Dressing Up and Playing with Puppets

2 November 2016

Elspeth Chapman spent five weeks as an Emerging Artist with the Expecting Something group at WHALE. She graduated from ECA is the Summer of 2016 in Performance Costume and has been putting this to use in the sessions.

My five weeks with Expecting Something Wester Hailes have been very fulfilling. I came to the project wanting to learn about small children and how they respond to different materials, music and movement to help me with my own work as a budding children’s theatre maker. However, my experience with the mums and their babes provided me with so much more than just observations.

I have really enjoyed assisting and taking part in the weekly sessions. My first encounter with the group was at the EICC for the marvellous Starcatchers production ‘Hup’. This was a slightly chaotic but fun morning – not only was it enriching to see the show but to do so with a group of young children and their mothers and see how they reacted in different ways was fascinating. I knew from this moment on that this group is full of fantastic characters who love music, moving and being creative.

In the following weeks I was lucky enough to participate in a rhythm and digital projection session by Brian Hartley and a music workshop by Zac Scott. Both were fun for me to take part in as an adult but I could also see that multisensory experiences work well for babies. Some were captivated by the dancing images projected on the screen, others wanted to dance to the beat; some wanted to play all the instruments, others wanted to just sit back and enjoy the music.

My background is in costume, set and puppet design. Since I graduated from art college this year I’ve been pursuing work involving children’s theatre and would like to make my own productions in the near future. For my workshop with the group I tried to put my making skills to good use and get the mums and babies making a costume or puppet. I wanted the session to be rewarding for both generations so I was hoping for collaboration with the toddler choosing the materials and the mum imagining what they could become. We brought along a huge pile of fabric and trimmings for the wee ones to explore and touch – furry, sparkly, transparent, stretchy, thin, thick, velvety and bright – there was something for everyone. It was fascinating to watch what each person was immediately drawn to and how the mums’ ideas and their baby’s instinct crossed over.


I was delighted with what we produced together in just an hour and a half: a lion costume, a fox costume and a touchy feely square complete with monogram. I hope the mums and the wee ones enjoyed their creative collaboration and were pleased with the results. It was rewarding for me to not just be making something of my own design and hoping that a young audience would engage with it, but letting the design process come from the children and the adults who care for them. It is very easy to lose touch with the young audience you are creating for as adults and children respond to things very differently. There is no use in making a performance for children without trying it out on an audience the appropriate age, especially when that audience is aged between 0 and 5. Thus, I think I’ve learnt a great deal from this first-hand toddler and mum experience and feel better prepared to make work for very wee ones in the future.


A couple of weeks after this session I was lucky enough to be invited back as a Lead Artist to do a bit of shadow puppetry. I prepared some puppets and brought along black paper and sticks in case the group wanted to make some puppets of their own design. We made a shadow puppet theatre with a table, a sheet and some torches, but it was also just a cosy den-like space which was fun to hide in. We had lots of fun running around playing with torches and the dragon shadow puppet, watching the shadow puppets and play with making their own shadows.


Thanks to the ladies and babies at Expecting Something Wester Hailes for being inspiring and, most importantly, bags o’ fun. Thank you also to Katy, Claire, Hamish, Brian and Scott for being lovely people to work with – I’ve had a wonderful experience and learnt a great deal.