FST's vision for education is to engage imaginations, impart skill-based training, awaken consciousness regarding world cultures and expand the individual's sense of life's possibilities. We offer a range of programming and touring productions in service of that vision.
Ian brings over a decade of experience and boundless energy to the classroom. He enjoys teaching one-off workshops but relishes long-term projects that support curriculum and a deep exploration of the creative process.
Jester Kings of Java uses authentic Javanese shadow puppets to portray a wild array of characters derived from the Ramayana story.
Jester Kings of Java brings traditional Javanese Wayang Kulit shadow puppetry to western audiences. Gorgeously hand-crafted from gilded water buffalo hide, the heroes and villains of the Ramayana dance across the shadow screen to the mesmerizing sound of Indonesian gamelan music.
The evil demon king Rahwana has captured poor Princess Sinta's precious pet dog and dashed King Rama's hopes of marriage! All is in chaos, for there can be no harmony in the Kingdom when the King's heart is not at peace. To restore equilibrium and win Sinta's heart Rama will have to enlist the help of his overly chatty servant Gareng, Hanuman the White Monkey, the heavenly god Bathara Guru and a whole cast of wild characters!
We wish to thank Mari Hook of Denmark, Maine, for generously donating her museum-quality Indonesian puppets to FST, without which this performance would never have happened. We also wish to thank the Maine Arts Commission's Arts in Education program for supporting the development of educational materials to accompany this performance.
Nightingale is FST's exotic, musical adaptation of the Hans Christian Andersen story of the Emperor who is moved by the song of a plain gray bird, until he receives the gift of a jeweled mechanical bird with which he becomes obsessed. The production gently stresses the importance of connection with Nature, and with the true essences of life.
Nightingale enjoyed a successful Broadway run at the New Victory Theater, and is also a UNIMA Citation of Excellence winner (1996).
Figures of Speech pushes at its art form to see what it’s capable of, experimenting with the relationships between puppets and actors, music and movement, current concerns and classic stories. In the complexity and beauty of their work, the Farrells and their collaborators reaffirm the wonderfulness of life.
- Maine Times, Portland ME
The FOSSE (Figures Of Speech Student Ensemble) is an in-depth educational program that brings professional artists and students together to create original performances that draw on Figures of Speech Theatre's signature blend of puppets, masks, shadows, music, actors, dance, and more.
The Art of MemoryStories from Maine's Outer Islands
Figures of Speech Theatre and the Island Institute have partnered to produce The Art of Memory: Stories from Maine's Outer Islands, a shadow puppet film based on oral histories gathered on some of Maine's most remote islands.
Purchase The Art of Memory on DVD
Figures of Speech Theatre Director of Education Ian Bannon led a team of four artists in a year-and-a-half-long collaboration with the students in six of the one- and two-room schoolhouses off Maine's coast. In the spring of 2015, Bannon traveled to each island to introduce students to documentary techniques, which they then used to cull stories from other island residents, historical archives, and publications. The entire artistic team returned in the fall of 2015 to collaborate in the creation and filming of shadow puppet adaptations of their favorite stories.
The resulting 35-minute film combines a variety of shorts ranging from pirate stories to tall-tales to ill-conceived stand-offs with Abenaki Native Americans. The pieces are held together with a layered dreamscape of shadow imagery, narration from some of Portland's most sought-after voiceover artists, and a captivating original musical score by Dave Noyes of Rustic Overtones.
The FOSSE (Figures of Speech Student Ensemble), now in its sixth season, brings professional artists into direct collaboration with students to devise original performances using Figures of Speech Theatre's signature blend of puppets, masks, shadows, music, actors, dance, and more.
The Island Institute works to sustain Maine’s island and remote coastal communities, and exchanges ideas and experiences to further the sustainability of communities here and elsewhere. The Institute's Outer Islands TLC (Teaching and Learning Collaborative) improves the quality and ensures the sustainability of one- and two-room island schools on Cliff, Cranberry Isles, Frencboro, Isle au Haut, Matinicus, and Monhegan by creating collaborative educational and social opportunities for students across islands via technology and face-to-face learning opportunities.
The Art of Memory was made possible through the generous support of the Helen & George Ladd Charitable Corporation, the Expansion Arts Fund of the Maine Community Foundation, and the Maine Arts Commission, an independent state agency supported by the National Endowment for the Arts.
The FOSSE's Frankenstein interprets Shelley's original text with Victorian-style Toy Theater puppetry, Silent Film-inspired live action shots, shadow puppetry, pen & ink illustrations, and post-production magic in a seven-episode portrayal of this classic tragedy.
18 students and 6 professional artist mentors collaborated side-by-side on the project for a year and a half under the direction of FST's Education Director, Ian Bannon. The project was funded in part by grants from the Maine Arts Commission, an independent state agency supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Maine Community Foundation, and other private sources.
The full 7 episode film will be hosted on The Entertainment Experiment—an online distribution network showcasing the works of Maine-based independant artists and filmmakers. New episodes will be added each Monday through May 5th, 2014. Check it out and spread the love!
The FOSSE production of Paul Bunyan was a terrific success! Audience response in all four venues was amazing. And best of all, the project did what it's designed to do: it stretched the students and gave them an experience they'll never forget.
In the words of one participant, "I've enjoyed working with Figures of Speech more than any other activity in high school. FOSSE has truly helped me develop as a person... I just want to thank you for how positively FOSSE has affected my life."
Though we here at FST are best known for drawing our inspiration from global tales, sometimes we find material right in our own backyard. This January and February audiences around southern Maine were entertained by an outrageous, zany, original Tall Tale of the Mightiest Mainer: Paul Bunyan!
The choice to tackle tall tales allowed us to yuk it up with a laugh-a-minute performance, larger-than-life personas, and a little dash of cute (thanks, Babe!).
FST's Director of Education, Ian Bannon, once again served as the director of the production and led the students in a theatrical exploration of turn of the 19th/20th century tall tales and actual accounts from the lives of woodsmen of the period.
Visual arts mentor Olan Boardman provided inspiration and guidance as the students created shadow puppets in the folkart style of Pennsylvania Dutch Scherenschnitte, or paper cutting. And Tim Findlen, front man for the Portland-based throwback band Over a Cardboard Sea, helped the students to breathe life into the production with a homespun, vaudevillian-inspired musical score and sound effects
This year we challenged ourselves to give the students a feel for life on the road as a performer. We opened with one show in Freeport and then took it on the road, performing for diverse audiences in Portland, Westbrook and Peaks Island.
The concluding performance on Peaks Island was especially touching as we performed a free show for the entire community. And boy did they come out to support us! Mother Nature was on our side too for that final gig, providing a glorious sun-soaked day. We thanked her as we rode back across Casco Bay on the roof of the ferry, our rag-tag bunch of gypsies playing their hearts out for all to hear!
We wish to thank the Maine Art Commission, whose SMART program provided major support for the project, as well as the Freeport Performing Arts Boosters. Holy mackinaw — we couldn't have done it without them!
The Snow Queen
For the third year in a row, Figures of Speech Director of Education Ian Bannon lead The FOSSE, an after-school program with Freeport High School students who want to create innovative theater together.
In 2008, The FOSSE interpreted the Greek myth Perseus the Gorgon Slayer, and in 2009 they reimagined scenes from Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland. This time around they used puppets, masks, actors and original music to stage an imaginative version of Hans Christian Andersen's classic, The Snow Queen.
Figures of Speech Co-Director Carol Farrell stated, "This year we were looking for material with a strong story line and a wide variety of characters. The Snow Queen has goblins, ravens, a strong friendship between a young girl and boy, talking flowers, a wild band of Robber Maidens, and of course the iconic Queen of Snow. It gives the ensemble members a lot to work with, and some wonderful creativity has emerged as a result."
Ian worked closely with the students three afternoons a week. In explaining the project's goal to foster collaboration between top-quality professional artists and aspiring young people, Ian said, "This year, we realized we had some very motivated student musicians, so we brought in Dan Capaldi and Jeff Shaw from the Maine Academy of Modern Music to lead students in the composition of an original score for the piece, which has been great. It really rocks! They've also had productive workshops with vocalist Andrea Goodman and mask performer Beverly Mann. We see students stretching in ways they never thought possible."
Sarah, a returning FOSSE member, summed up her experience better than we could! "I think working with The FOSSE did affect the way that I interact with my peers at (Freeport High School). I think that it gave me more confidence in myself. It also taught me to share my ideas, even if they might not be agreed with among everyone. Finally, it taught me that it's okay to try different things even though I may make a fool out of myself."
We look forward to making more great theater — and even greater fools of ourselves — in the future!
'The Snow Queen' was made possible in part by funding from the Maine Arts Commission and the Freeport Performing Arts Boosters.
Alice in Wonderland
In 2009 The FOSSE dove headlong into the topsy turvy worlds of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass in early January. The program was open to all students who were willing to commit to the work. Director Ian Bannon and Figures of Speech's Artistic Directors John and Carol Farrell have worked with 20 students on ensemble building, theme exploration, mask and puppet making, character development, and developing a musical score. Kate Breau, a second year ensemble member, reflected on the process. "The best part of (The FOSSE) is that there are NO guidelines—we create whatever we want and always end up with something totally unexpected and original."
The program also features guest artists of national renown to guide the students in specialized areas of expertise such as vocal improvisation, musical composition, masked performance, and lighting design. Ian views this as an essential component of the project. "It's amazing to watch the students' synapses fire and their faces glow when one of our guest artists demonstrates their craft. To then be able to work with the artist to learn their craft and devise new and exciting ways to put it to use in a larger context is an incredible, horizon expanding opportunity for our students."
'Alice in Wonderland' was made possible in part by funding from the Maine Arts Commission and the Freeport Performing Arts Boosters.
Perseus the Gorgon Slayer
The FOSSE (Figures of Speech Student Ensemble), began as a 4-month long after-school program in 2007/2008 at Freeport High School. Figures of Speech Director of Education Ian Bannon came back from a summer intensive program all fired up to create new theater through working with an ensemble. We cooked up a plan, got clearance from Freeport High School (and use of the wonderful Freeport Performing Arts Center!), and plunged in.
Perseus the Gorgon Slayer is a soaring, coming-of-age tale centers around Perseus' battle to protect his mother and adoptive father by completing an impossible task: to fetch the head of Medusa! Along the way Perseus is aided by nymphs & gods, outsmarts witches, battles mythical beasts and finds true love.
The 14-member student ensemble was directed by Ian and guided by Figures of Speech Co-Directors Carol and John Farrell, with guest artist/teachers Stoney Cook (lighting design) and Beverly Mann (mask work). Besides performing as actors and puppeteers, students sculpted masks, composed music, collaborated on scripting, choreographed dances, and made a video documentary of the piece.
The process culminated in January 2008 with wildly successful performances of Perseus the Gorgon Slayer at the Freeport Performing Arts Center.
'Perseus the Gorgon Slayer' was made possible in part by funding from the Maine Arts Commission and the Freeport Performing Arts Boosters.
Language of Gesture
(Grades 5-12) Students learn the principles of animating a Japanese-style bunraku puppet, write a non-verbal “gestural script,” rehearse and perform for their peers. In longer residencies, students also construct their own bunraku puppets. Emphasis is on cooperating in pairs, communicating emotions without words, and attention to detail.
Groups practice the skills of "constructive critiquing" to improve each other's work and deepen the process of rehearsal before videotaping and self-critiquing their scenarios.
In longer residencies, students construct their own intricate "newspaper bunraku" puppets; for shorter residencies, Figures of Speech provides a set of hand-crafted wooden puppets for students' use.
(Grades 5-12) With an emphasis on writing and teamwork this program is intended to take students directly into the world of story-making: how to develop character, show action and reveal plot.
The puppets we supply portray 25 archetypal “stock” characters: fairies and demons, crones and mythical beasts, fools and angels — all intended to jump-start student imaginations so they can access their own myths and tell their own tales.
(Grades 4-7) The art, literature and culture of China come to life when students tap into China's ancient tradition of shadow puppetry to create their own performances. For students focusing on Asian Studies, this program is a perfect tie-in with our performance of Jester Kings of Java.
For this week-long residency, FST has selected three folk tales (From Good to Bad to Good, The Wedding to Mulan Mouse and The Fourth Question) and developed scripted adaptations tailored to classroom shadow puppetry. Groups prepare by reading their story in advance of the residency, then on Day One they set to work designing and building their own shadow puppets.
After learning principles of animation, blocking, and vocal projection, students rehearse in preparation for the final performance of all the stories on the last day.
(Grades 3-5) Literature is unforgettable when students perform the stories they read. And shadow puppetry is an ideal medium for telling stories with multiple characters and magical effects.
This week-long residency highlights trickster tales inspired by several books by Caldecott-winning author/illustrator Gerald McDermott, including Raven (Pacific Northwest), Zomo the Rabbit (West Africa), Arrow to the Sun (Pueblo), Anansi the Spider (Ghana), and Coyote (American Southwest).
In advance of the residency, students read the folktales they will be performing, then on Day One they set to work in teams, designing and building their own shadow puppets. After learning principles of animation, blocking and vocal projection, students rehearse in preparation for the final performance of all the stories on the last day.
(Grades 1-4) To augment curriculum units in Maine Studies, we offer a residency featuring special action-oriented adaptations of four stories collected by Penobscot Indian Molly Spotted Elk from her book, Katahdin: Wigwam's Tales of the Abnaki Tribe.
These adventures tell how the trickster rabbit Matagwess gets his long ears and short tail, how his tricks backfire on him with the Canoe Women and how he makes the Big Mice People small.
In a Wabanaki Stories residency, students work in teams and design and build their own shadow puppets, then learn principles of animation, blocking and vocal projection. Students rehearse their shadow stories in preparation for the final performance of the series of tales about Matagwess on the last day of the residency.
(Grades K-1 & ELL) The smallest students with the biggest imaginations use their hands, minds, giggles and rhymes to interpret specially selected nonsense poetry by Seuss, Silverstein, Prelutsky and others in this fanciful hands-on workshop for young readers.
Colorful shadows of Yubba Zubbies, Gummies and Fuddnuddlers parade across the screen. Who knows what they should look like — Do you?!
Taking younger attention spans into account, these classes are a bit shorter than other other classes and can be sandwiched into sticky schedules. These students can also be great audiences for the older students' performances!
(Kindergarten) Your kindergarten classroom will squeal with delight as they bring Old MacDonald's farm to life in this stand-alone workshop.
The animals (and their puppets!) then take to the shadow stage, dancing and frolicking about. While the other students sing Old MacDonald had a Farm the puppeteers bleat, moo, cluck, woof, neigh, quack, oink, and meow in response!
Taking younger attention spans into account, the hour is clearly divided into two different activities: creating the puppets and performing. Best of all, the students get to keep their puppets at the end of the workshop. These students can also be great audiences for the older students' performances!