The official News Blog for Puppet Place, your hub for all things animated on stage and film in the UK. We are dedicated to sharing our passion for puppetry and animation with the wider public and supporting artists and professionals working with these art forms. This blog is edited by Emma Windsor and Stephen Barrie Watters, Puppet Place News Editors.
In this, the first in a two part feature about puppetry down under, notable puppeteers discuss what defines Australian puppetry and sets the scene apart from puppetry in other cultures. This article is edited by Kay Yasugi, Pupperoos (New South Wales) and General Secretary of UNIMA Australia.
What is ‘Australian’ Puppetry? We are the world’s oldest and youngest nation, when considering our Aboriginal heritage dating back over 60,000 years, as well as British colonisation only 200 years ago. We don’t have a long Puppetry tradition like ‘Punch and Judy’ in the UK, and have had to define what is ‘Australian’ Puppetry along the way. When approached by the Puppet Place to write this article, I knew that I could not answer this question on my own. Australia is a cultural melting pot, and so is our puppetry. It seems only fitting that this article be a collection of thoughts from various puppeteers around the country – a rich and complex ‘puppet soup’, if you will. So, below are thoughts from notable puppeteers and other practitioners working in the puppetry sectors in Australia today:
Richard Hart from Dream Puppets (Victoria) and President of UNIMA Australia:
Over the last century, Australia has become a multicultural nation based on immigration and for much of that period, mostly in denial of the previous indigenous nations it replaced. This is slowly changing. I am mentioning this as a background, as the brief European/Asian history of Australia combined with the remerging indigenous cultures, creates a distinctive artistic mix. Also, artists do not create in a vacuum.
Australian puppetry culture has been geographically distant from others, both nationally and internationally. Also, there does not seem to be any established artistic “rules” except by those who already have them. All puppetry traditions I know of in Australia have been brought in from other cultures. Australian’s exposure to the puppetry arts has been increasing, via a few training opportunities with arts institutions, however, many depend on the occasional workshop if it is in their area, or the internet and other social connections.
Despite these apparent limitations, there are many individuals, groups and to a lesser degree, companies, who perform a variety of styles of puppet theatre to Australian audiences on a daily basis in schools and kindergartens. Adult puppetry is also performed in festivals, which occur regularly.
Les Méduses by Black Hole Theatre, Victoria (Puppet Design & Construction by Joe Blanck at A Blanck Canvas)
My view is that Australian puppetry is quite healthy and growing, with different groups having their own references and becoming very successful nationally and internationally. Whether we have a distinctive style may not be obvious to us, but possibly recognised by other countries. Maybe the content or presentation, the way we speak, that anyone is an Australian regardless of their appearance, etc.
Puppetry in Australia is not the exclusive preserve of traditions and who can do it. Many artists from other disciplines, architects, solicitors, accountants, miners, chefs, ….., have and are exploring it, some even making it their career. I think Australian puppetry is diverse, as it should be, and evolving as a combination of many elements. We are baking new and different cakes, so to speak.
Richard Bradshaw, NSW:
The city with the most puppet activity is Melbourne, but the companies there tend to be small, except for Creature Technology Company (who created ‘King Kong the Musical’) and A Blanck Canvas, both of which make large-scale puppets, some with remote-controlled features (there is a growing business of this style of puppetry.)
King Kong puppet created by Creature Technology Company (Photo: James Morgan)
At present puppetry does not have a strong following in the general public. However, there is a growing interest in puppetry in schools, and is part of the curriculum in some states. There is no dedicated course for professional puppeteers although there has been one at the Victorian College for the Arts in Melbourne in the past. Puppet companies (especially Spare Parts Puppet Theatre in Western Australia) offer short-term courses from time to time. Some puppet-making is also included in the production course at NIDA (the National Institute for Dramatic Arts) in Sydney.
50 years ago it was rare to see an actor on stage with puppets in an Australian puppet show, but these days live actors are often seen, and the actual puppetry can be minimal. I am unaware of any great regional difference, except perhaps that Terrapin Puppet Theatre may use more object theatre.
Murray Raine (Murray Raine Puppets), Victoria
Puppeteers are principally playing to children, especially to school audiences where some box office is assured. There is a limited market for adult puppetry, notably in small venues in Melbourne. We know of one puppeteer, Murray Raine (Murray Raine Puppets), who plays principally to adult audiences but he meets them on cruise ships. It would be very difficult to make a living playing puppetry for adults (by that name) and the most successful Australian puppeteer catering for adult audiences is based in The Netherlands [Neville Tranter]. Sometimes a single puppet character has had success with adult audiences on TV and can then play to live fans. A current example is Heath McIvor’s purple puppet ‘Randy’.
‘Randy’, a puppet performed by Heath McIvor (Melbourne, Victoria)
Angie Macmillan, VIC:
Australia as nation is still developing its own culture which is being influenced on all levels by a multitude of traditions from all corners of the globe. Because we are not yet bound by centuries-old traditions that can limit things being done a certain way, we have the freedom to explore the arts in our own way. We can look at puppetry culture and traditions from all over the world and take from them the things that interest us and appeal to us and reshape it to give us a new perspective, experimenting with new ideas to make our own meaning that fit into the context of life here in Australia and our cultural evolution.
Australia is a multicultural country. Since 1945, over 7.5 million people have emigrated to Australia. Our overseas-born resident population is estimated to be 30 per cent of the population. This is reflected in our Puppetry. I have known puppeteers here from Romania, Greece, Slovakia, The Czech Republic, Italy, the UK, the USA and Egypt.
Dennis Murphy (Murphy’s Puppets) at the Tarrengower Puppet Festival, Victoria, 2012 (photo by Kay Yasugi)
I am another example of multiculturalism. I was born in the USA, studied Puppetry in Europe and Indonesia. I perform Italian Commedia dell’Arte comedies adapted to Australian audiences.
P.S. We also eat well down here thanks to multiculturalism.
UNIMA Australia is the official puppetry organisation of Australia. We welcome members from all over the world, and have regular newsletters with updates on puppetry happening around the country and abroad. For more information about membership, please go to http://mp.gg/a1u-t
In their 2004 publication, The Space Between: The Art of Puppetry and Visual Theatre in Australia, Peter J. Wilson and Geoffrey Milne asked: “Where, then, do we think puppetry and visual theatre might go in the next twenty years?” (Wilson and Milne, 2004, 117). While it is not quite yet twenty years since this question was posed, the interviews conducted for ThingMaking (www.thingmaking.net) turn to the practice of Australian puppeteers to provide some answers. In a context of a lack of puppetry training institutes in Australia, and drastic government arts funding cuts, the interviews are presented as audio podcasts and are publicly available as an avenue to communicate this research to other professional puppet makers and performers.
‘Projection: First Light’ is a new game in development by Shadowplay Studios (and published by Blowfish Studios) which follows the adventures of Greta, a girl living in a mythological shadow puppet world. We spoke to the game’s designer, Michael Chu, about the forthcoming puzzle platformer that will explore the history and global culture around shadow puppetry.
‘Projection: First Light’ is a shadow puppet adventure about light manipulation, curiosity and lost art. Can you tell us about the background to the game – how did you come up with the idea and why did you decide to use shadow puppetry?
A game jam I attended had the theme “So close.” I was reminded of times I would put my hand close to a ceiling light in my home and have fun making shadows. I made the first round of Projection here, and the shadow puppets lent themselves naturally to a game mechanic about manipulating shadows. It wasn’t until Global Game Jam that I made a prototype of the mechanic which we see in the game now. The prototype got people excited and so Yosha and Jared joined me.
The visual aesthetic for the game draws on a wide variety of art styles from Indonesian to Turkish and Chinese shadow puppetry. How did you research this?
The first iteration of Projection drew heavily from Lotte Reiniger’s art style. Moving forward though, we visited shadow puppeteer Richard Bradshaw, who gave us a run down of how we should explore the different worlds in the order: Javanese, Chinese, Turkish/Greek, and 19th Century European. He gave us a tour of his workshop and we recorded a lot of footage with how the shadow puppets moved. He also spent about 5 minutes to make a simple puppet for our artist to reference. Since then we’ve just been watching a lot of shows online and looking up the traditional art styles. We also read up closely on the stories to try capture the themes and morals, and not simply have the characters plopped into the game. After all we didn’t want to misrepresent the characters.
We have a couple of challenges that we’ve set up for ourselves. The puppets we reference adhere to proper shadow puppet physics, so for instance, the Javanese puppets do not have moveable leg joints. So we make them hobble side to side to replicate this movement. We also have no dialogue in the game and try tell as much through animation as possible. One last problem we’ve come across is the black and sepia colours of a traditional shadow puppet canvas. Unfortunately this seems to be a popular look for many Indie games, so we’ve tried adding more background colours since technically you can have coloured sheets as backing.
What do you think the particular appeal of shadow puppetry is for gamers? And what do you think will appeal to them most about the game?
We’d like people from any background to be able to hop on and play the game, and we’d like to think there are 3 core pillars to differentiate our game:
1. Unique shadow mechanics – Shadows are a natural phenomena that everyone understands, but it adds so much complexity once you give it physics.
2. Art Style – Shadow puppetry is a world heritage art. There is appeal in exploring something familiar which hasn’t been seen in great detail. It’s given us a chance to explore our own cultures!
3. Narrative – We’re exploring the stories of epics from different cultures. We like to think we’re helping pass on these stories through an interesting medium.
The shadow puppets came after the shadow mechanics, so we weren’t really influenced by other games, but by design of what made sense. I have seen games which use puppets, but I haven’t seen shadow puppets. There are also games which use shadows as an interesting mechanic, but I don’t think there’s a game which uses shadow physics like ours. That said, the amount of video games out there now is staggering, so I wouldn’t be surprised if someone linked me a shadow puppet game.
We’re aiming for Q2 this year, but please be gentle if we miss our mark.
Niki McCrettonis a theatre maker and performer. She is also Artistic Director of Stuff And Nonsense Theatre Company, runs her own theatre – The Lyric Theatre, Bridport – and is a Puppet Place Associate Artist.She is an expert in working in early years settings and inspiring the creative energy of all ages. She has been theatre making for over 25 years (including award-winning National and International tours with Wormhole, Relative, Space 50, Muttnik, Hoof! and Horseplay).
In this interview we talk to Niki about her new production of The Gingerbread Man and about her work with early years children. She talks about her personal creative approach and about her own theatre The Lyric in Bridport.
Your company ‘Stuff And Nonsense’ are about to open a new production of ‘The Gingerbread Man’. Please tell us about how you came to choose this story and about your creative approach to putting together the production.
We chose the story for a few reasons. We were looking for something that parents would feel excited to bring their families to see. This story interested me as I always try to find a connection – a way that children may look differently at things. I thought if they are going to relate to the Gingerbread Man, what would they enjoy or find challenging. The idea of being on the run as soon as you are sentient and having to learn from your own experiences and wits feels exciting and tricky. It felt like there was some depth to explore here, as well as some great adventures. I love to adapt stories and we work with children in the process of creation to find what they find fascinating.
Image by Rebecca Pitt Creative
You have a particular expertise in working with early years. What is it about this age group that particularly inspires you?
I do. I work with an action learning organisation called 5x5x5=creativity. Through that practice I have learned to work with really young children and how to support them in their creative ideas. It is a process of finding their fascination and then designing provocations to send them on an immersive journey. What inspires me about them, is to become a collaborator with them and learn alongside them in an equal and honest way. They are, of course, brilliant creatives with bold ideas and few boundaries. I often notice when we are performing that they have a much stronger steer than the adults as to what is about to happen. Much better intuition and reading of the non-verbal. They are also challenging as they can see immediately if someone is being inauthentic. They also make me laugh a great deal! Find out more at https://5x5x5creativity.org.uk/
Stuff And Nonsense has its own particular style of children’s theatre. What is it about making theatre for a family audience that is most important to you?
Image by Louise Froggatt
My main thrust of the work, apart from the previous questions, is to create work that will connect people through a shared experience. I do not enjoy watching productions that are only for the children and that the adults are bored or disengaged with. I would say the most important thing for me is that the family are talking about the show afterwards together, sharing the bits they loved and talking about why things happened and how the characters feel. I really enjoy it that some adults come with a slightly tired energy, maybe they are looking forward to a sit down! And then afterwards they keep saying how much they enjoyed it and are surprised. I think it is important not to dumb down the work that as a theatre-maker, you want to make – rather check that it will resonate with each age group and keep editing and amending on tour as you learn. If the parents are bored, the work will never be spoken of again and the shared experience lost.
As well as having connections with other theatres, you have your own theatre base in Bridport. Can you talk a bit about your home at The Lyric.
The Lyric is an old theatre, built in 1742. Our patron is Chirs Chibnall (writer for Broadchurch and Dr Who) and his company ‘Imaginary Friends’ supports writers. We have two spaces: a 150 seat theatre with a stage and little proscenium, full of charm with flocked wallpaper; and a studio space upstairs where we can make puppets and props and hold workshops. We also have a veggie/vegan cafe called ‘Bearkat’ that serves food and coffee. We are community oriented and programme professional work as well as running a series of masterclasses. We also support artists to create work – this is the main reason for having the space. We are non-funded and, while the building is under my watch, I am determined to support as many creatives as possible. It is a tricky time in the arts right now and really important to give artists residency space and a place they can make a mess and feel at home.
Elizabeth Johnson is a freelance fabricator for animation, theatre and public engagement works, and resident artist at Puppet Place. She graduated from the Bristol School of Animation in 2013 and has since worked with some incredible companies based in theatre, puppetry and robotics. She is driven to learn new technologies to compliment interactive design and performance.
Can you tell us about yourself and your work as a stop motion animator and model maker. What’s your background and how did you get into animation?
When I was at college really wanted to get into film production, but after not being able to make up my mind of what course to go for, I decided to do an art foundation instead, which happened to coincide with the year that Laika’s ‘Coraline‘ was released. I went and saw that film at least 4 times at the cinema – the magic of it just didn’t get old for me, which got me thinking about doing animation. It was the perfect combination of all my interests, story telling, film making and fabrication. Hoorah!
I studied animation at UWE, and through that discovered Puppet Place and swiftly fell in love with the community and work that was being created here. Since graduating, my work has broadened from just working in animation, although the skills I learnt from studying seem to be forever useful – and since graduating made a stop motion music video for a friend of mine
Thanks to the companies I’ve worked with over the last few years, Rusty Squid and Pickled Image in particular, my imagination and artistic direction has begun to lean more towards design and fabrication for interactive and immersive art works.
Neutral puppet for Rusty Squid Summer School
Set from ‘Yana and the Yeti’ by Pickled Image
You were recently involved in a collaborative project with Puppet Place resident artist company, ‘Rusty Squid’. Can you tell us a bit about that?
The last project I worked on with Rusty Squid was their channel 4 documentary, ‘How to Build a Robot’. It was an amazing experience to be a part of. I got involved through working with them previously as I’d been working as their studio assistant for a couple of months and before that had made some neutral puppets with Rosie and Dave for their summer school.
Neutral puppet for Rusty Squid Summer School
The team working on the project was amazing, it felt like Rusty Squid had brought the most extraordinary group of talented people, I knew how lucky I was to work alongside them and see their process develop throughout the project.
My role on the project was assistant fabricator to Designer/Fabricator/Engineer, Emma Powell – this was a brilliant opportunity as I’d worked with Emma before so knew a bit about her process and she’s a brilliant teacher so I never felt out of my depth – she supported me in developing my skills as a fabricator and was always open to discussing her thoughts and ideas with me, making me feel really included and valued in the fabrication process.
Lizzie with friend: ‘How to Build a Robot’ with Rusty Squid.
The most challenging thing about this project was the time we had to complete it in, as David says in the documentary – the team could have used at least twice the amount of time we had. Also, I had another project lined up from the start of December and so didn’t get to see ‘How to Build a Robot’ through to completion which was a real shame. It felt very wrong to be leaving a project before it had finished. The camera crew was tricky to navigate too, although I did very well at staying out of shot for the most part! We had to accommodate their requirements for filming which meant altering the studio lighting to just using spot lights – not awful, and after doing stop motion animation low lighting seems kind of familiar, but still, for fabricating it isn’t ideal!
What are you currently working on?
I’m currently working on a project with my fellow animation graduate, Katie Hood. We’ve been commissioned by the National Trust to make a bespoke installation for their property Wray Castle, up in the Lake District. Its going really well so far and has been so enjoyable to work on an installation like this.
As well as this I’m working as an assistant artist for Go Sketch which is an after school arts club based in primary schools across Bristol – its great fun and hopefully it will help to encourage some future artists!
Also, I’ve started a craft club up at Better Food (where I have a part time job). It’s a couple of hours long on Thursday evenings in the Cafe, a group of us get together and I come up with fun little projects that give people the chance to try out new processes and just take a bit of time out for themselves and to enjoy being creative. Its really helped me take time out to do a little crafting just for me too!
What projects do you have in the pipeline?
In the pipeline…. I’m working with Hannah and Rachel at Puppet Place HQ to set up a puppet making club for kids, we’re going to do an initial 4 week run in March which is great! Also Katie and I have been really inspired by the project by the National Trust and so are applying for other funding opportunities and commissions to hopefully get to design and make other interactive installations.
I’m most excited by opportunities that allow me to make accessible work that has a social impact, I want people to find fun in art and be surprised and inspired by it.
A friendly Saturday morning puppetry club for families. Puppet maker, Lizzie Johnson, will take you through the process of creating your very own puppet, building craft and artistic skills each week. Find out more on the Puppet Place website.
Now in its second decade of supporting the work and creative development of artists from Scotland and around the world, Manipulate Festival is Scotland’s foremost celebration of innovative visual theatre and animated film. This year continued in that tradition, with an eclectic mix of animated film, object theatre, dance and visual art.
The first day was an animation feast, with a full afternoon and evening of programmes reflecting a range of production in stop motion, puppetry and 2D. Programmes reflected conventional narrative and abstract works, including a showcase from ‘Punto Y Raya’ (Spain’s ‘Dot and Line’ Festival) and our own ‘Women in Puppetry & Puppet Animation’ from Bristol Festival of Puppetry 2017. In addition to the straight ahead screenings, we were also treated to guest-curated programmes, notably retrospectives from comic book artists turned animators, Alberto Vasquez and Khris Cembe, and the Estonian animation artist, Ülo Pikkov, which provided a deeper insight into each collection.
Ruka (The Hand) directed by Jiri Trnka. Screened as part of ‘Fighting Modernists’ retrospective showcase curated by Ülo Pikkov
Animated work that caught my eye included Chloe Leseur’s ‘TIS‘, a production with a clever use of paper cut out animation in a 3D space that explores themes of disability, becoming and healing. Also Marco Jemolo’s noir animated short-film ‘Framed‘ made us think by using the stop motion process as a metaphor to explore the role of the individual in society in a frank yet light-hearted way.
Production still from ‘Framed’ directed by: Marco Jemolo
The live performances didn’t disappoint either. Although the festival celebrates art forms beyond even our broad definition of puppetry, it felt clear what the connections are and thus served to inspire, as well as entertain us. The overall live events programme offered an interesting mix of visual theatre including: object manipulation, dance and installation works with many overlaps in individual performances.
Ariel Doron’s ‘Plastic Heroes’. Photo by Anael Resnick.
The curation style was to schedule performances with similar forms and themes in succession, inviting the audience to consider the work overall, as well as appreciate each individual performance stand-alone. The quirky yet mischievous humour of the object theatre performances shone for me, in particular Ariel Doron’s ‘Plastic Heroes’, a cheeky yet innovative performance that used toy soldiers with hilarious effect.
By contrast, the physical theatre performances were powerful, often exploring darker themes and movement that challenged expectations. ‘Achilles’ from Company of Wolves, offered a violent, gritty insight into the classical legend. Likewise Sabine Molenaar’s ‘Almost Alive’ challenged its audience with visceral motion pieces that explored primal themes. Although I found both these works a little laboured at times, it most certainly shook up any preconceptions of both narrative and performance I might have had.
A fascinating performance incorporating object and physical theatre was delivered by Ramesh Meyyanpann, whose darkly comical ‘Off Kilter’ followed one man’s gradual discombobulation with an ingenious use of sleight of hand illusion and amusing (yet anxiety provoking) non-verbal storytelling.
Ramesh Meyyanpann: Off Kilter
Manipulate Festival also provides a platform for emerging artists and work-in-progress with Snapshots and Testroom. These short performances allow feedback to be solicited at various stages in development, and provides good opportunity for audiences to see and shape future productions. Among the fledgling works were some stand out performances, notably ‘Hand//Shake’ by Katie Armstrong, a short dance performance executed with great expertise and humour, and ‘Rendition’ by Freda O’Byrne from the Curious School of Puppetry, which is shaping up to be a moving production that will shine a light on the de-humanising practices detainees have been subjected to on CIA detention.
We ended our festival experience on a truly magical note, with whimsical, warming works from France’s Velo Theatre and Flop & ATH Associés. ‘Dal Vivo’ from acclaimed performance artist Flop, brought beautiful animation to still life with the ingenious use of projection through all manner of quirky apparatus, fashioned from everyday objects. Yet the pièce de résistance for me was Velo Theatre’s ‘The Frog at the Bottom of the Well Believes that the Sky is Round’ – an enchanting performance experience that offers a slice of childhood that is simply unforgettable.
Dave Brain is a visual effects artist, one half of ‘Guksack‘ and son of the late stop motion animator, Terry Brain. As part of our Bristol Festival of Puppetry’s tribute to his father’s career and creations, we premiered two episodes from the brand new series Weirdy Ryhmes created by Terry Brain and produced posthumously by Dave and animator Michael Percival. Weirdy Ryhmes has since launched on Aardman’s new YouTube channel, AardBoiled this October. We caught up with Dave to find out more about the series and how it was created and produced.
Weirdy Rhymes was a programme idea of your late father, Terry Brain, who was an accomplished stop motion animator, writer and director. How did the idea come about?
Originally Weirdy Rhymes was to be a book. Back in the early 90s, fresh off of writing the Stoppit and Tidyup Annual (with Steve Box) he was asked if he had any more ideas. He’d been creating his own version of classic rhymes for years so must have followed from that. It was originally called Hungry Dumpty and was to be a parody nursery rhyme book.
Terry Brain animating on the set of ‘Curse of the Were-Rabbit’. Photo: Aardman Animations
As time went on it was developed further. By the late 1990s they’d created a pilot for a prospective children’s TV show called The House that Fnord Built. It was a gorgeous 2D animation and – if memory serves me rightly – the music was done by the same guy who did the Postman Pat theme.
Eventually it became Weirdy Rhymes and the same episode has been reshot in stop motion with new music. Keep an eye out for The Slimey Sniffin’ Snork, that’s the one that’s been made twice! I will dig out the original one day. We arrive at a version for the modern generation, short and surreal YouTube videos! But his surreal humour remains. I like the way one episode is a beautiful piece of work and the next is about a creature whose arse keeps falling off. Sums up my dad’s mind.
Still from Weirdy Rhymes
You decided to carry on with the production of Weirdy Rhymes and teamed up with the animator Michael Percival to continue this work. Can you tell us about this?
It was Michael Percival (who we call Percy) who convinced my Dad he could make Weirdy Rhymes. Technology had gotten to a point where you could make this kind of stuff at home. And while TV did pop up as a format, there is a creative freedom and potential international audience that spurred things on after nearly three decades.
Even though I’ve worked in a similar field (as a Visual Effects artist), we had never worked together. With Weirdy we finally had a chance to work together. When Dad became ill and we became brave enough to talk about the future, he gave us a brief list of people he’d like to continue the work if there was an option to. Once Dad passed (quite quickly and unexpectedly in the end, so there was no plan in place) it seemed like a no brainer to get them done.
Still from Weirdy Rhymes
We turned on his home studio to find that he’d filmed ten episodes. It was up to us to make sense of his various bits of animation and much like a jigsaw with no reference picture, we have spent the year trying to put them together. I think we presumed it would take a couple of months but here we are nearly two years later. I’m actually writing this in the middle of a deadline to get the next one done! Even though they are in mid release we are still very much working on them day and night. Percy has been great in getting these pieces together and Andy, who does the music, has been great at making wonderful soundtracks to bits of animation that were animated to my Dad tapping on a table as a beat. I have been trying to get the last bits of post-production together, the easy bit really.
Aardman have been great. Dad’s work home for much of the last two decades, they have been trying to get a YouTube channel off the ground for some years now. It was something Dad talked with them about so we knew he’d be happy to be a part of it. And once we talked with them, it was again a no brainer.
Still from Weirdy Rhymes
The first episodes of Weirdy Rhymes have just been screened on Aardman’s new YouTube channel, AardBolied. How does it feel to see the finished work and when will further episodes be released?
There are now four episodes online. It’s been absolutely amazing to get them out finally and I am over the moon that Dad got a last opportunity to make something of his own (after a long time of working on other peoples projects, which was great, but we knew he had more ideas in him.) I’m just gutted that he hasn’t been able to see any of it.
Round and Round the Phnnty Phnnnt | Weirdy Rhymes - YouTube
We are nearly half way through the run, which are being staggered out every couple of weeks. Dad had a 30 episode plan and if there’s call for it, we have enough notes to go on to complete the rest. But we will see. For now we will focus on the ones that Dad animated himself.
Resident artist Lucy Heard is a performer, events organiser and producer. She works as ‘Doris Rocks’, where she focuses on all manner of creative and inventive happenings. We caught up with her to find out how she got involved in this work, who exactly ‘Doris’ is and what plans she has for the foreseeable.
You have an incredibly diverse background, from street performance to mental health advocacy. How did you get involved in these activities? How do they relate?
I’ve always been creative and making art, even when I spent years working as a recruitment consultant I would go on courses in printmaking, singing and burlesque. In 2009 I met Liz Clarke and worked on the Gallery Of Superheros and Alteregos, which was exhibited at the Tobacco Factory.
It really opened my eyes to what I could do and create. I had no idea that this collaboration would develop in too deep friendships, further explosions of work and the guts to have a total career change.
Since the Gallery, we have worked together on the Compendium of Superheros and Alter Egos and Liz’s show Cannonballista. The compendium is a graphic novel developed using live art and written by a group of women with mental health issues. Together we, recruited and employed an artist to make our vision into a book.
Cannonballista is a live cannonball show which Liz has been developing over many years. I worked with Liz on the show while developing who took part in the show. Working with personal objects to draw out characters has always been at the core of the work I have done with her.
While my heart loves the performance aspects, my head knows that I am far better off stage, taking a more project management/producer role. I moved into Puppet Place nearly 2 years ago with a view to making more and developing all the characters I have worked on with Liz (and others) into puppets. Finding time to work on something for me is really a challenge as there is so much else going on.
Who is Doris? What kinds of events do you organise and for who?
I am Doris, the name comes from a nickname that I was given several years ago by a housemate who called everyone’s girlfriends ‘Doris’ because he couldn’t keep up with the ever-changing names. One year I got more birthday cards for Doris than I did for me! It came from Peter Cook and Dudley Moore sketch.
I used to work on lots of vintage and burlesque hen parties and theatre events, providing event assistance/management or workshops. This work has developed a lot over the past few years and now mainly work for Bath Spa Live on music, poetry and dance events, alongside producing fire performances and street theatre for Juggling Inferno and Circii.
Is there an event that you’re particularly excited about this Christmas and New Year? How will you spend Christmas Day?
I’ve been working on Christmas events since July – I’ll be quite glad when its all over! I love everyone’s enthusiasm for things, until I tell them how much it will cost to put an aerial act in or the ghost of Christmas past on stilts.
I head off on retreat in January when I don’t have to look at a computer, answer the phone or talk for a week and on Christmas Day, I will see my family in the morning and have a snooze in the afternoon.
Do you have any new year resolutions? Any plans in the pipeline for 2018?
More self-development, my most recent superhero character was about connecting with people using eye contact and being seen. I’m currently working with Holly Stoppit to look at my inner critic and this is giving me plenty to work with.
And there is always my secret puppet army to build..!
We wrap up our series of articles following Puppet Place Associate Artists as they get their work in production and out on tour with a review of an incredible year by Katie Underhay from Mumblecrust Theatre, as she reflects on how far her now award-winning show, The Tale of the Cockatrice has come in just twelve short months – from scratch performance to UK tour.
You’ve had quite a busy year in 2017. What have been the highlights for you? Have you met your goals or even exceeded your expectations?
We certainly have! This time last year we did our scratch performance of The Tale of the Cockatrice at the Lyric, Bridport, to try out new ideas and get feedback from kids and parents about what is working, what else they’d like to see, etc, which we took on board ready for the new year. In 2017, we wanted to take the show to Brighton and Edinburgh Fringe. We knew that it would be an incredible amount of hard work and cost an awful lot of money.
So we set some very specific aims: get some reviews and press/industry feedback; invite programmers from venues and touring agencies to get our tour up and running; to have these two big festivals in our show and company’s history and to promote our show and company’s name with audiences. It’s safe to say, we certainly achieved those things. Our absolute highlight this year, which came as a total surprise, was winning our two awards at Brighton Fringe: “Voice’s Best Newcomer” and “IYAF’s Best of Brighton Fringe: Children and Families Award”. That certainly ticked our ‘press/industry feedback’ box, as did the 5-star review from The Voice! After our success in Brighton, it was much easier to approach programmers to see the show in Edinburgh and we had quite a few come along and book us for 2018!
The Tale of the Cockatrice - Mumblecrust Theatre - Trailer (Theatre Shop, Clevedon) - YouTube
What are your plans for the Christmas/New Year season? What’s special about this season? How will you spend Christmas Day?
Christmas is always a busy time for us but this year is even crazier! Up until Christmas Eve, I’ll be performing in Stuff and Nonsense’ 3 Little Pigs at the Lighthouse in Poole. We were approached by Theatre Shop, a venue very close to home in Clevedon, North Somerset, to perform The Tale of the Cockatrice a few days before Christmas. I was quite frankly gutted because I knew I’d be away at that time. Thankfully we managed to rearrange to the 28th & 29th December, so that week is going to be insane!
Photo: Kirsten McTernan
Finishing off the 3 Little Pigs run, travelling back to my family in Banwell for Christmas and Boxing Day, then two days later performing our show the first time since Edinburgh in August! We’re so excited to be performing the show in Clevedon. It’s the first time we’ve brought it to North Somerset, my home county – and Clevedon is the town my mum grew up in! So it’s very close to my heart. It’s also the first chance a lot of my friends will see the show. One of my oldest friends from the drama group I went to as a kid, a friend from my Performing Arts BTEC, my cousins and their children, even my GCSE drama teacher! I’m really looking forward to it.
Photo: Kirsten McTernan
What plans do you have for the New Year? What would you like to achieve? Do you have any resolutions?
In 2018 we’d really like to take this show all over the country and keep promoting for 2019. We already have tour dates in London, Cheltenham and Hertfordshire; we’re going back to Brighton Fringe and we’re returning to the Lyric in Bridport with the finished show and a puppetry workshop. I don’t think we’ve come up with any resolutions yet, but a lot of plans; some things we need to implement and some crazy ideas that might come to pass. We’ve been talking a lot about plans for a new show but I don’t know if 2018 is the year for that. 2017 has been full of surprises so I couldn’t even speculate what’s going to happen next year!
Photo: Eleanor Kelly
What advice would you have for artists who might be anxious about trying to get a puppetry show produced and on the road?
We really didn’t expect the kind of reception we got at Brighton Fringe. And from then all the things we were struggling to get (dialogues with programmers, press coverage) became so much easier. It really has been a kind of snowball effect. Getting that first bit of recognition was so important for a new company that doesn’t have many contacts within the industry – yet!
When we started, we had a vague idea to do a family show about this old cockatrice myth and decided that we’d apply for every festival we found until we got accepted. Then we’d create it. This was what we really needed to get ourselves moving but was a stupid idea at the same time! We got accepted by the first one we applied to, we didn’t have nearly enough time and we were getting more and more elaborate with our ideas as time started to run out. So I think the advice I’d give to people would be to find that “deadline” so that you have a goal but to give yourselves plenty of time. Within a week of being accepted, we were being asked for a logo and marketing copy (for a show that didn’t yet exist) and then were being asked for risk assessments, posters, flyers, press releases and a thousand forms to fill out.
Photo: Eleanor Kelly
Never underestimate the amount of admin there will be and make sure you make time for it. And don’t let yourselves be rushed with the creative side! Also remember that there really is no deadline for the show to be perfect. We’re still coming up with ideas to improve the show, a year and a half after we started and 6 months after we got a 5 star review! We also have a lot of friends who have their own companies – some a few years ahead of us, some 10 years ahead of us – and these people were invaluable for advice and support. We’ve been sent example versions of press releases and tech riders and all those sorts of things you don’t even know you’ll need until you’re asked for it!
We’re very much looking forward to creating our next show, taking on board everything we’ve learned this time around, and every festival and venue we go to gets easier and easier, because we already have these important things in place.
Read the full story about the development of ‘The Tale of the Cockatrice‘ in previous Puppet Place News Blog interviews with Katie Underhay ( August 2016 & June 2017.) Find out more about Katie’s work and Mumblecrust Theatre at their website: www.mumblecrust.com and join them on Facebook for the latest news.
Puppet Place Associate Artist Scheme: Offers a range of benefits to artists including: discounted tickets to all Puppet Place events; reduced rates for rehearsal and fabrication space hire; dedicated training and skills sharing; the latest job/funding information and promotional services via our online network; and a forum to exchange ideas and connect with other artists. To become a Puppet Place Associate Artist, contact Rachel at Rachel@puppetplace.org or phone on 0117 929 3593.
Jacqueline Avery is the Artistic Director at The Makeshift Ensemble in Dorset and a member of the Alzeimers Society’s two million strong army of Dementia Champions and Dementia Friends. She is also a Puppet Place Associate Artist. It was therefore an honour for me to interview Jacqueline, and find out more about the new dementia themed show she is currently working on.
Jackie is a choreographer, performer, puppet maker, teacher and a full time mum to boot. I caught up with her during rehearsals for her two current projects, Sofa, a dementia themed show and associated workshops she devised together with her co-creator Laurence Aldridge, and their new children’s puppet show, The Children In The Moon, planned for 2018. Sofa has been supported by the Arts Council and is being made in partnership with Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham and Heartbreak Productions.
Hi Jackie, thanks for agreeing to this interview. May I start by asking what came before Makeshift Ensemble in 2015?
My training is largely in physical theatre and contemporary dance and working with the body to create story and image. After graduating from Plymouth University in 2005, I was fortunate enough to cut my directing teeth under the mentorship of Kneehigh Theatre writer Carl Grose for the Jonah Lie Project, a collaborative piece performed with core Kneehigh members at The Hall for Cornwall more than a decade ago. There followed stints with Quicksilver Theatre (in association with Lighthouse, Poole) and some workshopping and choreography with Marc Bruce. I helped re-imagine Shakespeare with Tim Supple and most recently I have worked with physical theatre pioneer David Glass, learning about the nature of creative practice and how to embed this into my work. Since then have I worked as a performer, director and teacher across the UK.
MakeShift was formed in 2015 after a stint of writing and directing for other touring companies. I decided to bite the bullet and establish my own ensemble with Laurence Aldridge, a wonderful actor-musician who performed in a reworked version of The Tinderbox I had written.
Laurence Aldridge is the Ensemble’s chief collaborator and music maker
How did puppets come to be such a large part of your work ?
Puppetry has always fascinated me, there’s something about the in-between world they inhabit and our ability to invest our stories and deep rooted feelings in them. For me, working with them is a natural progression from performing with my own body. It is a dance expressed through another channel. I never design my puppets before I start making them, I let them do their own thing and tell me who they are, then there is a brilliant moment when you can greet each other for the first time!
Still from 2015 tour of ‘Tinderbox’ written and directed by Jacqueline. Photo by Andy Sherlock
Your new show Sofa explores the world of memory and dementia. Where did the idea for this show come from and how did you set about making an idea into a real thing?
The idea sprang from tidying up after my children! They used to destroy the kitchen sofa regularly when creating dens, boats, cars etc. out of it. I started to think about when and why we lose that desire to play as we grow, and what roles a sofa plays as we go through life. It becomes a place to rest, talk, entertain, make love and to comfort, as well as a treasure chest of loose change and things you thought you’d lost forever.
Sofa - YouTube
That led me to thinking about memory and how we choose to remember. Our brains can do a million things with memories including completely rewrite them, and the differences between shared memories can be astonishing. Sofa explores that idea a lot. From here there was an organic progression to exploring dementia, not necessarily as an illness but simply another way the brain chooses to process memory. This isn’t to say we don’t deal with the realities of living with and caring for those with dementia, it’s important not to skim over that, but the focus is on the role of memory and ‘unmemory’ and what it means as we grow.
To explore this in performance we had a bespoke sofa made that is essentially the stage from which we tell the story of two siblings whose father had dementia, the sofa holds many secret compartments and is used to make other worlds just as we do as kids. The sofa is the constant keeper of a thousand memories, every stain, every indent, every old pair of knickers pulled out from behind a cushion…
In rehearsal for ‘Sofa’
Have you engaged in other creative activities with people living dementia before this show?
Earlier this year I completed training with Arts 4 Dementia in order to lead theatre workshops for those with early stage dementia and their carers. What struck me about the training is the assumptions we make about those with the illness, an idea that has weaved its way into Sofa. From that training I developed the ‘I AM’ workshop – preserving identity through drama and story sharing, which was trialled at ‘The Reawakening Festival through Arts 4 Dementia’ in May this year. The response was very encouraging and we met some fantastic characters whose enthusiasm to express themselves, their self-identity and their fears was really rewarding. Having said this, it was a struggle to gain trust from the dementia community in the first instance and continues to be a challenge as the project develops. We are working hard to tackle the hurdle and as we pick up support from various bodies along the way. We have faith that delivering the workshop will be a lot easier in the future.
Sofa and the associated workshops, are based on real life experiences and stories. Can you elaborate on this?
As artists it’s very hard not to create from your own experiences and, as such there is a strong auto biographical thread running through Sofa. Laurence and I spoke at length about the reality of bringing our personal experiences to the stage and gave each other a lot of permissions on what was and wasn’t too close to the bone. Laurence’s father had Parkinson’s and Parkinson’s related dementia. My Grandmother had Alzheimer’s and lived with my family throughout a large proportion of it. So, yes we have a lot of first-hand experience. I suspect it would feel odd if we tried to tell this story without it. Like it’s not our place. We also opened the research out to others and have had some great stories back in return, the anecdotes are always told with tears and smiles, just as a good memory should.
Playing at den making in ‘Sofa’
What would success for this show look like?
For me success is defined by all the little mini goals reached along the journey; meeting new creatives, having a puppet that doesn’t fall apart in rehearsals, working with great mentors, achieving support from others to champion the play and the workshops. In terms of the long game, it’s definitely about confronting and breaking down the stigma of dementia by looking at the playful role of memory. The workshops can go on to have a life independent of the play and I believe there is no end to the good they can do, especially in reaffirming self-identity. If another performance sprouts from it in a few years time then I’d love to delve deeper into what the world of memory and dementia has to offer!
You are touring your show The Children in the Moon in the summer of 2018. Would you like to say a few things about this show?
Yes! So, alongside more challenging pieces of theatre like Sofa, my passion for storytelling and fairy tales see’s us creating a family show that tours festivals and theatres throughout the summer months. Next year’s offering is The Children in the Moon, which is loosely based on the story of Jack and Jill, but woven together with snippets of other age old nursery rhymes and folk tales. It is brought to life by a giant teapot of tales which opens up to reveal a magical table top puppetry stage. As with all our work, the narrative hints towards important issues faced in today’s world, The Children in the Moon looks at diversity. Our last family piece Fox and Rabbit’s idiot’s guide to The Owl and The Pussycat championed the plight of bees, and we handed out wild flower seeds, in association with Friends of the Earth, as part of the performance.
I like to try and end on a positive, motivational quote from successful artists where I can. What good advice would you now offer to either your younger self or to any new and emerging artists who are just starting out on their career hoping to achieve the success you have ?
Always look for new creative ways to develop and deliver your work, make connections and never stop learning. The world is rich with ideas, stories and characters waiting to manifest themselves through your work so never stop searching. I have a notebook full of stories and ideas that keeping tapping me on the shoulder asking if it’s their turn yet. But it’s also about focusing in and concentrating on one thing at a time, I would’ve told my younger self to do that a long time ago, I often have to remind my adult self.
Corina Duyn is a creator based in Ireland who’s mastery of a wide range of art forms would in itself be an inspiration to anyone, yet is made all the more impressive when her challenges with Myalgic Encephalopathy, sometimes better known as Chronic fatigue Syndrome (CFS), are taken into account.
Although we were sadly too late to include her film Life Outside The Box in our BFP17 programme of films at the Watershed, this highly acclaimed work, facilitated with her fellow members of the Irish Wheelchair Association (IWA) at the Dungarvan Resource Centre is the most recent in a long line of artistic successes. We caught up with Corina to find out more about this incredible artist.
Hello Corina, and thank you for taking the time to speak to us today. May I start by asking a little bit about your background and how you came to be involved with puppets?
Yes, of course. I grew up in Holland and started making dolls from the age of 10, later going on to train with the amazingly talented and renown doll maker Marlaine Verholst. I went on to study nursing and social care and moved to Lismore in Ireland in 1990. It was there I started to become known for making my clay ‘Fantasy Folk’ dolls. These dolls found there way into collections around the world including Holland, Japan, Australia, Canada and the USA.
My last major commission in 1997/98 before my illness was for the Waterford Crystal company where I made fifteen 30cm dolls of the people on their factory floor. My then partner and I made all the machinery to scale and Waterford Crystal contributed by supplying glass at each stage of the manufacturing process to the same scale as the dolls. This commission was displayed in their visitor centre for several years with the dolls and one piece of the beautiful miniature glass being returned to me when the company sadly closed. It was also at this time I started to teach puppet making to students from Finland and to a group here in Ireland. It was then in 1998 that my health deteriorated significantly with the onset of ME/CFS.
You mentioned your illness, what is ME and how does it affect you as an artist?
ME/CFS is an inflammation of the brain & spinal cord. It is a complex and debilitating illness involving neurological and endocrinal dysfunction with immune system dysregulation that is not improved by bed rest and can worsen with physical or mental exertion. In the beginning I would be very tired and feel ill, like I had a bad case of the flu which some months later evolved to include muscle pain, starting in my toes and slowly travelling up into the rest of my body. As the illness progressed my brain functions started to be affected, I couldn’t read, couldn’t write, my memory became poor and I became clumsy and uncoordinated even with simple tasks like opening the door with a key. My journey through this time is told in part in a documentary made in 2003 by my friend David Begley and can be seen here and here. In 2006, Katie Lincoln produced a second documentary covering my journey though my illness called Flight Path, which accompanied my first book Hatched.
Still from ‘Life Outside the Box’
When I first started drawing after the onset of my illness I might have 5 or 10 minutes of energy to get things down on paper which later improved to half an hour. It was somewhat frustrating to get excited about a piece, wanting to see the finished article but having to stop after half an hour when you really wanted to just keep going.
Life Outside The Box - YouTube
There is a common reoccurring theme of eggs and birds in flight in your paintings and drawings. Does this have some significance to your illness?
Yes, it was a drawing of an egg that made me realise I had been granted a new life. I can really relate my illness to the process of an egg hatching and my being a small little bird in a nest that still requires care even though I am fully grown and then needing flying lessons to leave the nest. I would sometimes get really ill if someone came near me with a virus or illness and I needed the protection the eggshell provided. One of the things I did to help me fly the nest so to speak was to send ‘MEme’, a stuffed Penguin, together with a diary and a disposable camera to friends and they would keep a diary of what ‘we’ have done and take photographs as they travelled the world. This has allowed me to visit friends and family in Holland, take part in a sponsored walk in Eritrea and go to America and Canada as well as lots of other places. One day I hope to retrace her journey for real.
You have been very prolific as an artist in many mediums, painting & drawing, sculpture, writing and poetry, doll making and even weaving. How important are puppets to your work at the moment?
Very much so. Following on from the 6 months of work I did on the ‘Life Outside The Box’ project with the Irish Wheelchair Association, I was invited to speak at the ‘Broken Puppet’ Symposium on Puppets, Disability and Health at UCC in Cork. Our video has now been shown on Irish national TV and at the Disability Film Festival ‘Picture This’ in Canada. Attending the symposium was like stepping into a completely new world and yet when I entered it, and moved about with open eyes and ears, I realised I had been part of this amazing, creative, fun, healing, and astonishing place for pretty much all my life.
The engagement of people with disabilities with puppets, not only as a form of therapy, but as creators and artists in their own right is something that can be transformative. Listening to the stories and speakers at the event has only served to reinforce to me what a powerful, evocative and meaningful role puppets have played in peoples lives throughout the years and will continue to do so long into the future.
I have now returned to teaching puppet making, in small groups and by social media/email. Only for one and a half hours a week at the moment but what great fun it is. I am improving my ability to set my own limits to what I can do and enjoying finding ways to enable my students to work on their own puppets in my studio, or in their own homes. The healing effect of teaching puppet making is not something that might bring about a miraculous recovery from my illness, although one would be very welcome however it came about, but it is bringing a new energy into my life and who can say where that will lead.
Thank you so much for sharing your story with us Corina. Is it puppets, puppets, puppets all the way now?
Absolutely. My return to teaching puppet making and the experience of the symposium and discussions around disability and health has created an energy and enthusiasm that will take me onto the next stage of my journey.