A Life in Puppetry: An Interview with Ronnie Le Drew

As a member of The British Puppet & Model Theatre Guild myself, it is indeed an honour to have been asked by our editor Emma Windsor to interview our new President, Ronnie Le Drew, for the Puppet Place Newsletter.  His record of achievement and successes in the world of puppets, gained over a lifetime in the business, is inspirational. As a performer, theatre maker, director and teacher, he has performed at festivals, theatres, in film and on television from where he is probably best know for being Zippy from Rainbow. His new, crowd-funded book, ‘Zippy & Me’ is a delightful and fascinating peek behind the scenes of a much loved iconic puppet show.

Interview by Stephen B Watters

You have had a hand in, if you’ll pardon the pun, a great many of the abiding memories of my childhood through your work with puppets. It appears puppetry has a timeless, magical appeal for audiences of all ages. Why do you think that is?

dsc_1442Puppets, like dolls, have a link to everybody’s childhood. We probably spoke our most private thoughts to our dolls or teddy bears even before telling our parents. That makes them a very important part of our early lives.  When we grow up we are reminded of this fact when we see a puppet show. The strong characters and stories take us back to that time, which in most cases is a positive experience. As adults watching puppets perform we are reminded subconsciously of those childhood memories.

We live in a very nostalgic age where television and film has prolonged the puppet influence in our lives. The repeats of puppet programmes, the building of puppet theatres, the many puppetry organisations such as your own at Puppet Place, as well as puppets being used in mainstream theatre, keeps the magical appeal of the puppet alive. Long may it last.

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You have recently been elected to President of BPMTG and are a recipient of their prestigious Harlequin Award.  What are your plans and ambitions for the Guild as president?

I was delighted to be unanimously voted the new President of BPMTG. As a 14 year old child, I first became a member and to be asked to be President of the oldest puppet organisation in the world, is indeed an honour. I would like to see BPMTG expand its membership, (I think all presidents would say this.)  We now have a Facebook page, which has helped membership enlarge and our new website has lots of links of interest plus video clips of recent happenings. Well worth a look !

I am very pleased that the Guild’s meetings are not London-centric, but are spread all over the country which gives opportunities for all members to meet. Our membership has both young and older members and it’s always a pleasure to see the older more experienced sharing their knowledge with the youngest.

We are celebrating 92 years of the Guild this year and have a number of events planned to celebrate this significant event. You can find out more about them by looking at the website or becoming a member and receiving our bi-monthly newsletter and wonderful magazine, ‘The Puppet Master’.

I am also delighted our archivist Michael Dixon was able to show some of the Guild’s collection in a room given to us by the Bantock House Museum in Wolverhampton. Starting off with the wonderful Lanchester marionettes then an exhibition called ‘Puppets and the World of Mr Punch’. Performances were given and the collaboration continues. News will be published in the Guild’s newsletter.

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Your association with the Little Angel Theatre has been as long, if not longer, than your association with the BPMTG. May I ask about your work with this theatre, especially the work you do with disadvantaged communities and artist development?

1235379_303147893159676_425096219_nActually, I was a Guild member before I discovered the Little Angel Theatre. Way back in June 1963 I had my first visit to the theatre. After seeing the show and meeting the puppeteers, I knew this was not only what I wanted to do as a hobby, but as a full time job.

In July 1963 I started my professional career as a puppeteer. 53 years later, I share the role of Honorary Associate with Lyndie Wright. My main work in the theatre, when I’m not performing in shows, is teaching on the many adult classes, particularly the foundation course, as well as specific courses on operating puppets which is my forte.  The foundation course is for adults, but under the Little Angel banner, I have visited schools and colleges around the country so cover all age groups.

The theatre holds a regular Summer party open to the local community. I am often to be found there having a fantastic time demonstrating puppets.  The theatre provides disability concessions and companion tickets, wheel chair space and has relaxed and captioned performances. I’m not full time at the Little Angel, as the policy of the theatre regarding puppeteers is we work on a freelance basis.

One of the new ideas we are trying this year is an evening for people to come to London’s Hidden Gem, where I am on hand to show clips of the theatre’s archive from its start to the present day. Visitors get to meet the puppets and a tour of the theatre, finishing off with a glass of wine. The 20th February and 14th March are the dates planned so far.

What advice would you offer to new and emerging puppet artists?

dsc_1441I had an advantage as a young puppeteer living in London because of the existence of the Guild and The Educational Puppetry Association, which later became The Puppet Centre.  It enabled me to visit these organisations to find out more about puppetry.

Today we have the internet for artists to find who and where their nearest puppet organisation is. Go see them, get involved. Puppeteers UK is a also great place to find like minded puppeteers and performers.   See as many shows as you can. If you are brave enough, go backstage and talk to the puppeteers, but try not to get in their way if they are packing up.

Visit libraries and museums. Most have puppets in their collections. Search social media for groups  you can join. The internet is a wonderful tool for today’s up and coming puppeteers. But don’t forget see live puppet performances to really ignite your passion.


For more information about Ronnie, visit his website, Facebook and Twitter.  Keep up-to-date with news about his forthcoming book ‘Zippy & Me’ at unbound.com and find out more about his own and other forthcoming puppet performances and events at the Little Angel Theatre’s website.  You can also find out more and join the British Puppet & Model Theatre Guild via their website.

Micro-Puppet Man of the Moment: An Interview with Barney Dixon

Barney Dixon has recently taken the internet by storm with his highly innovative and astonishing micro-puppetry.  His videos, which have reached millions of viewers worldwide, are charming vignettes that feature his characters Dabchick, Raptor and MANU.  He also joined us for our Generator 16 fundraiser event last year, where he and his dinosaur entertained our enchanted audience.  We caught with him to find out where his fascination with puppetry stems from, how he comes up with his designs and what might be next for him and his extraordinary creations.

 

b-dixon_croppedWhat is your background?  Where does the fascination with puppetry come from?

My professional background is in stop-motion animation, my shift to puppetry has been relatively recent. My interest in both comes from a similar place, which is (in part) a fascination with movement. However puppetry can be created in real time, which is a new and exciting concept for me.

 

 

You create smaller puppets with unconventional mechanisms, often involving your hands.  How did this come about?  How do you come up with these ideas?

People use their hands a lot and practice regularly with them in their day to day tasks. Designing puppets that fit (or partially consist of) our own hands, capitalizes on our skill with them. The scale of the puppets is a result of that approach. The unconventional mechanisms I use might be partially a result of lack of knowledge regarding conventional puppetry mechanics, this forces me to be creative. Also my understanding of stop-motion armature construction (although not entirely the same) does help.

In terms of coming up with ideas and concepts, it usually starts with my hands.  What shapes and actions they can make with relative comfort and is there a particular form this could lend itself to. Ideas can also come in the construction process. The aim is always to make the puppet as dynamic as possible, in its articulation and movement possibilities.

 

 

You had some stellar success online recently when a video of one of your creations went viral.  How did that feel?  What plans do you have in the pipeline ?

I was certainly surprised, although there are many controllable factors that make a video go viral, the final (and most important) one is luck. The experience was overwhelmingly positive in every way you might expect. However it’s not an easy thing to go through, especially as suddenly as it all happened. People were trying to contact me constantly, and the motives weren’t always that clear. My inbox and brain space was full to bursting for about two weeks and sleeping for that time was also a challenge. I don’t generally focus on the negatives but it’s a side of the experience that was really unexpected, so perhaps worth mentioning for that fact.

This set the ball rolling for a lot of opportunities that seem to be coming my way, many of which are still confidential. However I can now tell you that I took part in a televised international puppetry competition called ‘Die Puppenstars’, that was aired on the German RTL network in late January.

Interview by Emma Windsor

 

 


You can keep up with Barney’s work via his YouTube Channel and support him via his Patreon page.  He’s also to be found on Facebook and Twitter.   

Moving Parts: An Interview with Kerrin Tatman

At the end of March a brand new puppetry festival will be held in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.  Spanning six days across five venues, the ‘Moving Parts’ Newcastle Puppetry Festival is geared at providing inspiring visual theatre experiences for adults, teens, children and families, as well as emerging artists and experienced practitioners.  We chatted with Co-Festival Artistic Director, Kerrin Tatman about how this ambitious project came about, what’s in store and what he is most looking forward to in this brand new line up. 

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Moving Parts is a brand new festival.  What is the background to getting this project off the ground?  How did it come about?

3eaf8c_61cc801c0b83446db45374bf63dc5047mv2‘Moving Parts: Newcastle Puppetry Festival’ was founded by William Steele and I through frustration of the lack of opportunities within puppetry and visual theatre in the North East, both through professional training and programming choices for the public. Will is a puppeteer, trance mask expert and maker, and co-runs Space Six in the city centre that gives performing artists space to work and develop. My background in puppetry comes from being Anna Ingleby’s assistant during the 2014 and 2016 Beverley Puppet Festivals. Outside the art form, I am a freelance creative producer, musician, and work for Circus Central as their Funding and Project Development Manager.

The festival aims to change the face of the North East visual theatre scene in artistic experience, training and through education to produce a new generation of puppeteers and artists. Through programming a diverse line up of contemporary puppetry with a focus on adults, we want to showcase the art form as progressive, enjoyable for all, transportive, and accessible.

We were lucky enough to be awarded a small grant from the Arts Council to get the project off the ground and since receiving the funds the festival has grown and grown thanks to further funding and support. We have big plans for the annual event, and want to incorporate more outdoor performances, international artists and really large-scale work. I am working with my partner Matt Wood to set up a permanent puppetry and visual theatre space near the city centre, which will become the core of the festival and secure Newcastle as a puppetry city.

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What do you think this festival will bring that is innovative or unique?
Who’s it aimed at?

The festival is predominantly aimed at adults, teenagers, emerging artists and professional practitioners, but also has a children’s puppetry strand and strong community engagement programme. We have tried to make the debut event as diverse as possible to reach different target groups, filled important gaps in the North East and UK puppetry scene, but also to enable us to experiment with what works best so we can strategically develop for the next installment in 2018.

Our talks programme includes Q+A sessions with our training practitioners, but also a Puppeteers UK Networking Meeting and a Puppetry/Visual Theatre Research Conference: “Giving Puppets A Voice”. The conference aims to explore puppetry in contexts such as mental health, anthropology within combined and applied arts, and history.  We will welcome papers from academics and non-academics, and performative disseminations as well as the more traditional.

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We have a number of competitions open to help artists develop and get further involved with the festival. These include a puppetry & stop-motion animation short film competition and an automata building competition, which also look to support under-represented art forms. At Cobalt Studios we are holding a puppetry & object manipulation open mic night, where artists at all stages in their career can take to the stage to demonstrate their skills. To give a festival feel, and to reach new audiences, we are programming live music and social events into the schedule, and are also pairing contemporary classical band Aether with Lori Hopkins to explore the relationship between music and puppetry – the results of which will be performed at the festival.

 

What’s on and what are you most excited to see?

As well as an exciting show programme at Northern Stage and Cobalt Studios that includes: Mirth & Misery, Stephen Mottram’s Animata, Flabbergast Theatre and Theatre Temoin, we are offering professional level training at Space Six in performance and making with Nick Barnes, Blind Summit Theatre, Steve Jarand, Stephen Mottram and Gavin Glover. We are also running a children’s strand including Sokobauno Theatre’s ‘The Little Fawn Caravan’, Lori Hopkin’s and the Scottish Mask & Puppet Centre.

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I am most excited to see what our Community Engagement project brings to the table, which includes a partnership with Crisis giving members masterclasses in stop-motion animation and mask making. The outputs of these workshops will be displayed at our festival hub Cobalt Studios, as well as a mask exhibition of 60 pieces through collaboration with Newcastle College. Our Education Project is also with the college and will partner puppeteer Alison McGowan with design and performance students, to produce a piece to be showcased at the festival following a week-long residency.

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Our ‘Moving Parts Blowout Party’ features Newcastle’s home-grown talent ‘Holy Moly & the Crackers’, whose gigs always get the whole room dancing. The audience is encouraged to come dressed as their favourite puppet or wearing elaborate masks and the best costume will be judged by the band’s accordionist and circus costume/stage designer, Rosie Bristow of Bristow & Sister.

Please help us make the first Moving Parts a success and spread the word about the festival! It depends on the support of the puppetry industry to recognise its importance geographically and through offering opportunities to artists and the community.

Hope to see you there!

 

Interview: Emma Windsor


 

Join ‘Moving Parts’ Festival on Facebook and Twitter for the latest information as it unfolds and visit the website for the full line up and to book tickets and passes.

 

Puppet Place Associate Artist Spotlight: A Strange New Space, Tessa Bide

This month, we are delighted to begin a series of articles following Puppet Place Associate Artists  Tessa Bide and Katie Underhay as they navigate the challenges of bringing a new puppet show from concept to public performance. By doing so we hope to give you an insight into the tremendous amount of hard work and know-how that is required to make a successful puppet show. We intend to  follow both shows from their early development through to the get-out of their last night wherever that might be. Both artists  are creating shows for younger children and families, and are currently applying for funding, attending scratch nights as well as starting to organise their programme of performances later in the year.

I caught up with Tessa after her scratch night at the Trinity Centre in Bristol  to ask about her show  ‘A Strange New Space’ and its story so far…

Interview by Stephen B Watters

Where did the original idea for A Strange New Space come from?

The original idea for ASNS came whilst in a dreamy fog at 5am one morning in bed when I should’ve been asleep. I had been thinking a lot about the refugee crisis and how I could use my skills to respond to it or help in any way and, having my routes in children’s theatre, I’d also wanted to have fun with a space-themed show for a while. I had the idea of using a space journey as a metaphor for a child refugee’s journey and it developed from there.

Who are the creative team behind the show?

We have an incredibly talented and experienced team working on this project. We have yet to announce the Development Director but the rest of the team are:

Claire Crawford – Assistant Producer and Co-Devisor
Matt Huxley – Musical Director
Bryn Thomas and Laura Street – Movement Directors
Sarah Dicks – Designer
Joe Stathers – Lighting Designer
Adam Fuller – R&D Director
Paul Blakemore and Sam Cleverly-  Photography & Promotional Film

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How did the show go from concept to performance?  What creative processes were employed in its development?

After a year of stewing, researching, fund application writing, partnership-securing and team sourcing, we R&D-ed the show in October 2016. We used a lot of games, physical exploration and improvisation, using live sound-scores as stimuli as the show has no dialogue.

For the first day or so we wrote down everything we’d expect or want to see in a space show then the same for a refugee’s journey. We paired up what could work together into the same motif. For example the anti-gravity sequence could work with a sea-sequence.  Our partners are a large local Primary School (May Park) and two local venues  (The Trinity Centre and Circomedia). The school partnership is really useful in devising material. I did a week of workshops with the pupils on the show’s themes, then when we were in rehearsal we showed excerpts of the material to the same kids and used their feedback to shape it into a show.

We go into the second Arts Council England-funded development stage in March and we’ll be using similar processes then.

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Your show was very well received by the audience.  Why did you choose to do a scratch show and how did you find and apply to be part of that particular event?  Did you get from it what you had hoped to?

I have performed at organised scratch nights in the past, but for this project I facilitated my own work-in-progress showing at the end of the R&D. Scratch nights are a great way of testing your early material to see if it’s road-worthy and going down the right track. If they are popular, high-profile nights like Tobacco Factory Theatres’ ‘Prototype’, they can also be a good way of getting early interest from bookers, partners and investors in your idea. To apply to perform at one of these nights  you only have to research the different schemes around and apply via their websites when they call for applications.

For ‘A Strange New Space’ I organised my own scratch performance at The Trinity Centre at the end of our R&D. The Trinity are partners with my company so they offer space and marketing in kind. Combined with my marketing I had a great turn-out of around 55 audience members and the feedback was invaluable. A lot of the feedback from the adults was that they would watch it as an adult show. This could’ve been worrying but the day previously I’d performed to all 900 pupils of May Park (aged 4 – 11) and they loved it so it actually proved its universality.

Other comments we received were “It’s clearly a show that comes with more than just to entertain. It makes me think of children in all different situations. Innocence and vulnerability.” and “I was most interested in the changing of locations and as to why she was traveling to all these places. I thought her change of mood from place to place was great and added to the intrigue as to what she was looking for.

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Putting on a show and touring is obviously an expensive thing to do. How have you gone about finding funding, what has been done already and what future funding sources are you hoping to tap into?

For ‘A Strange New Space’, as well as my other 3 shows, I was fortunate enough to be awarded Arts Council England Grants for the Arts funding twice.  Once for the initial R&D and then for the development of the production. This latest grant is my 7th consecutive successful grant, which is obviously incredibly lucky. To support this funding in the past, I’ve also received funding from local authorities, a patron and a charity as well as crowdfunding and fundraising through ticket and merchandise sales from my other shows.

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Looking forward to 2017, what are the plans for your show and how will you measure its success?

This year, the show is going into its development period in March with 4 weeks of rehearsal (including the production week) with the full creative team, at May Park Primary and The Trinity Centre. In this period we will be testing the material on the May Park pupils and a small invited audience at The Trinity, where we’ll host post-show feedback sessions to gauge the audience’s response.

The show will opening in London at the Clapham Omnibus on April 9th. It’s touring pretty much non-stop over the Easter holidays, going to 8 different venues, including Circomedia in Bristol on the 12th & 13th April. It will then tour sporadically through May to July.  At the moment I have a further 11 venues confirmed in that period. Then I’m hoping to take it to Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August. I took my other solo show, The Tap Dancing Mermaid, to Summerhall during the 2015 Fringe, which is where I’m aiming to showcase it to international bookers for an international tour in 2018. I’ve also been shortlisted for a Story of Space festival in Goa, India in October and November this year, so fingers crossed for that!

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The show’s success will be measured by audience reactions and reviews. At the end of every show I stay on stage and invite the audience to come and chat and I always find that a useful tool for gauging the success of the performance and what that audience got from it. I also issue feedback forms with a mailing-list sign up on. Edinburgh can be a brutal way to test-run the success of a new show because of the vast and diverse competition.  If you sell some tickets, you’re doing pretty well.

Thank you Tessa, one last question if I may. What words of encouragement and advice would you offer to any new artists thinking of making their own puppet show?

I think when figuring out how to start up making your first piece of theatre, it’s most useful to shadow someone else’s process and see what you think works and doesn’t work. This is something I did when I was younger and that I offer students and young people during my projects. I also found going to a lot of theatre networking events helpful as you start learning who the useful faces are where to tap into for advice and support. I’m a big advocate for Theatre Bristol and Puppet Place.  Both organisations have helped me out a lot in the past.


‘A Strange New Space’ will be touring from Easter 2017.  For further information about the show and tour dates, see Tessa Bide’s website.

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.

The Depraved Appetite of Tarrare the Freak: An Interview with Tobi Poster

Featuring over twenty puppets, a male soprano, virtuosic musicians and a thrilling original score by internationally renowned pianist and composer Tom Poster, The Depraved Appetite of Tarrare the Freak tells the extraordinary true story of one man’s quest to be human in a world that sees him as a monster.  I sat down with the show’s creator, writer and lead puppeteer, Tobi Poster, to find out where this crazy idea came from and the show’s forthcoming tour in Spring 2017.

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Photo: Barney Witts

Autopsies, amputated limbs, dead cats, international espionage and opera?!  How on earth did you come up with this as an idea for a puppetry show?

I found this incredible true story while lost on Wikipedia. My first thought was ‘how come no-one has ever turned this into a puppet opera?’  It seemed like such rich, fascinating source material, which somehow needed to be told through puppetry and music. It’s this grotesque, larger-than-life narrative, which somehow still manages to be very affecting on a human level.

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Photo: Guy Sanders

Wattle & Daub’s background is very much in devised and collaborative work, which I think definitely affected the way we approached the libretto and music. Myself and the composer ,Tom Poster, were writing music throughout what was partly a devising process, led by Laura Purcell-Gates and later by the director Sita Calvert-Ennals.  So we’d be responding to what had happened in development that week, or to discussions with story collaborator Hattie Naylor, or Dr Alan Bates, our pathology consultant – who really helped us get the feel of the autopsy, both in action and music.

Because we have two singers voicing a number of characters, Tom was particularly conscious of creating distinct soundscapes for each character, as well as making use of some of the more unusual parts of their vocal ranges.  It’s a different work than we would have created if we had been writing for human performers.

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Photo: Barney Witts

I was lucky enough to see a performance at the Bristol Festival of Puppetry 2015.  I’m looking forward to seeing how the production has evolved since then for the new tour in Spring 2017.  Where can I catch the show and what hopes do you have for the tour? 

We’ve mainly been exploring the framing of the piece, though I’m excited to get back in the rehearsal room and see what else we can discover.  We’re really pleased to be bringing it back to Tobacco Factory Theatres, who have been a vital part of the development of the show. We’re also delighted to be bringing it for a 3 week run to Wilton’s Music Hall, which feels like a perfect space for this multi-disciplinary work, as well as the North Wall and Bath Spa Live.

We’re looking forward to really bedding the show in over a longer run and getting the work out there. The response has been so strong including from people who didn’t think they liked opera or puppetry, which is so gratifying to hear.  However, perhaps the responses I’m most looking forward to are the visceral responses of disgust we always seem to get in certain moments..!

Interview by Emma Windsor


‘The Depraved Appetite of Tarrare the Freak ‘ will go on tour in early 2017 and will be at venues nationwide including, the Tobacco Factory Theatre, Bristol (25 – 28 Jan) ; Wiltons, London (30 Jan – 18 Feb) ; The North Wall, Oxford (08-09 March) and the Michael Tippet Centre – Bath Spa Live, Bath (10 March 2017).  For more information about the show, visit Wattle & Daub’s website at: http://www.wattleanddaub.co.uk

A Pickled Image Christmas: An Interview with Vicky Andrews

Formed in 2000, Pickled Image specialises in puppetry for live performance and theatre. Since its inception the company has gained international recognition and numerous awards for their darkly humorous visual productions.  I sat down with company co-director Vicky Andrews to talk about what they’ve been up to, what’s in store for Christmas and the latest show in development, ‘Yana and the Yeti’.

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What have Pickled Image been up to?

timthumb-phpWe have been rehearsing Christmas Tales with Granddad, a show we made last year for Cast Theatre in Doncaster.  It has a different cast then, Kathleen Lore and Simon Kerrigan.  Adam Fuller wrote the show, Dik (Downey) and I directed it.  This year I’m in it, doing all the roles that Kathleen did and Vic Llewellyn is operating the Granddad puppet.  We’ve got three shows at the Tropicana, Weston-Super-Mare on 03 – 04 December.  Followed by a run at the Quaterhouse, Folkstone from the 16 to 24 December.   Then we come back to Bristol for a run at the Christmas Speigeltent for 27 – 30 December.

So it’s a new team out on the road with the show.

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Still from animation for ‘Christmas Tales with Granddad’.
Illustration: Vicky Andrews. Animation: Emma Windsor, White Rabbit Animation

Granddad’s got a huge following in the UK because he’s been around for so long and he’s amongst the most successful puppet character that we’ve got.  The show’s for families with children aged 3 years +.  It’s a really fun family show and a great opportunity for the whole family to go out and enjoy themselves.


And how’s ‘Coulrophobia’ going..?

Well, we’ve just finished some very successful runs in the UK.  We had a great run at the Tobacco Factory Theatre, Bristol which completely sold out.  Then in February we’re off to Manipulate Festival in Scotland with a show on Saturday 04 February.  After that, we’re off to Greenwich Theatre in May; The Gulbenkian Theatre, Canterbury in April and we’ve got a week long tour in Norway with Nordland Visual Theatre, who co-produced it.   It’s been a very successful show, and it demonstrates another of our strengths.  Not only can we produce very popular family shows but also slightly risqué adult shows.  Both have a strong audience bases.

So Coulrophobia is going to be going as long as we can have it on the road!


And what’s in the pipeline..?

We are starting to make our new show, ‘Yana and the Yeti’, which is co-produced by Nordland Visual Theatre and funded by the Arts Council.  We go to Norway at the end of February for a month for rehearsals and it premieres there on 24 March.  It’s a family show with no spoken language, so we can tour the show internationally.  It’s about a little girl called Yana who has lost her Mum and ends up in a Siberian village on the outskirts of the mountains and forest.  She’s a refugee, placed with a mother who has five children of her own and is too busy to pay attention to Yana.  She’s an outsider, bullied by the village children.  Yana still believes that her mother is going to come back for her and the children use this to lure her into the forest near the outskirts of the village.  They leave her there, lost and alone.  She’s terrified as she can hear a wailing sound and can see a large figure looming towards her out of the darkness.  It’s a Yeti – and he’s also lost.  Although it’s a little scary to begin with, they both realise that there’s nothing to be scared of and end up keeping each other warm.

The villagers, of course, realise that Yana is missing and the story follows their journey to find her and bring her back safely to the village.  We’re working with Award winning playwright Hattie Naylor who is co-writing it with us.  Emma Lloyd, from Scopitone & Compagnie, is directing the show (she also directed ‘Houdini’s Suitcase’ back in 2006. )  Adam Fuller, Nikki Warwick and myself are performing.  Simon Preston is producing the music and Adam Laity is going to film some snowy scenes.

The show is for families with children 5 years +.  It might seem scary, but I think children are more sophisticated than we give them credit for.  It’s a careful balance, it won’t be ‘fluffy’ because that wouldn’t convey the themes, there has to be a slight edge to the work that children can handle and appreciate.  The themes are so poignant now with what’s happening with refugee children from Syria and other places.

There are so many displaced children who have lost their families, so it’s reflecting real life and those undertones are in the work.  Many children in the UK understand this. They might have refugee children at school, children from a different country who don’t speak their language and who look or behave a little differently.  So it’s relatable to in that regard.  Interestingly in Stamsund, Norway, where we are making the show, the hotel in this small community has been turned into a refugee centre.  So the location is in the middle of nowhere, in a small town where there are many refugees.  We hope to absorb some of these influences into the work.

We’ve also been involved in a completely different show, ‘Babe the Sheep-Pig’ with Polka Theatre.  Dik has been making some puppets and masks for the performance, working with a great team of makers, including Max Humphries, who made all the mechanisms for the puppets.  It’s been a really great experience for us.   So all-in-all we’ve been rather busy!

Interview by Emma Windsor


Christmas Tales with Granddad‘ can be seen at the Tropicana, Weston-Super-Mare from 03 – 04 Dec; The Quaterhouse, Folkstone from 16 – 24 Dec and the Christmas Speigeltent, Bristol from 27 – 30 Dec.  Coulrophobia will continue to tour next year 2017.  For further information about Pickled Image and their shows, see the website at: http://pickledimage.co.uk

Puppetry in Film & Theatre: An Interview with Joseph Wallace

Joseph Wallace is film and theatre director specialising in animation and puppetry. He is best known for his animated short films, which have received international acclaim and screened at numerous festivals around the world. He has written and directed over fifteen shorts since 2007 including puppet, object and cut out animation as well as live-action, dance and documentaries.

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Tell us about your practice.
What are the links between film and theatre for you?

My practice as a film and theatre director focuses predominantly on animation and puppetry where the puppet as a vessel for the audience is central to the pieces. I grew up with stop-motion animation and live-action puppetry in film and television alongside puppet theatre and that particular hand made approach has always held a lot of truth for me.

I have very little aptitude or desire for the world of computer animation as my passion lies in materials and the stories of objects.  I have a need to get my hands dirty. For me, puppet animation is an ultimate métier for the way it combines many of my preoccupations, from theatre and performance, to cinema and photography, as well as sculpture and painting.  It really is an alchemic medium where you are artist, technician and performer in one. I think animation and puppetry appeal to my interest in heightened and surreal aesthetics and both these mediums allow you to build the world from the ground up and invest in the symbolism and metaphor of the image.

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I’ve always seen theatre and animation as being very closely related. They both operate on a non-literal plane.  Animator Barry Purves once talked about both having a fluidity of space which I think is absolutely true. The film work I make tends to be theatrical and the theatre work conversely cinematic, so the two constantly inform and infuse the other.

I lecture about puppets on stage and screen at universities and I talk a lot about the tangible link between the two although often the approaches are very different. But certainly artists like Peter Greenaway and Patrick Bokanowski make what I would describe as very theatrical films and theatre companies like Complicité or the performer Al seed can often evoke a sense of cinema or animation. I think it’s important to constantly stalk the darkened corners of libraries for the often forgotten or largely obscure works. I’m consistently inspired by the lesser-known elements of well-known artists, for example the sculptures of Picasso, the short films of Man Ray or the collages of Max Ernst.


You were recently involved in the production of a stop-motion music video for the the band ‘James’.  How did that come about?

The music video ‘Dear John’ really came about through my colleague Péter Vácz who’s a Hungarian animator based in Budapest. We met whilst studying together on Animation Sans Frontières; a trans-European animation production course held at animation schools on the continent.  We developed a close collaboration, which has continued over the years. Péter and I have been an outside eye for each other on various projects, I’ve helped translate some of his pieces to English, we’ve made films together as well as a live show which was part theatrical-lecture, part screening and part music concert.

Péter had already made the video ‘All I’m Saying’ for James in 2014 through the production company Picasso Pictures in London and they liked that so much that he was invited him to do another and he brought me in to make it with him. We began by Skyping back and forth between London and Budapest whilst developing ideas. Péter designed all the characters and locations and I pulled them together into a visual narrative that made sense of the song lyrics and we then worked on that together to refine the visual storytelling.

I went out to Budapest for a month or so for the main production where we worked on the film from a small studio near the river. People often comment that Péter and I are quite stylistically similar and I think we’ve had a lot of similar influences so we slip into each others visual realm very easily. Independently, we have quite different ways of working but our approaches seem to compliment each other and we’re quick to challenge each other and push to make things the best they could be.

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We were mostly three working on the project.  Péter and I making puppets, creating the lighting design, animating and editing and Milán Kopasz making all of the models and sets.  Then later Attila Bertóti joined to work on the drawn animation. So it was a very small affair with only two animation stages shooting at the same time. We had duplicate puppets of the girl and boy characters so that Péter and I could animate simultaneously.

The animation was roughly split up so that Péter animated a lot of the torso of the film and I worked on the opening and end of the piece including the final shot which was created using an Ikea lamp on it’s side animated millimetre by millimetre for the rising sun. The video was awarded a Vimeo Staff Pick on its online release and has since screened at a handful of international festivals. It received an honourable mention at AOC awards in Los Angeles and won Best Animation at both Los Angeles Independent Film Festival and the Kinsale Shark Awards.

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What projects do you have in the pipeline?  How is puppetry involved?

quay_4_rebecca_bagley2Over the last couple of years I’ve worked on various projects including directing Green Ginger’s Outpost which toured around Europe and the UK as well as curating the film programme for Bristol Festival of Puppetry which featured 12 events and screenings with Barry Purves and the Quay Brothers as special guests.

I’ve also created a lot of projection for stage both in this country as well as in the States, often with animated imagery which brought the film and theatre sides of my work together.  I am currently very pleased to be working on a new short film which features a combination of puppet animation and live-action puppetry and will draw on storytelling approaches I’ve developed in my theatre work. It’s wonderful to be back in production on a short film with all the difficulties and delights that brings. At fifteen minutes, the piece will be my longest animated film to date and is due for release next year.

 

Interview by Emma Windsor


To find out more about Joseph’s work visit his website at: http://www.josephwallace.co.uk  To see some of his short films, including the making of ‘Dear John’, visit his Vimeo channel at: https://vimeo.com/josephwallace