Who would have thought it?! Funny Wonders reached twenty years of age this summer.
It all started as a Saturday morning puppet-making club around a kitchen table in the late 90s with shows for families and friends:our inaurgural event was on the 4th July 1998. We then brought the MASSIVE elephant of wishes in 2000 (Wishbooks are still available!) and we have been trying to delight Buxton folk ever since with our work in the community and carnival parading.
Founded by local artists, Chris and Doug Agnew, originating from Peak Puppets, the group went from strength to strength, casting its net as far afield as India and Japan, with regular exchange trips with the Yamabiko-Za Children’s Theatre from Sapporo between 2005 and 2009.
Partnering with the Buxton Opera House, we helped to promote and engage the community in the annual Buxton Puppet Festival (BPF), which continued through to 2014. Their youth group enjoyed performances on the Opera House stage with 'The Silk Road' in 2008 and 'A Year and A Day' in 2009.
Such creative experiences set the stage, literally, for many members, particularly of the original youth group, going into the arts with careers as musicians, actors, variety performers, directors and writers. Some, whilst going off to university, remained involved when they could and later became directors of the company. There has been at least two interviews where “Tell me about Funny Wonders” was the opening question from the panel. What a legacy!
Funny Wonders made it onto TV in 2012 when gigante puppets, made through workshops in local schools, escorted the Olympic Torch when it came through Buxton. Also that year, we hosted the nationwide tour of 'The Big Grin', the celebration of 350 years of Punch & Judy in the UK.
The next few years were a testing time as, very sadly, Chris and Doug both passed away. With the team being mostly family or long-standing family friends, we were naturally less active but after a time of reflection, with a strong sense of mission and with the support of trusted volunteers, we were able to regroup and move forward. We continue to work with the ethos of Chris and Doug: providing creative opportunities for all, encouraging and nurturing individual creativity, focusing on the doing rather than the end product and all within a supportive environment.
Recent highlights include the human roller-coaster at the Buxton Carnival in 2016, Christmas light installations in Poole's Cavern in 2014 and creating a whole shadow puppetry show on the opening night of an exhibition celebrating the artworks of Chris and Doug in 2017.
Throughout 2018, we held regular, after-school creative workshops at The Green Man Gallery for young people within the community aged 11-18yrs old who face difficulties and who benefit from the creative and supportive space Funny Wonders has provided from its beginnings around a kitchen table twenty years ago.
If you would like to get involved and become a volunteer, please contact us via email@example.com. It is lots of fun, very rewarding and you never know what you might end up doing. For more information, click here.
Some Memories of Past Participants
My children grew up making puppets and making friends. They became very creative adults. Nicola Martin
Japan and dancing lobsters. Christine House
Jig dolls! And many happy hours inventing puppets with dear Chris, especially Katie Beardy who travelled round many playgroups and schools! Xxxx Ruby Moon
Making wonderland our back garden and the extraordinary the norm for our childhoods. Thank you Chris and Doug. Miss you x Anna Grady
Funny Wonders was about friendship and fun, our childhoods would have been poorer without it. Thank you Chris and Doug for our precious memories, you are greatly missed. X Lauren Hindle
Daft things with feathers cavorting through the streets. Jean Ball
Everyone was welcomed, no one was judged, not a bad way to live. Chris and Doug really missed xx Beth Webb
Such wonderful creative people who gave so much of their beautiful hearts. Jo Sellars
For me, it all started with an elephant and promises in the basement of no 10. I made friends and memories (and puppets) that will never leave me. Xx Annie Lord
Chris' chair breaking at the first session and her blaming Kieran Agnew for fidgeting so much whenever he sat down. She laughed so much. Anna Beecher
20 Years Old! That can’t be right, Funny Wonders taught us all not to grow up too much. I hope Funny Wonders stays young at heart however ancient the old timer gets. Chris and Doug always lovingly remembered. X Michael Grady-Hall
It's hard to separate Funny Wonders from any other aspect of my childhood. It was my childhood. Too many memories to really know where to start but the Loosehill Hall trip with Jack Flett's dancing worm puppet is up there! And yes indeed the time that mum broke the chair was fully funny!!!! Reading these memories helps to close the gap a little between me and my parents. Thanks guys. Laurie Agnew
I would try to write a paragraph or two about Funny Wonders, but let’s be honest we all know we would need at least 1000 words. So here's my summary in a few words: second family, friendships , travel, achievement, team, laughs and craziness. Lydia-Grace Smith
The most special thing for me was and always will be getting to watch Mum and Dad's ideas and visions come to life and how much joy they brought to people all around the world with their various projects. It was impossible and pointless to rebel as a teenager because our parents were so bloody cool! It was always exciting and inspirational to be around them when anything FW was going down. Seeing them alive and well and doing what they loved was always special. Treasured memories. We think of them with love and speak of them with pride. Oh yeah and seeing Mum shoot down Dad's s**t ideas was always hilarious. Kieran Agnew
The Losehill Hall trip - really fun and creative weekend. Felicity Dunk
First real friends! Making myself confident and always having great stories. xx Joe Kelly
Very proud that my folks brought so much to so many. Creating a couple of promotional films for FW and capturing their antics with a camera is something I’ll always treasure. Although I’ve still not forgiven them for not taking me to Japan! Jamie Agnew
Hot glue guns, upside-down plastic milk bottles, fake feathers and ping pong balls. Funny Wonders and Chris & Doug taught me that not only can you be creative, not only should you be creative, but that creativity can be your whole life. FW made a whole generation of kids who knew that with a few sequins and a little glue, you can make the world a little bit more excellent. Xx Graig Bob Russell
It was a space where, unlike school, there was no pressure to be 'normal'. Being yourself and all the creativity that comes with that was not just accepted but encouraged. Anna Beecher