Specials Needs to explore the concept of dragons through drawing, writing, music and puppetry. We made paper puppets, recorded dragon sounds in the playground, wrote stories and drew many, many dragon pictures. We also learned about how different cultures view this mythical creature – from the ‘dark and evil’ dragon vanquished by St George, to the ‘holy, lucky and noble’ dragons revered in Eastern cultures.
The project was inspired by a story that I had started writing called “The Dragon Who Loses its Scales”, which explores themes of bullying, kindness and working together. Each student who participated in the project was given a large ‘dragon scale’ to decorate and attach to a giant parade dragon, which was performed for the school’s Multicultural Day celebrations. The scales had words and pictures to represent peace, friendship, joy (and many had references to the students’ favourite football teams!)
I had become interested in the potential of therapeutic storytelling to touch on difficult issues (like bullying) using an open-ended and creative approach that draws on the power of the story. I was drawn to the symbol of the dragon because of its fascinating complexity – for it can embody darkness, anger and destruction but can also be protective and brave. I think we all have an ‘inner dragon’ and there is much to discover about ourselves when we encounter them. A book that was very helpful for going through this process was “Healing Stories for Challenging Behaviour” by Susan Perrow. The project was a fantastic experience that I hopes to develop it further in the future.