Janni lets her puppets do the talking

Janni Younge

After 20 years in the industry, Janni Younge still wants to continue to entertain young and old through her puppetry design and direction.

Ms Younge, 44, from Kenilworth, took an interest in puppets from a young age. “My parents gave me my first set of puppets when I was 6 years old,” she said.

Ms Younge said going to a Waldorf school in Constantia helped her to channel her creativity. She credits the work of South African puppeteer, William Kentridge, and French puppeteer, Phillipe Geanty, for inspiring her to follow her career path.

Ms Younge likes to distinguish her styles of puppet theatre, where Theatre for Young Audience(TYA) allows her to tell the stories that resonate with children today. “There is a new interest for treating TYA with great seriousness, because it’s a totally different audience, and at the same time you’re creating artwork for complete and intelligent human beings,” she said.

Ms Younge, who is a UCT graduate in fine arts, spent most of her career in puppet theatre for her Janni Younge Productions company, and she also worked at Handspring puppet company for four years, though now she is more focused on her own independent production company.

Her production company recently did a puppet theatre play for TYA, Lumka, which played at the Baxter at the end of March. It tells the tale of a three-year-old girl who was going to school for the first time, and her mum tidies her room and removes her favourite toy, Kiki , so she sets out on a quest to find her toy, and gets courage in the process.

Ms Younge directed and produced the play, while Roshina Ratnam and Asanda Rilityana did the puppet choreography.

Her last production for an adult audience was Origins, which took place at the Magnet Theatre, and it told the story about a father’s relationship with his daughter.

The play’s choreography was done by Nkanyiso Kunene.

Ms Younge’s puppet work is not only for full puppet productions; she helped design the politically-incorrect Chester Missing puppet, where Conrad Koch does the puppetry work.

Her puppetry work also appeared in Tsotsi The Musical, where the baby puppet design played a big part of the play.

She won a Fleur du Cap award this year for best puppetry design in this play, and says it’s wonderful to be recognised in the category of best puppetry design.

“It’s so important for us in the creative profession, that people are recognising and seeing our work,” she said.

What was unique about her award, was that she was the only one nominated in that category.

Ms Younge says she wrote to the Fleur du Cap panel to try to persuade them to broaden the puppet category further, as there are more elements that contribute to puppet theatre.

“They can also include best puppet performance and other visual aspects of production,” she said.

Ms Younge says even though there are more people using visual media and puppets in theatre, there are still not enough puppet theatre productions going on in one year in Cape Town.

“I am working hard to shift that, and next year we should be able to see a full set of nominations in that category,” she said.

Apart from creating story narratives for puppet productions, Ms Younge is responsible for building her own puppet creations with a team of people at her residence in Kenilworth, but there are various challenges involved.

“Depending on the size of production, we may need people with a technical and mechanical know-how to assist, and I will call on people to do things that I don’t specialise in,” she said.

Ms Younge still enjoys doing her puppet theatre, and she will take her production of Lumka to the Dragstein province of Russia at the end of May, and in October, her production of Origins will play in Moscow, Russia.