The Story of Juniper Tree Puppets
Suzanne Down, Founder Juniper Tree
When I was a little girl, my brothers and I put on puppet shows for my parents and grandparents. The delight of this was sparked from my Dad, who had been a puppeteer in his early adult years before he went on to become an engineer, an artist, a birder, and general adventurer of life. He saw my interest and supported it by supplying me with an array of marionette characters. I found a school friend who also had a love for the magical worlds of puppet play, and we spent hours developing complex kingdoms and tales on the floor of our houses. Looking back at my life I can see the passion for visual story has always been there. Those marionettes from the 50's are now considered vintage.
It was all brought back to life when I was a student in my early 20's at Emerson College in England. I took a hand puppetry course with a magical woman, Gisela Bittleston. The class was held in a little blue caravan tucked away in an old English garden. Inside was a hand puppet theater with red velvet curtains. It was equipped with full lighting, and we students became like little children with open eyes and mouths when the curtain opened to reveal a land far far away, where Demazana, and Sangoma the Witch battled wits and powers.
The love for puppet theater was back! Eventually Juniper Tree Puppets, a Marionette Theater was born, influenced by my life long connection to Waldorf Education, and taken further by my own research and exploration in Story and Puppetry. My troupe and I performed Fairy Tales and Folk tales from around the world. I loved creating multicultural marionettes, with cultural costume and music accompaniment.
I was living in British Columbia with my own family at this time, and started to teach puppetry in the Waldorf School there as an after school program. My own children also helped me perform at libraries in the area, when they were quite young. I started a children's troupe at the school, with a group from grades 4-6. They started performing Fairy Tales with marionettes for the school's public events. They became quite elaborate with lighting, where a gingerbread house windows shone golden light into the dark forest, and the witch's oven pulsed with the fire within.
I think teaching marionettes to children and being Director of a troupe of adults opened my interest in teaching puppet theater. Juniper Tree School of Story and Puppetry Arts was born over 30 years ago. At the heart of it is a Professional Puppetry Training Course which has had 21 groups go through. The 22nd group begins summer 2018 - 2019, read more about it here. After traveling internationally for years bringing puppet theater workshops and trainings in many forms to teachers, librarians, speech pathologists, parents, storytellers, and early childhood conferences, Juniper Tree Puppets' trainings are now based in Boulder. Colorado. The Year long Training course, and the popular 5-day Puppet Boot Camps, (read more about it here), are the foundation of our puppetry professional development program now.
Along the way some wonderful early childhood story and puppetry resources have been developed. The Magical Story Apron, an instant puppet theater, Rod Puppetry for early childhood, The Mother Archetype in Story, Nursery Rhyme Story and Puppetry in support of language development, Color and Light Puppetry, The Worker Character and Steiner's 12 Professions in Story to support a child's emerging Will and sense of goodness. Puppetry for the very young B-3 years has become a passion. The importance of Protection Stories for our time has been the subject of many puppetry workshops and a new book is due out this spring. These are just a few of our enthusiasms!
Ten years ago, Walkabout Tales emerged, a process of writing stories for children inspired by walking in nature. After offering many workshops on this and seeing the magical stories that could develop for people, 'A Year of Writing' Program began. Now these and many other programs and trainings are being offered ONLINE! We offer a Professional Development Online Series each summer, and begin a One Year Online Puppetry Training beginning September 2020.
We have 8 story and puppetry resource books for teachers and parents, soon the Protection Story book will make that 9 books. Our product line includes these books to support early childhood storytelling and puppetry, as well as some custom made puppet products for sale. (See product page for details)
What's coming in the future? More online courses in story development and puppet theater to reach out to the many people in the world that have wished to be able to come to the 'in-person' events. More books are in the works too, including The Protection Story Book', 'Nursery Rhyme Stories Supporting Language Development', and 'Lifting the Veil' The Early Childhood Puppetry Book'.
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