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Asphyxia pulls the strings of delight

Eve Jeffery

Circus performer, artist and puppeteer, and now author, Asphyxia is best known as the creator of the puppets the Grimstones.

Asphyxia is deaf but this has not impaired either her view or execution of life. Over the past decade, she has toured nationally and internationally performing trapeze, hula-hoops, and marionette puppetry. Asphyxia spent 18 months designing and building the Grimstones, handcrafting the marionettes and miniature household objects from recycled materials.

The show has since toured nationally and internationally to great acclaim, and has now been turned into a delightful children’s book series, The Grimstones.

Asphyxia was born hearing, but that changed when she was a toddler. ’I was actually born hearing, and became deaf at the age of three owing to a genetic anomaly,’ she says. ’Two of my seven brothers and sisters are also affected.’

0_AsphyxiaAsphyxia has a background in ballet, and has trained with Circus Oz and the National Institute of Circus Art, specialising in trapeze, adagio (double balance) and hula hoops. It was a chance encounter with master puppeteer Sergio Barrio on the streets of Guatemala where Asphyxia was introduced to the world of marionette theatre – and she was hooked.

It was Asphyxia’s work as a puppeteer that led to her becoming an author. ’I had been performing The Grimstones for a while, with my partner, Paula Dowse, and someone from Allen & Unwin saw the show and thought it would make a good book,’ she says. ’They gave me a call and it all went from there. Luckily they loved what I wrote and signed me up for a four-book series.

Asphyxia feels that marionettes in particular are not much known about in Australia. ’There tends to be a perception that puppetry is for kids, while where I learnt, in Europe, puppetry is often for adults,’ she says. ’We have had an overwhelming response to our theatre show, The Grimstones, as audiences have fallen in love with our little puppets, much the way I did when I first saw them in Europe. I’m glad to be part of an awakening for the discovery of marionettes here in Australia.’

Asphyxia says she has found that both children and adults seem to find equal delight in her puppets, and believe in them and their real-ness, their livelihood.

’Adults and children both seem to delight in giving them a hug after the show or talking to them. I find this very touching. And I also understand it because to me the Grimstone family is like a real family, and I believe in them so absolutely it’s hard to see them as just puppets or dolls.’

Grimstones-IMG_4098-2Asphyxia says she is now working on another book with her publisher, but it is not a Grimstones book, rather one that is set in the future with a deaf main character.

’The book will be her art journal, and I’ve just received funding from Australia Council to develop the artwork for it, which I’m very excited about.’

Writers Fest audiences will get to enjoy something a bit different when they meet Asphyxia and her puppet, Martha Grimstone, in the flesh. ’My book series, The Grimstones, is written from Martha’s perspective, as her journal.

‘I am an avid journal-keeper myself, and I will be talking about how writing and journaling can be used for self-expression, to tell a story or just to explore what’s within. I’ll be bringing out my journals, which are very visual as well as being text based, and talking about how to incorporate both media together.

‘I hope to inspire audiences to get making, whether it’s in the form of creating a book, a world, or a piece of artwork.’

See more about the Grimstones at www.thegrimstones.com.

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