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An education in creative power

03 December 2019

A puppeteer who studied alongside The Muppets’ Jim Henson and uses puppets to educate international communities about hard-hitting topics is in Jersey today to lead a workshop for drama and performing art teachers.

Australia-based South African international master puppeteer Gary Friedman started Puppets Against Aids in 1987 to educate communities in South Africa, and later took the project through Africa, Canada, Europe, Australia and the Pacific Islands. His puppets interviewed the late Nelson Mandela as part of his Puppets for Democracy, which was followed by Puppets in Prison – an education programme in South African prisons – as well as Puppets Against Corruption in Kenya and Puppets Against Abuse in South Africa. 

Since 2005, Mr Friedman has been running workshops across the world for businesses, schools, colleges and universities, using puppets to teach all manner of subjects. Moving from adult education into youth education, Mr Friedman headed up the production of a two-hour daily South African School TV programme. Since his move to Australia on a unique talent visa, he has worked in areas of occupational therapy, puppetry for film and TV and puppetry in literacy, traveling widely from Asia to Canada to the Middle-East, and he also created a scheme for corporate environments, for which he won Product of the Year at the Australian Business Events Expo in 2009. 

Heads of Drama and Performing Arts from the Island’s secondary schools, as well as a number of A-level students studying the subjects, will join Mr Friedman for his workshop this afternoon. The event is funded by Children, Young People, Education and Skills (CYPES) and will be held at Hautlieu School.

Hautlieu School’s Head of Performing Arts, Emma O’Prey, said: “For the past fifteen years, Gary Friedman has been working with students and educators to unleash their creative power, providing them with a medium to tell their stories and facilitating an environment in which they feel empowered and motivated to share their messages.  

“I have been a huge admirer of Gary’s work for many years and have jealously watched online clips of his workshops and artist residencies in Australia, Asia and Africa while bemoaning the fact that he was just too far away for us to access his skills and expertise. We have been in contact over the years and he emailed me last month to say that he would be in the UK for a few days after his Sweden and Finland workshops and invited me over to the UK for a meeting. I instead leapt on the chance to see if we might bring him to Jersey. I am delighted that, with the help of CYPES, we have been able to secure this fantastic opportunity with such short notice. 

“Our workshop is on Breath, Belief and Trust. It is for drama teachers but the potential reach is far wider for teaching, from history to science and everything in between for all Key Stages, and it has a potentially important role to play in general for student wellbeing. These creativity workshops combine Brain Gym movement, guided visualisation exercises, improvisation, storytelling and character animation in the form of puppetry. The result of these techniques is a group of participants whose brains and senses are ‘switched on’, focused, relaxed, motivated and fully engaged. They have a tool with which they can communicate their views, opinions and stories with ease- without feeling threatened, judged, shame or blame which is so often attached to a human performer or someone trying to tell their story.”

Rachel Baxter, Children, Young People, Education and Skills Senior Adviser for Standards and Achievement, said: “This is a fantastic opportunity to support teachers in developing their practice as well as broadening the repertoire of workshops we can offer to, ultimately, have a positive impact on our pupils.” ​

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