Saturday, April 7, 2012

Grendel, Beowulf, and Puppets

"G" is for Grendel in the A to Z Challenge

When I was hired to teach a puppetry class for the Ashland Stage Arts School, I chose to stories. The first was the Irish fairy tale The Legend of Knockgrafton. (Note, not all folk tales are fairy tales, but this one certainly is).

The second was Beowulf.

Yep... Beowulf as a puppet show. Performed by 4th graders.

Sure, I have a proclivity for dark stories. Knockgrafton has a rather grim conclusion. But kids like a certain amount of darkness. Walt Disney certainly knew this. I think one of the reasons Disney films took a nose dive in the 80s is that Disney got squeamish about being "dark". For drama to have an impact, stakes have to be fairly high... like life and death high. The queen in Snow White after all, tries to have the young girl's heart cut out. Maleficent, the witch in Sleeping Beauty, calls on "all the powers of Hell" as she transforms into a dragon.

©Disney "What's in the Box?"

So Beowulf it was. I had the kids read the story at home, then we discussed it in class to make sure everyone understood it. One of the kids brought an edited and illustrated version to class.

Next we had to reframe the story with a few characters. There were four kids in the class, and I decided each of them could portray two characters at most. So we had to whittle the story down to 10 characters or less. (I performed with them).

The characters they came up with were:

The Norse God Odin in the guise of the one eyed wanderer (the narrator)
King Hrothgar
King Hygelac
Beowulf's sidekick (killed by Grendel)
Beowulf's sidekick (survives)

For puppet design, I designed a variation on a rod puppet

Rod Puppet Design

However, the plastic bottle was attached to the control rod via rubber bands, so the body would have a little lag time behind the head when the body turned.

Both arms were jointed at the shoulder, and one was jointed at the elbow, allowing for a great deal of movement. The heads were styrofoam wig heads covered in paper maché, which the kids sculpted.

Grendel was a full body costume, complete with velcro-ed on arm to be torn off by Beowulf.

Alas, I have no pictures or video from that show.

"G" is for Grendel, and April is Parkinson's Awareness Month


  1. Great diagram of how you built the main pupet body. I'm amazed there were only four pupils. You must have been able to establish a close contact with each of them.

  2. It was a small class, but yes it was great.

    I snagged that digram off the internet, but it was the inspiration for my own variation. I'm going to create a computer model of how I actually built my puppets and post it later in the month. Probably for "P" day!