Head and shoulders photograph of Alison McGowan

Meet our Associate Artists: Alison McGowan, puppeteer

From puppetry to print-making, Blue Cabin’s team of Associate Artists all specialise in using their artistic practice to help improve outcomes for care-experienced children and young people. 

Here, we meet Alison McGowan, puppeteer and Associate Artist.

Can you tell us a bit about your background and your artistic practice?

My background was in design before I fell in love with puppetry at a puppet festival in France in 1995. I went on to study puppetry at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London and worked as a professional puppeteer for many years in theatre, film and TV. 

I moved back to Newcastle in 2003 and co-founded Puppetship CIC, creating shows and workshops for a wide range of audiences including very young children, babies and older people. I also joined Tin Arts’ Clown Doctor team as Dr Tammy Teacosy, playfully engaging children and families in North East hospitals since 2005.

Over time I became more interested in the therapeutic potential of puppetry and I decided to train as a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist. I currently work as a therapist for children in a school and as creative director of Puppetship, developing therapeutic applications for puppetry.

My practice involves puppet-making and playing with all kinds of materials, puppets and objects. I am passionate about puppetry as a unique, multi-disciplinary art form and I enjoy collaborating with other artists. 

How have you used your skills with children and young people?

I use puppetry and creativity with materials to connect with the children and young people I work with in a playful way. Through puppet-making and performance we can explore imaginary worlds together or find ways to express emotions and tell stories. Telling stories using puppetry can also provide a safe way to reflect on real experiences as it creates distance between what’s real and imagined. 

And how can puppetry help care-experienced children and young people? 

Puppetry is a great medium for relational play. Wherever there is a puppet being brought to life, a puppeteer is attempting to connect with an audience. The audience is required to empathise with the puppet in order to understand what the puppet is thinking and feeling. Puppetry can therefore provide care-experienced children and young people with opportunities for fun, interactive, relational activities that can support connection with others in a very non-threatening and enjoyable way.

In my Creative Life Story workshops (part of Blue Cabin’s Creative Life Story Work programme), I’ve enjoyed seeing care-experienced children and their carers find out new things about one other and work together in new and positive ways. Puppet-making and story-telling isn’t always easy – it involves making hundreds of decisions, finding solutions and compromises and working with uncooperative materials (like double-sided sticky tape!). The process builds resilience and the results are often fabulous, exceeding all expectations and deeply rewarding for children, carers and for me too.

Taking part in puppetry activities in a warm, consistent group also really boosted children’s self-esteem. I witnessed several children move from non-cooperation with activities in week one when they felt very shy, to holding a whole audience captive with an entire puppet show by week six, as their confidence grew.

I think that as children encounter their own creativity, they begin to find opportunities to share their discoveries and achievements with others in the group. Friendships emerge and gradually participants gain confidence in sharing aspects of themselves and their stories through their puppets and artwork that they might not have otherwise expressed.

Puppetry works best when joining in becomes irresistible. I love it when someone who previously held back finds the courage to raise their puppet and gives it a voice.

What are you looking forward to in your role as an Associate Artist with Blue Cabin?

I think that getting creative in any medium improves our lives by encouraging connections and conversations that we might not otherwise have. Amid the hustle and bustle of everyday life, worries and demands often take centre stage. Creativity supports us to build relationships and find solutions – it’s lovely to be surprised by our own creativity when we give it the time and space it deserves. I believe that this ethos is at the heart of Blue Cabin’s work and one of the many reasons I’m delighted to join Blue Cabin’s amazing team as an Associate Artist.

I am looking forward to more creative adventures with care-experienced children and young people, and also to more real-life meetings with the Blue Cabin team (with cake!). Being an Associate Artist feels like a real privilege and a great opportunity to explore how my therapeutic puppetry practice aligns with the vision and values of Blue Cabin.

I’ve learned so much already taking part in Creative Life Story Work. I’m excited to see what happens next!

What else do you like to do with your time, outside your artistic practice?

Outside my artistic and therapy practices, I enjoy reading, sewing and seeing puppet shows. I also like baking and walking my dog in the nature near where I live. 

Thank you Alison! Find out who else is in Blue Cabin’s team of Associate Artists here [LINK], and find out more about Puppetship CIC here