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Giant puppets wired for sound in parade

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An installation artist who has worked with Kraftwerk, and a costumier from hit TV series Game of Thrones are two of the people involved in this year’s Giant Puppet Parade on February 23.

The annual parade is in its seventh year and will see more than 600 children take to the streets with huge, illuminated puppets, with 12,000 onlookers expected to attend.

The parade is the brainchild of ex-London architect Stuart Cochlin, project director, and Jig Cochrane who is the artistic director.

Cochrane’s portfolio is impressive, having worked with various community-based arts organisations worldwide since 1993, including The Book Bus in Zambia, as well as festivals such as Glastonbury, Lovebox and US’s Burning Man. He also worked with the German band Kraftwerk.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post

Content image - Phnom Penh Post

Content image - Phnom Penh Post

Content image - Phnom Penh Post

The Giant Puppet Project, established in 2007, is the largest community arts project in Cambodia, and gives an artistic outlet to underprivileged children in Siem Reap. Led by a team of artists from the renowned Phare Ponleu Selpak Visual Arts School in Battambang, the children spend weeks creating the puppets.

The kids are encouraged to take cultural and ecological themes as their inspiration, such as endangered species or significant Khmer artists and mythical figures. The puppets are between 10 and 30 metres in size and are made from colourful paper wrapped over rattan frames.

Highlights from last year’s parade include a stunning crimson and gold Bengal florican (endangered bird) with fairy lights twinkling along its wings, and a long-limbed bokator martial artist. Other ‘cultural appreciation’ puppets have taken the shape of an apsara dancer, a naga and the late Sinn Sisamouth, famed Cambodian singer of the 50s and 60s.

This year, marketing and communications manager Bina Hanley says between eight and ten puppets will be made. In a new development, the puppets will be rigged for sound as well as lighting, bringing them to life even more.

“We are aiming for the carnival to be louder and more energetic this year,” says Hanley. “With special sound effect speakers rigged to each individual puppet we are hoping to give the children the best parade to date.  We will also have a local children’s brass band, Cambodia Scouts, who will add a great party feel to the night.”

Game of Thrones British costumier Nina Ayres will be helping out in the preceding weeks, no doubt using her skills acquired on films such as The Golden Compass to create some impressive pieces.  

Volunteer Steve Lawrence will be filming the parade preparations and producing some short promos to broadcast on YouTube and Facebook.

“I’ll be putting together some videos to help raise awareness but also for some of the people that donate money but don’t actually come to Cambodia often – they can see the progress and where their money goes.”

Lawrence, who works in television production in London, hopes the films will encourage more tourists to come to town for the Puppet Parade.

“I’ll also be producing a 15-20 minute piece for future years. People can see what it is and hopefully tourism companies that organize trips to Cambodia can actually show people and encourage them to come over in February. So hopefully it’ll get people to stay a bit longer.”

He also plans to stream the parade live on YouTube for those that cannot attend.

The parade will start at 7pm at Warehouse in the Old Market area, go through the old town before crossing the river to travel up to the Royal Gardens. It will finish by Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor, where entrainment will be put on for the young artists. 

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