Master of puppets: Meet Sarah Burren, the maker of The Glow Show

Sarah Burren

Master of puppets: Meet Sarah Burren, the maker of The Glow Show

The Glow Show artistic director Sarah Burren talks to What's Hot New Zealand about the value of teamwork, and keeping the attention of toddlers.

So you’re the Glow Show puppet master? Well, there’s a huge team of people who make this happen. I came up with the idea of The Glow Show, and I make the puppets myself.

Tell us a bit about the show. It’s been a five-year project getting this far, and this is the fourth year doing the show. Matariki 2017 was the first year. It’s ultraviolet puppetry with blue sky thinking. The show is very mesmerising for children, they think “How do they do that, how do they make it happen?” This year’s show is very loosely themed on wonderland. It’s wacky as, and very uplifting.

What’s the highlight this year? The eight-metre caterpillar. And the music is going to be epic.

How did you come to this idea? I come from a production background – working on sets, costumes and props, mainly in theatre. I worked in London for eight years and Toronto for seven years. I worked on some incredible productions with big crews of people. When I came back to New Zealand in the ‘90s I got into puppeting in Auckland. I grew up with the Muppets, you know, I always liked puppets. I was doing kids’ shows, because that’s what was available. And in every show we did a glow-in-the-dark section. I thought, why not make a whole glowing show? I’ve always enjoyed the art of ultraviolet puppetry because it’s very difficult to do. There’s a lot of science and art to it.

What’s the process for making the puppets? Well, you start with the characters, what personalities will be in the show? Then they’re hand-drawn, then built in CAD [computer-aided design] and finally handmade into puppets. The puppets are all very lightweight, because they’re very big.

How do you get all the equipment around the country? We have a people mover and a trailer. Everything is designed to fit into a certain size and space, including the 3.4-metre flowers. They all pack in together.

That sounds like a pretty tight ship. It is! The first show is usually 10am so we’ve got to pack in pretty quickly. Get to the venue at 7:30, doors open 9:30. We’re very disciplined, right from the design process until the actual delivery. You have to be very organised to do this type of work, because there’s layers and layers of production management.

Are there any challenges? To keep the price reasonable for parents. The more you let the cost of production go up, the more the price of tickets has to go up. We’ve been very disciplined so that people can go to these amazing places like the Isaac Theatre Royal and pay $15.50 or $17.50 for a ticket.

Are the two shows different? Yes, we’ve found there’s a big difference in the ages between 0 and 12. So for the under-fives we do a 10am show that’s music and puppetry only. Those young kids just want to dance and have fun, they don’t necessarily want a deep and meaningful story. The 11:30am show is for six- to 12-year-olds, it’s a longer show with dialogue.

You mentioned your team earlier. How big is this production? There are 18 people involved in pre-production, and seven people go on the road. I try to bring in established talent to run this as a high quality show. It’s a very collaborative process. I’ve got a music director, the very talented Jason Smith, and my showrunner and director is Rokalani Lavea. Kodez Kauri is our sound engineer on the road, and his talent is indispensable – the sound and the visuals go hand-in-hand. We don’t have any scenery, so the timing of the sound is very important. And we’ve got a lot more very talented people in the team. In the artistic industry, age is ageless. I’m in my 50s, but I’m working with people who are 20, 30, 40 years old. They’re closer in age to our audience and it’s really important to have that perspective.

Wonderland Glow Show
Mon 20 Dec - Sun 24 Jul

What's Hot New Zealand Newsletter

Stay in the loop with all the latest food, fashion, trends, events and more. Delivered hot to your inbox every month.