Puppets and Masters and Servants

It’s not so late in the West but close to midnight in Melbourne. I’m just back from a festive evening spent with the principal and two teachers from Bold Park Community School where Ken and I will be doing a joint residency in September. We had a delicious dinner and bounced around ideas as to how to plan for the residency. Bold Park CS is a hugely creative school inspired by the Reggio-Emilia schools of Northern Italy. The principal had just returned from a visit to Reggio where she attended a story-telling festival. At one stage, the Reggio-Emilia schools had a resident puppeteer who worked (played?) with the children over the course of many years. I’m looking forward to mucking about with the Bold Park kids in September. It will be fun for Ken and I to spend time in a school environment that celebrates both our crafts.

We talked a lot about Ken’s workshops in comedy and how he teaches the comedic principles of master-servant relationships. I missed Ken being there. He understands the ideas behind slapstick and comedic narratives so well and can explain them much more succinctly than me.

In the taxi on the way back to Fremantle, the taxi-driver and I started chatting about India. He was from the Punjab and he asked me if I had visited the Taj Mahal. I was a little embarrassed to admit despite the many months I’ve spent in India, I’ve never visited the iconic landmark. When he asked if I knew the story of the Taj Mahal, I said I understood it to be the tomb of the wife of the great Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died giving birth to their fourteenth child. But the taxi-driver said that was not the story that made it famous. He said that the true story is that makes it a landmark is that the thousands of architects and craftsmen who worked on the building had their hands chopped off when it was completed so that they could never create another building like it.

So I told him about the beautiful Prague Orloj (Prague Astronomical Clock) that was built by the master clockmaker Jan Růže. Legend has it that when the clock was finally completed, the town councillors had Jan’s eyes put out so that he could never make another clock for anyone else.

The weren’t really comforting stories to be sharing before being dropped off to spend a night alone on the grounds of the old Fremantle Prison. There are some pretty tragic stories embedded in the walls of this place. Though both the story of Jan Růže and the craftsmen of the Taj Mahal are legends rather than verifiable fact, they each reflect a truth about the master-servant relationship.

We are all servants (and often masters) at some time in our lives and for many that can have tragic consequences. Mr Punch knows all about servants and masters and how to beat the devil at his own game. And I love how Mr Punch can turn that scary dynamic on its head. It’s why the kids love him too. He is the ultimate bad servant. Even as you disapprove of him, you can’t help but be a little dazzled by his sheer front.

Kirsty is an Australian author of books for children and young adults.

“Every adult was once a child and the child inside them never disappears.”

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