Puppeteer discusses career of performance at Saint Mary’s
Cathy Doherty | Wednesday, February 8, 2023
British puppeteer and puppetry coach Helen Day came to speak to students about her journey as a performing artist Monday evening at Saint Mary’s. Day was the 2023 visiting guest artist in the Margaret Hill Series hosted by the College’s Program of Theatre.
Additionally, Day hosted workshops Sunday and Monday afternoon where students could learn hands-on about puppets and how to maneuver them. In the evening, she shared how she got to where she is today.
At the age of five, Day attended a staging of “Annie” at the York Theatre Royal in Britain.
“I really knew from the age of five that what I wanted to do was be on the stage,” she said.
Day shared with the audience how she viewed her future career as a child.
“I thought puppeteers kind of came to children’s parties and waggled around funny dolls,” she said. “I don’t think I understood much more about it than that.”
Discussing her teen years, Day recalled how she “went to London every weekend to go to something called the Italia Conti Academy” (ICA). ICA was a theater school known for producing child television stars.
Later in her teens, Day continued her theater education, joining the National Youth Theatre (NYT) of Great Britain.
“It’s actually one of the prime training grounds for actors in the UK,” she said. Day explained that Helen Mirren trained at the NYT, and Orlando Bloom was in her class while she was a student.
After her time at the NYT, Day shared that she went to ARTTS International and later, the University of Sussex to complete her secondary education.
Once out of college, Day worked at a summer camp for children. It was there she was first introduced to puppets.
“At the intro to the workshops, a guy sat down next to me and he was a puppeteer,” she explained. “I was really interested — and I kind of didn’t really know why I was so interested — but I was.”
Day took her newfound interest and shared it with the other two women in her three-woman group performing outdoor plays.
“Suddenly, when we brought puppets into play, everything opened up,” she recalled.
Day explained, “We could use puppets to tell some of these stories because we felt limited in the stories we could tell because we felt that they had to be playable by three women.”
Day said that puppeteering has set her apart.
“Not only did being a puppeteer kind of narrow the competition down … but it also opened up the roles … I was able to play way outside of my casting range. As long as you can embody the essence of the character, you can play it,” she said.
In her puppeteering career, Day toured with Cirque du Soleil for four years. She was the puppetry captain for “Toruk,” which was an “Avatar”-inspired Cirque show. She performed in 103 different cities over those four years. She has also puppeteered for video games such as “Forspoken” and animated children’s shows like “Jim Henderson’s Math Party.”
At the end of her presentation, there was a brief Q&A session, which was followed by light refreshments on the stage.