Creating magical stories for all ages using puppetry and props

Sylvia Troon, storyteller. Pic: Alistair Kerr Photography
Sylvia Troon, storyteller. Pic: Alistair Kerr Photography

For more than 30 years Sylvia Troon has been using puppetry to enhance storytelling for youngsters.

She began writing and illustrating stories as a child before embarking on a career in puppetry, performing shows and running workshops in schools, community venues, and festivals across the Kingdom and beyond.

Sylvia with one of her model puppets. Pic: Alistair Kerr Photography.

Sylvia with one of her model puppets. Pic: Alistair Kerr Photography.

Sylvia recounts myths, legends, folk and fairy tales from Scotland and around the world.

And she is particularly inspired by Scottish history and landscape, Duncan Williamson’s traveller tales, as well as the life, songs and poems of Robert Burns.

She has made many life-like models and puppets based on these themes.

Recently the popular professional storyteller has been re-writing and illustrating her own favourite stories.

It's the way you tell them ... and Sylvia has the knack of engaging her audiences. Pic: Alistair Kerr Photography.

It's the way you tell them ... and Sylvia has the knack of engaging her audiences. Pic: Alistair Kerr Photography.

Demand for her work continues to grow from schools, community organisations and Historic Scotland, and she also has connections with Fife Learning Network, Fife Doors Open Days, as well as various events and festivals.

One of these is Pittenweem Arts Festival; she will be making an appearance at St Fillan’s Cave on August 5.

Sylvia studied at the Edinburgh College of Art before becoming an art teacher in Fife schools.

She said: “I have always had an interest in storytelling, particularly for young children.

“My career in puppetry began in the mid 1980s, and then in early 2000 I became a professional storyteller.

“After teaching art in Fife primary and secondary schools, I began making puppets and creating stories for my two sons.

“At Balmerino School in our village, when I was a young parent, the teachers urged me to be a puppeteer.

“My teaching experience helped me to understand the importance of holding the attention of audiences, therefore overcoming any restlessness which leads to discipline problems.

“There were bookings at play groups, after-school clubs and youth clubs, galas and birthday parties.

“Then came the turning points: first the arts organiser in Fife contacted me, then the arts education officer in Stirling, followed by the director of the Netherbow Theatre in Edinburgh, and all started to book me into their arts programmes.”

It snowballed from there with trips to cities and rural areas all over Scotland, the islands and Donegal.

She continued: “I don’t read from a book so I can focus on the audience with freedom, choosing to tell with or without puppets.

“I can adapt the content of the story and the style of delivery to suit the audience.

“People assume because the words ‘stories’ and ‘puppets’ are mentioned that storytellers only work with children, but I like all age groups. I enjoy giving talks to a wide range of adult groups.”

Sylvia explained how she uses items to tell her tales.

“Like other storytellers I like to use a few props to explain or enhance a story – a beautiful sea shell to hold up to the ear, a little box of golden pieces, a prop can morph into a number of things,” she said.

“I also like to use musical instruments, such as a beautiful flute made by Steve Smart of Fife’s Clydebuilt Puppets, thumb piano, percussion, and my lap-harp (kantele).”

Sylvia’s puppets range from First World War soldiers, to Robert Burns, Andrew Carnegie and Lord Darnley and her attention to detail is incredible.

She uses these to bring her stories to life. She also runs puppetry workshops.

“Feedback is very positive during and after puppetry workshops,” she said.

“Children and adults become very proud of the puppets they’ve made. I am always delighted to see how a puppet frees people up and encourages confidence and communication skills.”

Sylvia has always loved school bookings whether it’s for a puppet show, storytelling, or puppet-making workshop. She is also involved with the Scottish Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh and, closer to home, with the storytelling group Burgh Blethers.

She added: “I feel very lucky. It is often hard work (physically for puppeteers), but I’m never bored.”

How to tell a really good story ...

Sylvia is currently writing and illustrating her most popular stories for children about mermaids, witches, heroes and heroines, giants and dragons. She said: “Children respond best to stories which are dramatic and fun, with a clear, meaningful construction, such as The Fisherman’s Wife or Brownie the Cow. “Younger children like to join in with actions and songs, like The Elves and the Shoemaker and The Runaway Bannock. “Older children prefer to watch and listen but, afterwards, are very keen to ask questions and handle props. Everyone loves a good tale and if a storyteller enjoys telling a story, then he or she will tell it really well.”