Treasure on Samothraki

While making puppets in Athens, I listened to tales of a special place called Samothraki, a small island in the northern Aegean sea. map This month I went there and met up with friends from Sheffield, Lisa and her son Dom, who were travelling through Europe. We based ourselves at a campsite in the woods, by the sea and near to the magnificent Varades waterfalls.

It was paradise; Owl chorus sang through the trees every evening and goats rang their bells, as they wandered along the beach, waking us up at dawn. At the campsite cabin, we met lovely people living on the island and visiting. In the mornings we’d meet up for coffee and ciabattas and in the evening, we’d draw, play and learn Bulgarian, while Bernardo cooked up his ‘Samothraki Special’ pizzas. Lisa had talked with local parents and workers at the cabin before I arrived and soon we were organising a shadow puppet workshop and show.

We beachcombed for driftwood and feathers and gathered twigs and started making puppets and Greek letters to spell out, ΣΑΜΟΘΡΑΚΗ (Samothraki) and ZAΘEΗ – the name of the cabin cafe.

Driftwood bird

I’m used to making shadow puppets from card and manufactured trash, so it was refreshing to use the beach finds and string and twigs from the woods. I loved how the words came together; Lisa found a calligraphic-beachwood letter Z and the Θ was conjured up from a twig and a goat horn, crossed with a hooded crow’s feather.

Islanders; Jacqueline, Yorgis and their young son helped us get ready and collected cardboard, lights, scissors, etc. and invited folk along. In the late afternoon, people gathered and started making puppets. We soon had a cast of characters: a donkey, soldiers, Poseidon, an octopus, a mermaid, fish, birds, a treasure chest with an opening lid and jewels, pizza and a golden carrot. Half an hour before showtime, we wrote out the story with the children, first in English – then translated into Greek for Maria to narrate (as Spyros the seagull!) We arranged the table and chairs in front of the bed sheet-screen, hung the lights behind, turned off the cabin lights and Action!

Maria with Spyros – Poseidon receives the treasure

Just before the show started, I remember picking up a puppet, holding it against the sheet and checking that it would make a shadow! I think this means I haven’t lost sight of the pure magic and wonder of collaborative, autonomous shadow puppetry. It was great teaming up with Lisa – Simply beautiful how it all came together.

The next morning, we were up before dawn and on our way – Lisa and Dom heading north across Europe, back to England and me on the long ferry back to Athens. An adventure to treasure.

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