It’s been a while since this happened, but it’s now time to tell the story.
Here I am with probably my most important puppet, Fifi the Baby Fairy. Fifi is a baby in that she says what she sees with no filters and innocent eyes, but she has pretty sophisticated communication skills and a wickedly silly and irreverent sense of humour. This combination of silliness and honesty makes her a very popular character, loved by both girls and boys alike. Actually, I’d probably go as far as to say that boys love her just a little bit more than the girls.
But that is for a different post.
I made this fairy puppet around 20 years ago. She is a permanent baby. Such is the magic of puppets.
You may notice from the picture that Fifi the fairy puppet isn’t exactly a Disney style fairy, looks wise , although she has a naughty character that would rival any Tinkerbelle.
Firstly she has a coffee coloured complexion rather than the ubiquitous pink and pale that fairies usually have. This is deliberate. I’m proud to say I live in probably the most multicultural city in the world ( London) and my little clients are often of beautifully varied shades . Some children will suggest that she has a dirty face, this gives me an opportunity to discuss diversity in an open and honest way. One thing I know about children is that they aren’t born bigoted.
Next she has large iridescent purple eyes with no pupil. This can seem freaky to many adults but children ( and those adults with a playful soul) understand the magic in those eyes.
She is a sewn puppet and sometimes the seams can look like scars. This was not intentional, but it has become a very useful jumping off point to be able to talk again about diversity and disability in a non judgmental way.
Her mouth is permanently upside down, giving her a permanent sad expression. Again, this was not intentional but has proven to be useful. We don’t always have to smile ( especially girls) to be taken seriously or be friendly.
She doesn’t wear trendy clothes or designer labels or trainers . She wears a fairly bedraggled dress that is pretty in a Lady Haversham way.
For all intents and purposes, this fairy should be a disaster. She should be rejected by modern children for not looking like a fairy should look.
But I believe in children. I know that they don’t judge books by their covers, even weird , freaky fairytale books.
So, are you ready for a story that will gladden your heart?
Come closer and I’ll tell you what happened at a school workshop with children in Year 6, top juniors , on the cusp of going to Secondary School.
Firstly, there is a whole bunch of educators out there who would think that my working with a Baby Fairy Puppet with children of this age is highly inappropriate. They will tell you that it is patronising and age inappropriate.
I vehemently disagree. Do not throw the baby out with the bath water, it’s all about how you approach things.
In this instance, I was very lucky to have done lots of work with Southwark Council with my close working with Scary Little Girls Theatre Company. I’m proud to say that they believe in the power of fairies. Good folk to be sure.
Well, there I was, with a bunch of ‘challenging’ children who were from a behavioural support unit at a Southwark school about to embark on a fact finding session to feedback to the council the children’s experience of the councils service. On the surface this could’ve been a very dry exercise indeed. But I had brought my Fairy Fifi with me. Things were about to get interesting.
I introduced myself to the children as a puppeteer and explained that I was going to introduce my favourite puppet to them . As usual, I told them in my own silly way that of course she wasn’t a real fairy, ( this is the not patronising stuff, it’s all about the approach) but she was a real puppet. This approach always works a treat, as the children start to realise I’m not going to try and convince them that anything silly was going to happen. Then I told them that she was a special fairy and pulled her out of her bag.
Cue a few screams and a few boys made a very melodramatic dash out of the door ( but of course still hovered round the doorway as they weren’t going to miss this for anything).
As the fairy starts into her routine, singing silly songs and making me look very silly ( there has to be a fall guy for comedy, and for this act it is always me. Sigh) the recalcitrant chaps subtly shuffled back to the group and their initial disdain turned very quickly into intense concentration and hilarious interaction. Soon the children were eating out of Fifi’s hand, she had them all in fits of giggles and they were all swearing to be her best friend forever.
Then I put her into a ‘sleep’ and had a chat with the children . The warm up was over, now it was time for the fact finding part of the exercise.
I asked the children what concerned them about moving from Primary School to Secondary school and what would make things easier for them.
Their answer was simple and unanimous: being popular.
So I asked them what did being popular mean to them, and how do you become popular?
The answer made my Feminist heart weep.
The girls all chorused : “Being pretty” . The boys nodded in agreement.
I challenged them, asking ” Are you sure? “ They all nodded, yes, being pretty was the answer to being liked.
I then asked them to consider if they thought Fifi was popular.
They all shouted out that they loved her and of course she was popular , everyone wanted to be Fifi’s friend, she was the essence of popular.
So I then asked the children an obvious question.
“But is Fifi pretty?”
Cue a stunned silence. Then some children started saying , yes of course she was.
I reassured the children that Fifi was asleep and that telling the truth wouldn’t hurt her feelings. I told them that I was glad that they thought she was pretty, that they weren’t looking at her outside but her inside. I then reminded them of the initial shrieks and shocked reaction at first seeing her. Then I asked them again: `”Really and truly, is Fifi pretty? “
There was a mumbling amongst the group and eventually the consensus was a reluctant , no . Fifi wasn’t exactly pretty.
Then I asked: ” But is she popular? “
I didn’t have to say any more.
The children were smart enough to work out that it was personality not prettiness that wins friends.
Sometimes our imperfections can be our greatest strengths.