Ellison Tan (left) and Myra Loke (right) / Courtesy of The Finger Players
In 2019, The Finger Players (TFP) underwent a strategic review exercise. The company was restructured into a collective of independent or freelance artists and managers and they form the Core Team of The Finger Players.
A feature of this restructuring includes a rotating artistic directorship. Ellison Tan and Myra Loke, graduates from TFP’s inaugural apprenticeship programme, were invited to be the first co-artistic directors of TFP under this new model.
The Puppets are Alright is the final production with Tan and Loke at the helm. It is a triple-bill of puppetry-led works which brings back puppets created by participants in The Maker’s Lab scheme from 2020 to 2022. The Maker’s Lab is a programme which nurtures designers builders and designers of puppets led by Daniel Sim, a core team member of The Finger Players.
I caught up with Ellison Tan and Myra Loke and got them to reflect on their stint as co-artistic directors of The Finger Players.
A clear legacy of your stint as co-artistic directors of The Finger Players would be The Maker’s Lab. Having overseen three iterations of the programme, how has it grown and develop as compared to your initial plans for the programme?
Myra Loke: The Maker’s Lab is an experiment. I remember there being doubts about using a lot of resources to groom only one maker. But we believed that talents, and ideas need time and space to grow. The Lab aims to be that shelter for puppet designers and makers, without needing to worry about time and money. We are still trying our best to build a shelter strong enough for ideas and passion to be nurtured and achieve their fullest potential. We are also constantly evaluating what the industry needs, and how this lab can help to cater to it.
Since the start of The Maker’s Lab, we witnessed the need for a community of makers and designers to be set up. So we supported the formation of We.Make.Performance.Objects, a group set up to share knowledge and exchange ideas between makers and designers. We met many new makers and designers and have also since included them in our productions.
These may not be big, industry-changing developments but that is already worth celebrating.
Apart from giving potential puppet-makers the space to research and create, The Maker’s Lab has also done some outreach for the public to learn more about puppetry. Have you noticed a shift in the public’s perception of puppetry over the past three years?
Ellison Tan: The cynic in me says no only because I’m aware of the scale of how we operate and the size of the following we have. Perhaps it’s also what it means when we want a shift in perception: Do we want people to be able to know more than one type of puppetry? Do we want them to know more than “Sesame Street”? Or is it something more about our branding, that we want to be known as the company people think of when discussions about puppetry in Singapore surface?
The public has also been a tricky entity to read / predict / navigate since the pandemic, and I am trying to be at peace with these perceptions.
Myra Loke: It takes a long time to cultivate a behaviour or change a mindset. So I try to look at the mini successes. For our previous production, Puppet Origin Stories @ ONE-TWO-SIX, I see at least five new faces every night, and that is good enough, for now.
For The Maker’s Lab productions, we are increasingly also seeing schools being interested in our show, and we would also provide more in-depth post-show programmes for students to touch, feel, and understand the puppets they see on stage. Hopefully, the experience will stay with them, and keep their interest of puppetry growing.
The Puppets are Alright brings together all the puppets created during The Maker’s Lab for a triple-bill performance. How do you feel seeing all these puppets again, but in a very different context?
Ellison Tan: It feels absolutely glorious—a little like how it was for Puppet Origin Stories @ ONE-TWO-SIX, like an old friend coming back again to tell you a story.
Myra Loke: It has always been important to me that the puppet designs can still continue to grow and develop after the lab. Seeing them back again, but telling a different story, while having more features in them or adopting a different mechanism—it feels like we have not let the puppets down; they have more than one life and one purpose.
What would be the fondest memory you have as co-artistic director of The Finger Players?
Ellison Tan: There are too many, but at this moment, I’m truly stumped.
Myra Loke: People have been really kind to us; quietly supporting our vision, or openly championing for puppetry on our behalf. Although I don’t want to be cliché, there is really no one fondest memory. Every day, I encounter so much love and support that each day has a certain kind of fondness that I will always remember.
What advice would you give aspiring puppet-makers or performers who wants to get involved in puppetry, but have no idea where to start?
Ellison Tan: Come for our workshops and masterclasses! We do have people sending CVs over, saying they’d like to work with us, but we prefer longer audition processes that we can’t often afford the time to do, and workshops are really the tried and tested way to be “seen”. It sounds cruel but that is the reality of things. We’re also looking into have low/no-cost workshops for practitioners.
Myra Loke: The truth is we are also looking for you, and we have no idea where you are! So come, talk to us.
What is your wish for the future of puppetry?
Ellison Tan: That people will go to the theatre for puppetry the same reason they’d go to see a particular actor.
Myra Loke: On top of what Ellison said, we also hope that people will choose to learn puppetry and hone it as their main art form. While we build our audience, we also need to strengthen our industry too.