ARTIST INTERVIEW: Helena Hugel

May 1, 2006


".. When I was 9 years old I wrote a little essay about what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I wrote that I wanted to first become a secretary and live in a big city. Then I would meet my husband, get married, and when I was 40 years old I would become a poet ... Then at age 13 I wanted to be a scientist ...”.
Helena Hugel, May 2006


ARTIST INTERVIEW: Helena Hugel
in conversation with Anne O'Gorman in early May 2006



Brief Introduction:


Puppet Making Project for Schools
To coincide with Spréacha 2006, Draíocht will be running a puppet making project in 5 local primary schools in Dublin 15: St. Mochta’s National School, Scoil an Chroi Ro Naofa Iosa, Tyrellstown Educate Together, Scoil Bride Girls NS and Mary Mother of Hope National School. Helene Hugel, puppet maker, artist and play specialist will be showing the children how to design, create and move their own puppet character over 3 days of workshops to take place in their schools. That way, when the children come to see puppets at Spréacha (12-17 June), they will understand the skill of a puppeteer from the inside-out!

Helene Hugel began her professional career as a puppeteer in 1997 as co-founder and partner of the award winning Púca Puppets where she worked as deviser, maker, performer, and facilitator. She now specialises in the dynamic field of art and health and is engaged as a puppeteer, clown doctor, and arts and health practitioner with certification in hospital play specialism.





Anne: Helene, when you were small, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Helene: When I was 9 years old I wrote a little essay about what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I wrote that I wanted to first become a secretary and live in a big city.  Then I would meet my husband, get married, and when I was 40 years old I would become a poet. This was all written in one essay when I was 9 years. Then at age 13 I wanted to be a scientist. I think even when I went to college, I didn’t really know what I wanted to be. It changes as you grow up, I think.



Anne: And were you interested in theatre and puppets and masks as a child? Are there any clues in your childhood that you would follow this path later?

Helene: Well my mother started and led the youth theatre in my middle school (I grew up in the States). There was no youth theatre there, so mum started that; she was always really interested in youth theatre. So I suppose her interest in drama encouraged me (not that I ever got the leading parts!). And then I was always roping my twin brothers into putting on little plays with the puppets and puppet theatre that my German grandparents sent us. They came all the way from East Germany at a time when there was very little there, and we loved them and we played with them, like kids do, behind the sofa. The puppet theatre even had little curtains, and we’d pull them back, putting on little shows. I would always be saying, ‘let’s perform this, let’s perform that’, and then we would all break into giggles like kids do.



Anne: So there were clues in your childhood …

Helene: Yeah, it’s funny - it’s not something I thought I would go and do. I think it’s a lot to do with your parent’s encouragement too. My Dad was very playful; he would always be speaking to things, like things had a character, like they were alive. Our house is still full of all these strange statues or strange things that my Dad made connections with …



Anne: … And that he animated for you …

Helene: He wouldn’t necessarily make things dance around but there were particular things he’d do. I grew up on a farm and there was this one big piece of farm machinery that my Dad used to call ‘the weather machine’. He used to drive past it going to the grocery store or whatever, and he would sneak out into the field and he would turn it around to face one direction and then the other direction, so that when we passed it, it would be turned the other way and he would say “Look! The weather machine! It’s pointing the other way today kids, you know what that means – it’s going to snow tomorrow or it’s going to be sunny tomorrow”, or whatever and he’d do this regularly - sneak out and make the machine turn, little things like that.





Anne: And is that where your interest in puppets and your interest in theatre came from or is that something that developed maybe later in your childhood, or when you went to college?

Helene: While still living in the States, I applied to Trinity College in Dublin to study English literature and was accepted. Before starting in Trinity I spent a little time with an Irish friend of mine studying in the States for a year and a half. He was studying film, and it was a bit of an arty college, and I’d never really been exposed to art in that way before, as a possibility of something to do with my life, and here I was suddenly surrounded by people who were trying to make a career out of it.



Anne: What college was that?

Helene:
It was just outside New York City: Suni Purchase, a state university, a particularly arty one. It was very renowned for its film programme, and I met this Irish guy and he introduced me to puppets. He would say “y’know, puppets are great, working with puppets is great” and it was like a light bulb in my head just went ‘bing’! And this whole other world just opened up to me. Unfortunately at that point, I had already made the decision to do literature, so I did go and do that. But all through college I never studied. I was always making puppets and putting on puppet shows! And the Lamberts! My Irish friend from the states said I should make contact with the Lamberts when I came to Ireland. So I did and I spent my Saturdays there and two afternoons a week there so that was like an apprenticeship in puppets!



Anne: Could you tell us about your work in hospitals, how that developed and how you got interested in that?

Helene: My father was a doctor, so I was always aware, growing up, of health and healing and being in that line of work. So when I was working on puppet shows and on the road, there was always a little thing at the back of my mind that was missing, that I couldn’t put my finger on. A couple of years ago I saw an ad where The Ark were looking for people interested in working in the area of arts and health and I thought ‘that’s it’! So I began training as a clown doctor and now spend my time working with children who are staying in hospitals. We make puppets from medical instruments and equipment that the children will see in the course of their stay in hospital and that equipment hopefully becomes much less intimidating when you’ve animated it, made a character from it and put it into a puppet show!



Anne: What is the thing you most enjoy about your work?

Helene: I like the variety and the different people and young people you get to work with and the variety of settings you get to work in – from hospitals to schools to arts centres.



Anne: Helene, thank you for your time and I’m looking forward to us getting out into schools in May, when we work with local schools on the puppetry project!

Helene: Me too!

 





For further information about this project or the Children & Youth Arts programme please contact:
Children & Youth Arts Officer, Draíocht
Tel: 01-809 8029


For media information please contact:
Nicola Murphy, Marketing Press & PR Manager, Draíocht
Tel: 01-8098021

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