September 19, 2014

Curious pupils meant that Steampunk Bob’s first visit to the school didn’t exactly go to plan…

The First Day of School

Monday the 9th was Steampunk Bob’s first visit to Lunsford Primary School.

The plan was to ignore the pupils, make short work of any questions they might have, and simply get to know the school. Things didn’t exactly go to the plan.

From the moment they saw me setting up Steampunk Corner in their library there was a stream of young people asking: ‘Who are you?’ ‘What are you doing here?’ and ‘Why do you have a propeller on your head?’ I would answer them as briefly as possible: ‘I’m Steampunk Bob.’ ‘I’m working on an art project.’ ‘I think it looks good.’ Then I’d try to return to my list of activities for the day: Measuring the school. Making a slideshow. Exploring the hallways. Filming the playground area. Instilling curiosity. I needn’t have worried about that last item: whenever they were near, children interrupted whatever else was happening, surrounded Steampunk Bob and fired questions simultaneously, jumbled together, over top of each other. I eventually had to tell them to honk the big brass a-OO-ga horn attached to the back of my waistcoat before speaking and only then would I respond.

Close up Bob and children resized

From the beginning I decided to be completely honest with everyone. When creating the show Beastie with Lone Twin three years ago, we realised very quickly that children don’t like to be deceived – they like to have their imagination engaged, but without transparent falsehoods. ‘That’s just a man in a costume!’ they’d say when watching our preview Beastie film, but were completely disarmed when we’d respond, ‘You’re right. And you know what? I’m going to get in a costume right now. I’m going to become Beastie!’ And when they actually saw it happen in front of them they loved it.

So at Lunsford, when Steampunk Bob was asked if he was a time traveller, I said, ‘No, I’m not. I’m an artist.’ A few of the children were more persistent with their questions: Alex, , wanted to know if I had my own company, how long I would be at his school, and if I would be coming back tomorrow. ‘You are very creative, aren’t you,’ he said. And then he asked if I was famous. ‘No, I’m not, but I don’t mind.’ ‘Don’t worry,’ he said, ‘I bet a lot of people know about you.’

Carmen, in Year 4, must have asked a dozen questions through the day – where I live (‘London’), where I was born (‘Chicago’), why was I at her school (‘An art project’) and did I make the clothes I was wearing (‘Some of them’). She was reluctant to leave my corner in the library, and I was impressed by her persistence. Then she asked if there was any way I could help her get out of doing her exercises.

Tegan, a Year 6 pupil, was thoughtful through the day, mostly listening while I answered other students’ questions as shortly as I could, standing back and observing Steampunk Bob on several occasions. Towards the end of the day, after patiently waited her turn, she honked the horn and asked me to explain exactly what I was doing at the school. What is my project and why was I doing it at Lunsford? I didn’t want to dismiss this question with a short answer: she deserved a response, and it was an opportunity to tell her and the other pupils around her some details, to gauge their interest. I said my project is called ‘Treasure’, and it’s exploring the idea of people who are important in your life. I’m trying to understand what makes someone become a person you admire. A person you love. A person you treasure. ‘Mr Dechaine said I could base myself at the school because I’ll be asking a lot of older people living nearby who it is that they treasure and why they treasure them. And maybe I’ll ask some teachers, too.’ Their response was wonderful: ‘Can we help?’ ‘Of course you can,’ I said. ‘Now go away and let me get back to my silver steampunk clock face tree.’

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