PUPPETEERING is nothing new to Amy Dunham.
She worked as part of Questacon’s “Excited Particles” troupe for seven years until 2012, ran puppetry workshops for Supa Productions’ “Avenue Q” in 2011 and, in November, she’ll be working the “Audrey” puppet for Canberra Philharmonic’s production of “Little Shop of Horrors”.
Right now, Dunham is playing a six-year-old girl called Molly for Everyman Theatre’s new show, “Home at the End”. Molly is a puppet.
Dunham praises the talents of Everyman’s Duncan Ley, who wrote the script, and director Jarrad West, whose imagination has led to a meld of commedia dell’arte, naturalism, puppetry, graphic design and new music commissioned from Tim Hansen.
Everyman is being coy about the story, but we do know that West has recreated a decrepit fisherman’s shack in which a lost young girl finds a tramp whose stories bring the surroundings to life.
He’s brought together a team of veteran actors headed by Helen MacFarlane, Duncan Driver and Geoffrey Borny, but West has also taken on three cast members – Dunham, Will Huang and Laura Dawson – much better known for their roles in musical theatre.
“We all jump around and play an array of different characters,” Dunham says.
But when it comes to puppeteering, it’s a first for Everyman and she’s noticed that the human actors are having trouble remembering to engage with the puppet rather than her face.
“Molly has to have a life as a real girl,” she says.
“My experience of puppetry is that it needs to be real to be cared about.
“Molly is very different from a normal puppet… she is attached to my body… when I move my legs, she moves her legs.”
Initially, Molly was to be a rod-puppet, and after some ideas from West, Dunham and stage manager Zach Dowse were pitched to two designers at NIDA, they came up with a solid wood prototype.
“I’m 5’2” [157 centimetres] – making it difficult to operate,” Dunham complained.
“So we told them we needed to hollow out certain sections of the body and harness it in such a way as to remove the weight.”
In the end, Molly has some flexibility but can’t move her face, “so that’s all characterisation through me and my voice.”
The past year has been “huge” for Dunham. She’s been working for the Starlight Foundation, playing Captain Starlight in the paediatric ward at Canberra Hospital, she’s directed “Winnie the Pooh” for Free Rain, starred as Anita in “West Side Story” and taken up an opportunity to perform in Derek Walker’s NIDA touring production of the contemporary musical “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change”. That, she reports, was “a nice reminder that the work we do here in Canberra is respected by people in the industry.”
“Home at the End”, The Courtyard Studio, Canberra Theatre Centre, September 4-14, bookings to 6275 2700 or canberratheatrecentre.com.au