Sunday, October 25, 2015
A Pirate Puppet Swallows Stuff
Props: Fish, Parrot, Map, Sail, Boat, Mast, Bubbles (or substitutes)
Audience: Family Storytime (mostly ages 3-6)
For a pirate-themed Family Storytime Sheila and I decided to do this reworking of "There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly" using puppets, props, and a puppet stage. Sheila was in front of the stage managing props and leading the song. I was behind with a pirate puppet.
We adapted the book a bit, reducing the number of items that the Pirate swallows and playing around with the rhymes a bit. We started out with all of the props velcroed to the side of the stage, which worked well: they were handy for Sheila to grab, plus it led the audience to anticipate what would be next. We sort of traded off with the telling/singing of the story. I would start off with "I am an old pirate, I swallowed a.....Fish!" Then Sheila takes the Fish, holds it above the pirate puppet, and slowly lowers it into the puppet's mouth. The pirate turns to face away from the audience so that it kind of looks like he's really swallowing it.
Sheila then leads the audience through the cumulative part: "He swallowed the Sail right after the Parrot / He swallowed the Parrot right after the Fish...." As the Pirate I joined in each time it got to the refrain of "Arrgh and blimey, that Fish was Slimy!" and then again with the final line of "Yo ho ho, Watch his belly grow!"
We didn't worry too much about having perfectly matched props. The Map was a rolled up drawn paper map; the Sail was fabric that Sheila decorated. The Mast was a fun one, because it was so long. In the book, the Boat is an actual pirate ship, but our simple plastic toy boat worked fine. As Sheila put the props down the Pirate's throat (or pretended too) I would catch them with my off hand so they wouldn't crash to the ground. Or at least I mostly did: I missed the boat once and it was pretty loud.
At the end of the story, the Pirate sinks to the bottom of the sea. So I sang that verse and slowly brought the Pirate out of sight and turned on the bubble machine from behind the stage. It always seems to be tricky to get the timing of a bubble machine just right. Sometimes they start up right away, sometimes it takes a bit. But for the most part this effect worked well and the kids got the idea. We also had a bubble sound effect that started with the click of a PowerPoint slide. Well, two out of four times it started...not sure why it didn't work the other times.
It's nice to add effects like that, but also good to not make them crucial to the success of the story. We can live with the bubbles being a bit late, but the Pirate puppet, the props, and the telling are what really make it work, and we were four for four with getting those mostly right.
We originally thought of doing this as an act-out, with one of us as the pirate stuffing the props into an over-sized shirt, but in the end I think the puppet stage version worked more neatly than the people version would have.