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A Night at the Opera: No Strings Attached

Home > Adelaide > Art | Exhibitions | Fun for Children | Galleries
by Julia Wakefield (subscribe)
I'm passionate about art, poetry, the English language and all things maritime, and I also love drawing: Join the Fight for the Reef!
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Puppets are for Big People too
There are puppets and there are puppets.

puppets, opera, vampire bat, Nosferatu, Mrs Harris, art, theatre
Vampire bat from Nosferatu: The Undead

Remember the cute little fella you made from one of Dad's discarded socks? Or the furry orange monkey you scored from a sideshow? Then, there were the fluffy Australian animal glove puppets...

Fun memories, but so often, they amounted to one play session and were forgotten, relegated to the bottom of the toy box.

On show just now, and forming a delightful exhibition, is a set of puppets that are in no danger of being forgotten, particularly by the woman who gave them life – their creator, Sue Harris.

Big Al, opera, Mrs Harris, art, exhibitions, puppets
Big Al and Big Al's Toy Monster from Snap! Snap!

Sue Harris is one of Adelaide's foremost puppeteers. Since 1978, she has been delighting children and adults alike with her puppets, stories and teachings.

For ten years she was a core performer at the Festival Centre's Something on Saturday. She has toured with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, worked in a variety of television productions (who remembers Mulligrubs?) and in schools, prisons, street theatre and live theatre.

Her puppets have personalities, they have histories – in fact, at times, it seems like they are all members of one huge extended family.

So, what are they doing in an exhibition?

puppets, opera, Mrs Harris, art, theatre
Hill Marliner from Daughter of the Sea

Not so long ago, in a conversation with the owner of local gallery, Mrs Harris' Shop, Sue happened to mention that she thought she was perhaps a 'frustrated visual artist' and that she 'quite liked' the idea of an exhibition.

With that in mind, Sue and gallery owner Jo Harris (no relation) set about creating an exhibition to express just a little of her magnificent career as a puppeteer.

In order to fine-tune the exhibition and to narrow down the selection from literally hundreds of puppets, Sue chose to focus on puppets made for a series of productions with 60 Minute Opera.

It's a time from which she has many fond memories.

For five seasons, she performed with 60 Minute Opera in collaboration with the State Opera of South Australia, to introduce school children to the world of opera.

rainbow mouse, Snap! Snap! Mrs Harris, puppets, theatre, art
Rainbow Mouse from Snap! Snap!

Using, in most cases, productions being presented at the time by the State Opera, 60 Minute Opera acquainted many children from a variety of backgrounds with the delights of opera.

Sue's puppets, 'real' opera singers and hands-on experience had the children thoroughly involved in the production of their own operatic masterpiece.

For the children, the experience culminated in attendance at the final dress rehearsal for the State Opera production. And, for many, it was a first time visit to the Festival Theatre, or even a theatrical performance of any kind.

It is these puppets that form the basis of A Night at the Opera, Sue's exhibition at Torrensville gallery Mrs Harris' Shop.

The exhibition celebrates her work with 60 Minute Opera, the State Opera, school children of South Australia and of course, her much loved puppets – from the larger than life-sized to the teeny-tiny.

Rosina, opera, Barber of Seville, Mrs Harris, puppets
Rosina and Teeny Tiny Rosina from The Barber of Seville

It features characters including Rosina from The Barber of Seville, Cio Cio san and Suzuki from Madame Butterfly, the witch from Gretel and Hansel, Hill Marliner, Lord of the Ocean from Daughter of the Sea, a vampire bat from Nosferatu: the undead (from Bram Stoker's Dracula) and several monsters from Snap! Snap! The latter was adapted from the children's book Snap!Snap! There's a monster under my bed.

Sue is also a writer, having created many of the productions in which her puppets perform and teach.

Closest to her heart though, is A Special Place: Caring for a parent with Alzheimer's – the Journey, written to help others making the same journey with an ageing and ailing parent. From A Special Place came Perish the Thought, a play written and co-produced by Sue.

Perish the Thought, puppets, Genevieve, Mrs Harris, exhibitions
Genevieve, the child character from Perish the Thought, takes pride of place in the exhibition.

A Night at the Opera in some small way displays just some of the talents of the multi-talented Sue Harris: writer, storyteller, playwright and puppeteer.

The exhibition is open 11am – 3pm on Saturdays and Sundays throughout September, at Mrs Harris' Shop, Jervois Street, Torrensville.

Sue will be in the gallery during most opening times. In particular, she will deliver an artist's talk in the form of a Q&A session at 2pm on Saturday 26 September. Come along with your questions and join in the fun.

Works in A Night at the Opera are NOT for sale.
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Why? Puppets are for Big People too
When: 11am – 3pm Saturdays and Sundays until 27 September
Phone: 0452 614 613
Where: Mrs Harris’ Shop 36 Jervois Street Torrensville 5031
Cost: Free
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