Explosive Puppetry! Inside the new Gerry Anderson’s ‘Firestorm’

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An interview by puppeteer Josh Elwell with Puppet Coordinator, Andrew James Spooner, looking inside the new Gerry Anderson’s ‘Firestorm‘.


 

Andy, you are the Puppet Coordinator on the new production of ‘Gerry Anderson’s Firestorm’, an amazing new pilot minisode has just been released and it has got fans fizzing with anticipation! This short film has all the style and action of one of Gerry’s original shows like Thunderbirds, Stingray or Space 1999, but with a modern twist. Please start by telling us how you approached the puppetry differently in Firestorm and how it compares to Gerry’s previous shows.

Well, when it came to our approach, as you know as a puppeteer yourself, the puppets dictate a lot. You have all kinds of ideas in your head, and then you pick up one of the puppets for the first time and you think “ah, it’s going to be like that is it!” They were beautifully built by Mackinnon & Saunders, but were very heavy.  We also had some issues with the rigging.  So ultimately, much of what we were doing on the pilot was on-the-spot problem solving.  Luckily, the team I had around me were excellent, and once we were up and running things went relatively smoothly.  These new puppets are very removed from the classic Thunderbirds puppets. 

The most obvious change is that they aren’t marionettes.  They are essentially hi tech bunraku puppets with an animatronic element.  The bodies (arms, legs, torso, head) are all operated via rods, with various access points depending on what’s needed.  The face, however, is operated via an RC unit using cutting edge animatronics.  It’s the best possible mixture of old and new techniques.  The faces are capable of an impressive range of emotions.  There are a couple of shots in the minisode that really show this off I think.  I really wanted the puppets to feel REAL.  Now, this doesn’t always mean trying to ape realistic movements. It means that they feel real in the context of this clearly defined universe they inhabit. One of the things I learned from the pilot is that I think we can push the characters a little more, make the movements bigger, the expressions a little larger. When you do this the performances really pop. We were trying to play things small and realistic. We can dare to be bigger.

 

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From a puppeteers perspective what are the particular challenges that you are faced with on this project and what makes it unlike other shows you have worked on? 

The time! We had very little time to rehearse. Literally a day or two. This was simply because I was brought into the process so late.  Admittedly, the situation was very different on Firestorm, so the whole timeline was very compressed. Once I was brought on board, I frantically made a lot of phone calls and got my team together. I then went to the set and met Jamie for the first time face-to-face.

Then a few days later we were shooting! It was an abject lesson on thinking on your feet. In that kind of situation, I firmly believe that the best thing to do is just get on with it. Get into the set and work things out.  Sometimes that can be more effective than being in a rehearsal space for days in a little bubble.  I’m sure you’ve worked on things where you have the rehearsal period, and then you go to shoot it and discover that you can’t do what you rehearsed because of the layout of the set.  Square one! In the case of Firestorm we just had to leap into it and make it work. I wish that the TV and film industry would factor in more time, ANY time, for rehearsal. But It’s getting less and less. 

 

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Key to all Gerry Anderson’s shows are the models and the in-camera special effects. In the minisode there are some hair-raising moments and terrifying explosions! How was it working as a puppeteer amongst this aspect of the production?

Well, all the pyrotechnics (for the minisode) were shot separately, and then composited into the shots later. The shots where puppets were present anyway. But they were all real elements, real explosions! It’s obviously huge fun being around that kind of stuff. When I was a kid, because of watching shows like Stingray and Thunderbirds, and movies like Star Wars and Battle Beyond The Stars, I was all about the models. I wanted to be a model maker initially. I would spend excessive amounts of time building spaceships out of leftovers from Airfix kits. It’s called “Kit Bashing”, the process of building a new model out of old kits. So being around this stuff now is making my inner 12 year old very happy. We all love a good explosion right! We (all the puppeteers) were in our green room when we heard that they were going to blow up the island. Cue a massive stampede to get down to the set and grab a plum position to see it go up!

 

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You have also been working with a highly skilled team of builders,  special effects folk, voice artists and puppeteers. Tell us a bit about the team you are working with. What is unique about the way these guys work?

We all have our areas of expertise. What was great about this team is that there was no ego. None. It was one of the most relaxed and happy sets I have ever worked on. We were all there because of our love of the project, and our love of Gerry Anderson shows. We all got on with our jobs to the best of our ability. When I came on board, there were others who had been working on the project for a long time.  Some for weeks, some for years. But they were all welcoming and supportive. A real privilege to work with.  I didn’t meet any of the voice actors until the launch at MCM Comicon in London, but it was fantastic to see their reaction to what we had done. And to introduce them to their puppet alter egos!

 

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You have been working closely with Gerry’s son Jamie who has been working tirelessly to keep his father’s legacy going. How does Jamie’s vision match or differ from his father’s, and what was it like working with Jamie taking this new exciting step?

Jamie is (and he’ll hate me for saying this!) simply wonderful to work with.  He’s got a very clear idea of where Firestorm sits in the legacy of his father’s work.  He wants it to have, at its core, all the elements we loved in those classic shows. High concept science fiction adventure plots, combined with thrilling action sequences and a dose of humour. But most importantly, he wants the characters to shine through. You can have all the “Whizz Bang!” you want – if you don’t care for the characters, it won’t work. However, he also wants Firestorm to be striking out into new territory. It’s time to show the world what these kinds of puppets can do now that we have the support of computer technology. It’s the first step in a new era of Anderson shows.

The production was started by Jamie Anderson with a Kickstarter campaign. How successful was the campaign? How far did it get the production and what are the next steps?

The Kickstarter campaign was mainly used to fund the research and development of the puppets. They were, hands down, the element that needed to work 100%.  The rest of the production was a massive act of pulling in favours.  Once we shot the live action for the minisode, it took more than 2 years to get the rest of the post production completed.  But now it’s out there! As for the next steps? Well, pre-production has started on a full series! This is thrilling news, we all worked so hard to make this happen – and nobody worked harder than Jamie.

We plan to start shooting in Spring of 2019.

 

 


 

Find out more about the Firestorm at the website here: www.firestormhq.com and keep up with the latest news on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.  Read more about Andrew James Spooner and see his portfolio of work on his website www.andrewjamesspooner.com and Twitter.

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Bone Mother: An Interview with Dale Hayward & Sylvie Trouvé

“A vain and arrogant youth dares to enter Baba Yaga’s living house of bones…”
Bone Mother is the latest stop motion animated film from See Creature Animation, produced by the National Film Board of Canada.  We chatted with the film’s directors, Sylvie Trouvé and Dale Hayward, about the story and production process.

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‘Bone Mother’ is based on the Russian folk tale of Baba Yaga.  What drew you to this subject? And why did you choose stop-motion as the medium to create it’s imagery?

There are so many stories of Baba Yaga, but Dale first heard Maura McHugh’s story on the horror podcast Pseudopod. We’ve always liked anti-heroes and Baba is usually portrayed as a dark character, or even an evil witch, but she’s definitely not your typical witch. Baba is the original Witch in folklore and it’s western tales that have changed her into a cliché (ie. the mortar and pestle is now a broomstick). So we wanted to bring her from the stereotype and back to the archetype. There are lessons to be learned from characters like this. She’s like that old grandma who terrifies you, but who you totally respect at the same time. And then there’s Vlad, who has the audacity to just walk up to her Bone house and make demands. So, It was fun to have a story with two villains, it gave us lots to play with.

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Stop-motion is our preferred style of animation, it’s incredibly tangible. There are natural textures inherent to the materials that can really help with the atmosphere we’re trying to create. Plus, Maura’s story was so textural that stop-motion felt like a natural fit.

 

The film has a rich and distinctive aesthetic.  Did you draw influence from other sources?

The film’s aesthetic evolved quite a bit during the pre-production. It first started out much flatter, similar to Bas-relief, like a moving illustration, so influences were artists like Ivan Bilibin, Mike Mignola and Klimt. But it quickly became either too limiting or over complicated to do what we wanted, so we went to a more traditional puppet and set feel. During this pre-production stage, we did some extensive R&D on the 3D printing. It was all very new to all of us, so it was jumping into a new sandbox. One of the great aspects of 3D printing is the printers themselves are not that expensive, but the quality can be limiting, so we let that limitation become intention. Once we saw that by printing baba’s face lying down, the printer would “naturally” create wrinkles for us. For Vlad we stood him straight up, so his layers were tighter together, creating a smoother skin. So what is usually something that other productions spend a lot of time trying to hide or remove, we embraced and it became a cornerstone to the film’s aesthetic.

 

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Where did your interest and passion for animation, in particular stop-motion, begin?

Sylvie has a degree in photography and Dale studied traditional hand-drawn animation, but we both got our start in the industry doing stop-motion at a studio in Toronto called Cuppa Coffee, working on TV series and commercials for a number of years. We both had no experience with stop-motion before this and it’s interesting to note that no one really goes to school for stop-motion, they all have skills outside of animation that somehow are very useful in stop-motion and they kinda fall into the industry. It’s one of the main aspects we love about the community is that everyone has very different skill sets and it shows through their work.

 

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Your production company, ‘See Creature’ produces a range of works from commercials to independent film.  Do you have plans to produce any other works with a dark theme? (The company name does seem mysterious and magical!)

He-he, yeah, we like the play on words, it’s a name that evokes a lot of imagery. We’ve never been a studio to lock into a defined style or aesthetic, although stop-motion is our preference, we have worked in 2D, After Effects and 3D. We feel the need to be adaptable to current shifts in the industry and in our interests as we get older and our household expands. Our focus is leaning more and more towards creator driven works these days that range from dark tales like Bone Mother but could also lead to adult comedy and live action sci-fi as well.

We’re very excited for the future.

 

Interview by Emma Windsor

 


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Co-directed by Dale Hayward and Sylvie Trouvé, Bone Mother was produced by Jelena Popović and executive produced by Michael Fukushima for the NFB Animation Studio.

To find out more about the film, visit the website, Facebook and Instagram.  Find out more about See Creatures on their website.

Beasty Baby: An Interview with Sue Buckmaster

SUE_5554wSue is the Artistic Director of Theatre-Rites and the fourth generation of theatre practitioners in her family.  She is a theatre director, puppetry specialist and teacher, and has worked with the National Theatre, Royal Shakespeare Company, Young Vic, Sadler’s Wells, South Bank Centre and Complicite.  We caught up with her to find out how it all began and about her latest show, ‘Beasty Baby’.

 


You are Artistic Director at Theatre-Rites.  How did you become involved in theatre, and in particular puppetry?

I come from a long lineage of performers. My great grandfather was a music hall entertainer, my grandfather a concertina player, and my grandmother was a musician in a group called The Musical Elliots. My mother was also a member of this group for a short while before she met my father, a puppeteer.

Sue’s grandparents in action in The Elliots (1936)

My particular interest and connection with puppetry began at birth. My father was a professional puppeteer, who performed a traditional marionette cabaret around holiday camps, hotels and working-men’s clubs, so my initial training came from that family apprenticeship.  After graduating from university, I worked as an actress, before discovering that my creative passion was as a director and maker.

This exciting time, whilst nurturing my puppet and mask making skills, connected me with a variety of peer practitioners including Steve Tiplady of Indefinite Articles; John Wright, mask expert and co-founder of Told By An Idiot; Rufus Norris, now Artistic Director of The National Theatre; Jenny Sealy, Artistic Director of Graeae; Phelim McDermott of Improbable and various visual artists involved with the work of Puppetworks (a large-scale outdoor performance company in the style of Welfare State).

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Paradise (2010).  Photo credit: Volker Beushausen

In 1989 I received an Arts Council Bursary for the extension of my puppetry skills and I furthered my training with David Glass and the Czech Puppet Company Drak. I also spent 3 months studying the arts of Southern India.  In 1997 I received a distinction for my MA in Contemporary Theatre Practice at Essex University in which I combined a study of psychoanalytical thought with my views on the power of the puppet.  I received an Honorary Doctorate of the Arts from Essex in 2018.  Throughout this period I became a specialist puppetry director and worked with David Farr, Complicite, the RSC, The National Theatre and Tara Arts amongst many others.  It was through working as a puppetry specialist with Pop-Up Theatre that I first met Penny Bernand, with whom I set up Theatre-Rites.

 

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Baby in Mojo 2011/12.  Photo credit: Patrick Baldwin

 

 

What does puppetry enable you to explore?

I love the way the puppet art form brings together many approaches ranging from direct performance to construction, visual art and movement. It also has a strong heritage across cultures. It can be both truly accessible and highly conceptual, with a power beyond language. I had music, making and performing in my blood so puppetry was an ideal art form for me to continue my artistic discovery.

My work is driven from a psychological understanding of our existence. I see the puppet, or an imbued object, as an opportunity for self-recognition. It offers the chance for the audience to look at an imitation of their own human predicament, whether literally, figuratively or abstractly, enabling them towards self-realization. Placing puppets/objects alongside actors on stage is very powerful. This juxtaposition of the fake with the real helps us see our reality more clearly.  I thoroughly enjoy this when it seems to reach both adults and children, both trying to share the process together.

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The Broke ‘N’ Beat Collective (2016).  Photo credit: Robert Day

It is the triadic nature of the art form that particularly interests me. The relationship between the manipulator and their object and the object’s relationship to the audience. I am interested in how much we can find out about the psychology of the actor’s character on stage by how he or she handles or projects their emotions through their props/important objects. It is as though they are representations of the actor’s inner psyche, taking on their alter ego and repressed desires.

I like to work with abstracted puppet forms, often enjoying how a group of objects can be brought together to momentarily form a figurative shape, only to re-create itself and re-form its sense of self. I believe that these abstracted, less illustrative forms are more open to the varying projected beliefs of the audience and connect to our celebration of our own abilities of survival and re-invention in the bigger picture of evolution, and natural, political and emotional change.

Puppet and object play is very funny; it is full of nonsense and parody. I adore watching a spirit of play being triggered in people by the very act of them being able to hide behind something.  The puppet for me now is ANYTHING that I can manipulate. A figurative puppet, an object, a projected image, a space, or an actor.  Therefore, the specifics of puppet theatre become less important and yet, for me, lie at the heart of everything I create.

 

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Sue holds the hand of a puppet during a workshop. Photo credit: Stephen Lim

 

‘Beasty Baby’ will be at Tobacco Factory Theatres over this festive season.  How did the idea for the performance first come about?

 

Beasty Baby - A Theatre-Rites and Polka Theatre co-production - 14 October 2015 Director - Sue Buckmaster and devised with the company Designer - Verity Quinn Composer - Jessica Dannheisser
Beasty Baby (2015). Photo credit: Robert Workman

When Penny Bernand and I founded Theatre-Rites in 1996 I was about to start my own family. One of our first shows was created whilst I was pregnant with my first daughter and toured the UK and the world during her first 3 years. Tara, now 21, came to an occasional rehearsal but most of the time I was very clear that when I was with her, she had my full attention and when I was at work, she was being looked after.  I never assumed that these two things could be combined. However, the content of the work was highly influenced by the time I spent with Tara. My research into child development impacted on my work and my mothering. I felt whole as an artist, partner and mother.

Recently I have been reading many blogs and articles about the experience of being a Mother of young children and being an artist.  No longer is the subject out of bounds or hidden behind closed doors. The story is out. Bringing up a young child, whilst juggling a career and your relationships, is both rewarding and highly challenging and there is no professional training for it, other than referring to your own parenting or listening to the advice and pressures of peers meeting in the playgrounds or playgroups.

So, 21 years later, my two daughters, Tara and Nuala, now 21 and 18, are bold, brave, brilliant and sometimes still beastly. Making this show was a wonderful opportunity for me to ponder on the joys and challenges of bringing them into the world and to inspire others to embark upon the adventure of parenting. It was a process which gave me the opportunity to reflect on my personal journey. It led to the creation of Beasty Baby, originally a co-production between Theatre-Rites and Polka Theatre for Christmas 2015.  This year we are delighted to be bringing it to The Tobacco Factory in Bristol, supported by our Associate Director, Elgiva Field.

 

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What is Beasty Baby about?

In 1997, when I was creating Theatre-Rites’ The Lost and Moated Land (my first production for under-fives) I was in an idealised place, just imagining what it would be like to have a baby. The show was magical, abstract and mythical. Beasty Baby is different. It starts with realism and my real experience; the very real objects used and the rituals created when raising a young child, the sleepless nights, the overwhelming sense of responsibility and the way your life is turned upside down. I wanted to draw upon my memory of this mind-blowing aspect. However I was still looking for the Magical Realism; the transformative qualities that these real objects have, and how I could still create a mythical landscape to play in, in order to reveal the joys and revelations of caring for the early years of a human being.

This leads to the main focus of the piece: the need to recognise, as parents and children, the importance of regular rituals. However we should also be careful about trying to compartmentalise all our needs like a tick-boxing exercise. We often learn most during playtime, but I have noticed how even “playtime” has become an activity to be purchased and facilitated so that the parent or teacher can tick the box and say “job done”.

I wished to explore how we cannot truly parent and teach our children the basis of intimate love unless we learn to love what is best in ourselves and our children – and of course what is worst in ourselves. The terrible two year old who has yet to manage their desires, or the parent who is at the end of their tether due to lack of sleep or the constancy that childcare insists upon. It is not about being perfect children or perfect parents. It is about being fully rounded individuals.

Even very young children have a whole range of emotions and a whole range of ways of learning to manage and communicate them. Some have very difficult feelings. No parent or child should feel the pressure to be perfect and everyone must feel that they can find help within their community to share the emotional journey. Once we channel these trickier emotions, the more we create unique and dynamic young people. Beasty Baby takes you on a whirlwind of emotion, all beautifully underscored by our talented Composer Jessica Dannheisser.

 

 

Our central protagonist is Beasty Baby, a puppet cleverly made by Naomi Oppenheim. We also have three performers, Teele, Scott and Elliott, who each have excellence and dynamism in their artistic field. In this show we are not concerned with the perfect 2 x 2 family or who gave birth, we are interested in how we can all contribute to raising our children, regardless of who you are or what defines your sense of family.

Beasty Baby is looked after in a small wooden hut amidst a Nordic mythical landscape, designed by Verity Quinn, providing our snowy Christmas setting. The pathway of growing up is often a wilderness. The celebration of play as opposed to early testing for under-fives is at the heart of the story; the sense of a whole community raising their children together and allowing our children to have free play.  Beasty Baby will appeal to 3 to 6 year olds and those that care for them. It will also appeal to Artists interested in combining actors and puppetry on stage, or people thinking about having babies.

I love that for 50 minutes both adult and child can reflect, laugh and emotionally recognise what is relevant to them at that particular moment in time – it’s important that they can do that together. And, at the end, they will feel really warm and know there is a wonderful beauty and beast in all of us.

 

What’s next?

Theatre-Rites is collaborating again with 20 Stories High, and this time we’re making a hip hop puppetry show for 3 to 6 year olds, and everyone who looks after them.  Big Up! features the incredible talents of beatboxer Hobbit, singer/performer Dorcas Seb and puppeteers Clarke Joseph Edwards and Iestyn Evans.  Touring in Spring 2019, opening at the Unity Theatre, Liverpool on February 8th.

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No matter whether you are big or small, the world is full of rules. Sometimes we make our own rules, sometimes we don’t know the rules and sometimes we want to play by different rules.  What happens when a Beatboxer, a Singer and a Puppeteer arrive on stage but nothing is ready for them?  No set, no instruments, no puppets. No rules.

Big Up! is perfect for little people who want to be big, and big people who … just might have forgotten how to play.

 

Interview with Emma Windsor

 


Beasty Baby is at Tobacco Factory Theatres from 06 December to 06 January.  Find out more and book your tickets on the website.  To find out more about Theatre Rites, visit their website and get all the latest news on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Who works at Puppet Place? Meet the Team!

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Based at 18 Hanover Place, Albion Dockside Estate, Puppet Place provides a home to thriving community of resident and associate artists, and more puppets than have been counted.  Puppet Place is the UK’s hub for all things animated, and also produces the biennial Bristol Festival of Puppetry.  We sat down with the team at Hanover Place; Rachel McNally, Luke Gregg and Hannah Jarman, to find out more about Puppet Place, how it all got started and their roles in the organisation.


 

I’m Rachel and I am the Chief Executive Officer of Puppet Place.

RM: Puppet Place was started in 1984 by two puppeteers, Jim Still and Di Steeds.  I think it started originally as the ‘Puppet Van’, before becoming the ‘Puppet Place’ – an educational charity that worked with schools, providing workshops.  It also had a resource centre, library and provided support for puppeteers in the region.

As happens with a lot of arts organisations, it lost its funding in the mid-nineties and became a dormant organisation.   Around that time, I was working at Hope Centre, an arts organisation based in Hotwells, Bristol.  I can remember the last person who ran Puppet Place, a lady called Kate Pollard, who ran it from the back of a cupboard at the centre!  That was how I met a lot of the people that I now work with at Puppet Place, and saw my first bit of puppetry, a Green Ginger show called ‘Slaphead’ with Chris Pirie and Dik Downey (from Pickled Image).  I now work with them all, so it’s all their fault really.

By the late nineties, I was running a puppetry theatre company called ‘Full Beam’; Chris Pirie was running ‘Green Ginger’; Dik Downey and Vicky Andrews were running ‘Pickled Image’ and ‘Stuff & Nonsense’ under Marc Parrett was also based in Bristol.  We were all facing similar issues.  Despite lots of people working in puppetry in the local area, no-one really knew about it, and none of us had a secure space to work in.  So we thought, what would happen if we all got together and try to solve some of these problems?

Although there were organisations that served the wider community in Bristol, such as Theatre Bristol, we needed a physical fabrication space for puppetry (as anyone who works here will tell you!).  So we approached Di Steeds and asked if we could have Puppet Place back.  And she said ‘yes’, but with the condition that it was for the whole community and not just the resident companies involved.

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It took us some time to grow from there.  It was a bit of an exciting jumble at the beginning, but then we got the opportunity to move into the building that we’re sitting in.  We were starting to think about what a Puppet Place could do, and we thought we could run a festival of puppetry.  So Chris and I went to speak to the then director of Tobacco Factory Theatres, Ali Robertson, about our ideas for a festival.  Ali promptly said ‘OK, you can run it here next year!’  So he called our bluff a bit.  That was in 2009.  Next year we will be celebrating the tenth anniversary of the festival.

Since 2009, we have gradually filled this building full of artists, and have expanded our staff team to myself, Hannah and Luke.  We have a community of fifteen artistic companies and a lot more puppets!  We’re continuing to grow and identify what Puppet Place is and can be.  We have been very lucky as we have had a lot of support from organisations like Bristol Old Vic, Bristol Council, Aardman Animations and many more, to whom we are very grateful.

 

Hi, I’m Luke and I am the Operations and Facilities Officer. 

LG: I joined Puppet Place in 2014… It was in-between festivals, I think.  Before that, I was interning at Bower Ashton Campus and working with Dave McGoran in the Tech Lab.  He told me about Puppet Place advertising for a technician the day before the deadline! So I thought I’d give it a go and made an application.  I got the role and I’ve been here ever since.  Once I joined Puppet Place, I realised that the role was a much bigger role than just a technician, so I’m responsible for looking after the building and its maintenance, building management and looking after the workshop downstairs.  I induct users to the workshop, so that artists can come in and use the space safely and efficiently.

RM:  I would also add that Luke has made that workshop much better as he’s got the right tools in, improved the layout and is just great at talking with people.

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Puppet Place Workshop

Hello!  I’m Hannah and I’m the Administrator here. 

HJ: I started about two years ago, as I’d moved from Brighton to Bristol.  I’d noticed a job advert on Theatre Bristol and so I put my application together.  I had been working in arts administration, but in circus and theatre.  I was the general manager of a circus theatre company in Brighton, doing lots of arts facilitation and administration, and working a lot with children and young people.  I started working at Puppet Place, but only for a brief spell of three months as I then went on maternity leave.  But I was soon back again, which is brilliant.

My role involves general administration of pretty much everything that Puppet Place does!  So if you want to book a rehearsal studio or a fabrication bay in the workshop or if you want to become an associate artist then you’ll most likely be talking to me via email or on the phone.  I also manage Beth who is our volunteer.  It’s a great place to work.  Rachel and I are currently working on the public programme as well, trying to develop the workshops that we provide here, so there’s plenty to get our teeth into.  My specific interest is in children and families, so I’m looking at that with one of our resident artists, Lizzie Johnson, to develop further in the future.

 

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Puppet Place Rehearsal Space

What about the role of volunteers at Puppet Place?

HJ:  We have a regular office volunteer, and lots of people who help out at other big public events and our newsletter.  We also had an operations and facilities intern, George Northcott, who helped us out for a while.

RM:  Yes, for events, such as the festival and Bristol Open Doors, we get volunteers in to come and help.  Often our lovely community of resident and associate artists will pitch in as well.  We do a deep clean at least once a year, and you wouldn’t think that could be a fun activity, but everyone in the building gets involved.  It’s still a small organisation, run for and by its community, so everyone pitches in a bit.

HJ:  I’d say the volunteers are fundamental to running things like Bristol Open Doors, so we’re really grateful because we really couldn’t do it without them.  We’ve had some fantastic people step forward and help us, so we all feel really lucky for that.

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Bristol Open Doors at Puppet Place

Obviously Puppet Place is primarily a working space for artists in puppetry and animation, so isn’t a space that is open to the public.  However, there are opportunities for the public to see what goes on here and learn more about these art forms.  Can you tell us more about that?

RM:  Bristol Open Doors is one of those events that people can come in and look around.  We had two thousand people visit us last year, but this always has to be a very careful negotiation with our resident artists as they have their work to consider.  Also, having people in our workshop has to be carefully managed as there are a lot of potential hazards.

LG:  Yes, it takes a while to get the space ready for the general public!  But it’s always a great event so we’re happy to do that.

HJ:  I find it quite energising when we have a big event like that because you get to see Puppet Place through fresh eyes.  Kids get so excited by it, it’s fantastic.

RM:  And also our regular, smaller events, like our Creative Café, are opportunities for people to find out more about the work produced here and what we do as a community.  Creative café is an evening event where we ask our resident artists to talk for about 20 minutes about what they’re doing and what excites them.  This is followed by a Q&A.  We’ve had some great speakers including Matthew Whittle from the Wardrobe Theatre, Mumblecrust Theatre spoke about their work in November and we’ve got a great one lined up for January with Fiona Matthews from Theatre Orchard, so we’re all really looking forward to that in the new year.

HJ:  We also have some really popular courses and workshops.  We have a great design and fabrication course for adults and we’re starting to expand our public programme.  We tend to run workshops in the Spring and Summer months, so do keep an eye on our website for details.

 

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What would you most like to develop at Puppet Place?  What’s next?

LG:  Well within my role there’s a lot of development in making the building fit for purpose.  For example, the warmth in the building needs improvement as this can be detrimental to people’s working habits, especially in the workshop.  So for me personally it’s about making a comfortable space to work in, improving the workshop and ensuring that people can keep on making the fantastic work that they do.

HJ:  I think there’s a bit more we can do with regards to making Puppet Place more public facing, that’s something we’ve talked a lot about in board meetings – making sure we have a bigger public offer, that it’s thoughtful and that we’ve planned it well enough so that we’re engaging with lots of different people who might not have found us.

RM:  And I think we’d also like to be supporting artists more. For us it is a virtuous circle, what we really want is for everyone to say puppetry is amazing, and really value it as an art form.  To do that we need to engage with more people.  We want to support artists so they can make the best work that they can and so they also know what other opportunities are out there.  I think often puppetry artists and animators are quite isolated and it’s good to have contact with other people and see what’s out there and what’s going on.  We’re keen to push that forward as much as possible.

I’m really proud of the team here and the work that we all achieve on limited time and budget.  We are a small but capable team who are dedicated to the work we do and the art forms we support.  Sometimes we are a little pushed, so we may be delayed in responding, but rest assured that we will be back in touch to answer all your queries and soon as we can.  Thank you for your support.

 

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To find out more about Puppet Place, visit the website: www.puppetplace.org; get all the latest news on our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and subscribe to our e-newsletter to receive our bi-monthly round-up of what’s on, news, interviews and jobs in the worlds of puppetry and animation.

An Economics Puppet Rap Battle? An Interview with Kate Raworth

kate_raworth_portraitKate Raworth is a renegade economist focused on exploring the economic mindset needed to address today’s social and ecological challenges and is author of the internationally best-selling book Doughnut Economics: seven ways to think like a 21st century economist.  We chatted with her about the making of Economic Man vs Humanity: a Puppet Rap Battle, a short puppetry film that illustrates the thinking, and the artistic team behind it. 


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What is Doughnut Economics and why did you choose puppetry to illustrate this message?

Doughnut Economics is a playfully serious approach to rewriting economics so that it is fit for the 21st century and its challenge of meeting the needs of all within the means of the planet. One crucial aspect that needs rewriting is the model of humanity at the heart of mainstream economic theory – a character known as rational economic man. This character has, in many ways, been a puppet of economic theory and policy making, so the temptation to use puppets to tell his story and to write a new one was too great to resist.

Economic theory also celebrates the notion of the ‘invisible hand’ of the market, so I think the very visible hands of the puppeteers make a playful counterpoint to that ideology.  I have always loved puppets and when my children were small we put on puppet shows in our living room for kids and families in the neighbourhood. So the chance of working with a professional puppet maker and puppeteers to rewrite economics was too good an opportunity to miss.

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How did you gather the team?

When I first had the idea of working with puppets to communicate the core ideas of Doughnut Economics, I was recommended to look at Emma Powell’s work and as soon as I saw the incredible creations on her website, I knew it would be a great match. Emma then suggested bringing the musician and songwriter Simon Panrucker onto the team and once I saw his wonderfully zany videos online (check out the one in which he raps about constructing a Peace Machine) I was convinced that the puppets should go head-to-head in a rap battle written by him. Simon and Emma came up with the idea of pitching three students in a classroom debate with their professor, and from that point, we knew we were on a roll.

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This three-way collaboration was a wonderful creative adventure for me because it was very clear that each of us was bringing a unique and essential set of skills to the project, which would not have worked without all three. I brought the economic theory and critique, Simon did a masterful job of transforming that into a witty rap, and Emma gave it characterful life with her ingenious puppets. Add to this the skill of the puppeteers along with the video and production crew, and we had a brilliant team, which it was a privilege to be a part of. During filming I was impressed by the detail, patience and dedication of the whole team during an intensive week, working with meticulous detail to get each shot and its continuity just right.

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What’s next?

We launched the video online at the start of September, just as students were returning to school, and were delighted by its instant positive reception and rapid spread. It moved fast through social media, being watched and shared by students, professors, politicians, campaigners and corporate executives alike. One leading economist played it to conference delegates at the OECD headquarters in Paris.  I think that has to be a double first: getting both rap and puppetry into one of the most influential international economic institutions!

On launch, we aimed to make the video as useful as possible for teachers so that they can use it creatively in the classroom. I added detailed theoretical and historical footnotes to the rap lyrics so that students can understand the richness of ideas behind every line. We also made the rap backing track available in the creative commons so that anyone can write and record their own economic critique as a rap battle and we are looking forward to finding out what students create in response.

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Every time I give a public talk or university lecture, I now take with me the little cut-out figure of rational economic man – the anti-hero in the video – and he raises a smile and some heated debate. Through this project, I’ve learned the clear value of making economics playfully accessible, taking it out of dry theory and immersing it in art and wit. I’m constantly struck by the wide range of people who are drawn into economic conversations when they start in this far more engaging way. Play and creativity are, I think, very powerful tools for democratising economics.

 

So watch out – you may not have seen the last economic puppet rap battle yet!

 


To find out more about Doughnut Economics, visit Kate’s website: https://www.kateraworth.com/doughnut/ or follow her on Twitter and Facebook.   Visit Emma Powell’s website to view her portfolio.  For more information on Simon Panrucker, visit his website and YouTube channel.

 

‘Art within the Cracks’: An Interview with Anna Haydock-Wilson

Anna_Haydock_Wilson01Anna Haydock-Wilson is a filmmaker, artist, administrator and community arts project manager, who has worked with many different people from a multitude of backgrounds on arts and media projects. Her latest project ‘Art Within The Cracks’ is an artist led project that grew from conversations between a collection of creative women who wanted to make more space for art in their lives. We spoke to her about her background, this latest project and where this might lead.


 

What is your background and what inspired you to develop the ‘Art Within The Cracks’ project? 

I studied Fine Art Sculpture and Media in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s at a time when ‘success’ was an individualistic pursuit. My love of working with others led me into community video and arts projects, setting up Little Fish Films in 1998 in Deptford, South East London. We worked with artists, theatre practitioners and public sector organisations for over 15 years. More recently I’ve been focusing on socially engaged art practice including Art under the Flyover and HighWaterLine. My latest project Art within the Cracks, grew from a desire to celebrate the centenary of women gaining franchise, so I began interviewing fellow women creatives and discovered that we shared many challenges relating to inequality both in the art world and more widely.

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Creativity and Equality Workshop at PAPER. Art work by Sophia Barnes, photo by Grace Kress.

 

What does the project aim to explore?

The project aims to facilitate conversations, collaborations and sharing of creative practice between women of all ages, exploring women artists and activists, collective practice, why we still experience the same issues as previous generations and what can we do to encourage a move towards equality.  We feel it’s vital to encourage younger women to explore their creativity in a world that often feels a bit of struggle to women.

A short film that gives a taste of the issues project members believe are important.

There are fifteen of us at the core of the project working across media (you can find out more about us here.)  We are facilitating workshops in printmaking and magazine production, filmmaking and devised theatre with young people through our delivery partners, Paper Arts, Room13 Harclive and Brave Bold Drama.  We have also partnered with the Women’s Art Library in Goldsmiths University, a rich source of research and support, Bristol Women’s Voice, and Spike Associates.

 

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What exhibitions, workshops or other events have come from the project so far?

In May we created a show of our artwork and film screenings at Spike Open Studios called ‘Entitled’ which was enjoyed by many of the visitors to Spike over that weekend. People enjoyed the calm coherence of the show within the open studio environment and it was great to have so many conversations with the passing public.
On the 10th and 11th of September, myself and Liz Hart worked with Grace Kress and a group of 16-25 year old women at PAPER Arts in an Equality and Creativity Workshop. It was fascinating to hear the perspective of younger people and evident that they do not experience an equal world and that even the term ‘feminism’ is quite toxic among young people. Many of them are keen to stay involved and will be designing the front cover of our project magazine.  The magazine will launch on the 14th December the anniversary of the first women in the UK actually going to the polls.  We are aiming for an event on that mid December weekend, showcasing some of our work and collaborative work that has emerged.

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How would you like to see the project develop in the future? How can people get involved? 

The funding ends at the end of 2018 but the project will live on with events on International Women’s Day 2019, an active online presence and supporting each other and the younger artists to carry on making and questioning the status quo.

Do you have work or ideas that you’d like to profile? A blog you’d like to write? We’re collecting women artist’s stories and publishing them here, so email anna@artwithinthecracks.org to get involved. We’d love to hear your views on equality, feminism and collective practice!  If you’d like to find out more, please sign up here to receive a monthly newsletter, blog posts and event invitations.

 

Interview with Emma Windsor


 

 

 

Skeleton Woman: An Interview with Isabel Lyster

Isabel+Lyster+September+2017-216Isabel Lyster is a performance maker, puppetry specialist and visual artist. She works in collaboration with theatre companies and a network of individual practitioners combining performance, puppetry and education.  We caught up with her to find out more about her practice, her ambitions and her latest performance, ‘The Skeleton Woman.’

 


What’s your background?  How did you get into performance and puppetry?

I originally studied 3D design and illustration at college, but I was always drawn towards movement in my work and I enjoy the dynamic aspect to performance. I stumbled into a show by Faulty Optic. It completely opened my mind to a world of experimental adult puppetry work, this really excited me. I wasn’t planning on going to university but I happened to find the puppetry degree and jumped on it.

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Your latest show ‘The Skeleton Woman’ is based on an Inuit folk tale.  Can you tell us more about that and this performance?

When I first heard the story, it was the beautiful imagery that drew me in.  The skeleton woman tangled up in the fisherman’s line, the chase, the igloo. There is a dual narrative taking place with journey of the fisherman and the skeleton woman, they are simultaneously experiencing completely different emotions.  There’s a lot of natural humour and tension in this. I use this and tell the story through two forms: shadow puppetry and table top puppetry,  playing with the two perspectives of one event. At a point the two forms join, there is a turning point where a transformation happens.

On a deeper level the show explores our fear of death and letting go.

 

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It’s a solo performance, with fun audience interaction and lots of humour. There is an amazing musical score composed and played live by Rob Pemberton.  The show is for robust and brave audience members from the age of six.  We are doing our next show at Prema Arts Centre on Saturday the 20th of October, bookings can be made online at the Prema Arts Centre website.

 

What other activities are you involved in? What’s next?

I’m running a Halloween workshop for children, making a mini shadow theatre, puppets and story. This is at Cheltenham Art and Craft workshop on Sunday 28th October, (contact me isabel.a.lyster@gmail.com for bookings.)  Then I will be involved in a puppetry workshop with a group refugee woman with a charity and performing a non verbal show which educates them about online safety, I feel really passionate about this work.

 

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As an ongoing project I’m working towards designing a range of children’s toys and mobiles.  But for the past year I’ve been establishing my puppetry company Paper Jungle, doing a lot of ground work towards this. Now we are working towards our next show, so watch this space!

 

Interview by Emma Windsor

 


To find out more about Isabel and to view her portfolio of work, visit her website: http://www.isabellyster.com