A Look at Developing Puppetry for Fairy Tales -
Sweet Porridge (adapted from Grimm’s) example of a simple fairy tale
Once upon a time, and far away from here, in a little cottage near the forest, there lived a mother and her good little daughter. They loved each other very much, but they were so poor they had nothing left to eat. The daughter told her mother she would go into the forest and collect nuts and berries so that they may eat. When the child was walking in the woods, she met an old woman with kind eyes and a voice that sounded like the lark song. She greeted her and said she had a gift for her, and she handed her a cooking pot. “Take this pot,” the old woman told her,” and say these words , ‘cook little pot cook’, and it will cook good sweet porridge for you. When you have had your fill you must remember to say ‘stop little pot stop’, and it will stop cooking. No sooner had she handed her the pot, she seemed to disappear from the forest.
The child brought the pot home to her mother, and told her what had happened. The girl put the pot on the table and said the words ‘cook little pot cook’. And sure enough, just as the kind woman had said, bubble, bubble, bubble, the pot cooked good sweet porridge. The girl and her mother ate and ate until they were no longer hungry, then the girl said the words ‘stop little pot stop’, and the pot stopped cooking.
And so it went. Everyday when they were hungry they ate the good sweet porridge. No longer did they need to worry about poverty or hunger again.
One day when the daughter was out gathering wildflowers for their table, the mother became hungry. She looked down the path into the woods but did not see her daughter returning. She waited and waited, and got hungrier and hungrier. She decided to speak the magic words herself! She put the pot on the table and said ‘cook little pot cook’, and sure enough, as before, bubble, bubble, bubble, the pot cooked good sweet porridge. The mother ate and ate until she was no longer hungry…but the pot kept on cooking, bubble, bubble, bubble. The mother had forgotten how to make it stop cooking! On and on the little pot cooked, and the porridge overflowed the pot and went onto the table. Bubble, bubble, bubble, the pot cooked more porridge and it overflowed the table and went onto the floor! Bubble, bubble, bubble, the pot cooked on and the porridge filled the room and went out the door! And still the mother did not remember how to make the pot stop cooking!
“Oh dear, what will I do,” cried the mother? But the pot kept on cooking, bubble, bubble, bubble, the porridge spread down the lane and onto the neighbors house! Bubble, bubble, bubble, the porridge kept on cooking and was beginning to fill the town with good sweet millet porridge. Bubble, bubble, bubble, the pot kept cooking and the whole town was covered in porridge!
“Oh no! What shall I do now” called out the mother!
Just then, the daughter was returning from the forest with a beautiful bouquet of flowers. When she saw that the whole town was covered in porridge, she knew just what had happened and quickly ran up to the porridge and said “STOP little pot STOP”.
The pot stopped cooking.
If you wanted to get into the town to go home, you had to eat your way there!
One of the best puppetry fairy tales for the three and young four year olds is ‘Sweet Porridge’. It is a lovely and pure tale that is easy to perform. It can easily be done with table puppets for this age, or with simple marionettes. I always use puppets that can gesture beautifully and sensitively. For marionettes, stringing a head loop from temple to temple, with another string attached securely between the ‘shoulder blades of the back simply give you ease of control and the ability to make meaningful movements. The back string can connect to the top of the head loop. Make sure the marionette neck is floppy, the strings bring the uprightness.
Presenting Sweet Porridge
Let’s look at a straightforward way to present this story. There are many windows to look through when contemplating a fairy tale. This is one simple exploration good for beginner puppeteers. Our puppetry comes to life with our own inner imagination of the story as the starting point. The more layers to our understanding, the more fully we ensoul our puppet play.
We create a story world – our puppet landscape. We will focus on marionettes being lead by Steiner’s statement that the marionettes should be used to portray the fairy tales. This does not mean other kinds of puppets are not also wonderful. We must look at the children, the ages, their needs, the number of puppeteers (perhaps only one – you!), etc. What is possible in a practical sense needs to be in the decision of what kind of puppets
If you are preparing to do this puppet play with simple marionettes, let’s look at ways to bring out the fundamental nature of the characters as a starting point to make the presentation more meaningful.
The mother is good and kind, but not of future wisdom. This is shown in their poverty and hunger. She will be ensouled with these qualities. Her movements will be imbued with goodness and kind intention. But she will be inwardly held back from steps forward in her character’s growth. She is a picture of the past. We can see this in the story when the mother does not know how to stop the pot from cooking.
‘She decided to speak the magic words herself! She put the pot on the table and said ‘cook little pot cook’, and sure enough, as before, the pot cooked good sweet millet porridge. The mother ate and ate until she was no longer hungry…but the pot kept on cooking. The mother had forgotten how to make it stop cooking! On and on the little pot cooked, and the porridge overflowed the pot and went onto the table…
And so it went until the porridge overflowed so much it filled the whole town; not a single house was left uncovered by porridge. Then the girl came home, the wisdom holder of right speech and future development.
“Just then, the daughter was returning from the forest with a beautiful bouquet of flowers. When she saw that the whole town was covered in porridge, she knew just what had happened and quickly ran up to the porridge and said “STOP little pot STOP”.
The pot stopped cooking.
If you wanted to get into the town to go home, you had to eat your way there!’
The daughter is the future. She will shine out with the courage to seek the future path of inner development. She holds the secret and power of right word. She will meet the world around her with confidence and joy. When she meets the kind stranger, she will not step back, but will stand with openness to receive the gift. When she sees the sweet porridge overflowing through the village, she will meet the problem with surety and action. She gestures and speaks with strength - ‘Stop little pot, stop!’ The power of her word and gesture overcomes the problem. The pot stops cooking. We can make the girl visibly become stronger and more upright as she awakens to her future consciousness and responsibility.
I love this little fairy tale, as do young children. You can have fun with wool fleece in a little pot, and let it expand over the top of the pot and over the town. You can do almost anything with strings. Instead of putting your own hand into the story area, put strings on the pot so the puppet can carry it, and a string attached to the wool can pull the wool out of the pot and all through the town. It will be more magical to do things like this without your physical hand breaking into the more etheric story space.
Throughout all of this story we will be reassured with the care and love we see through gesture between the mother and the daughter. The ‘home’, the heart and hearth of many fairy tales is the picture of ‘here-in dwells loving relationship’. We can strengthen that quality pictorially through how the two show sympathy toward each other in their movement.
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