A Terrible Hullabaloo: Interview with Ben O’Connor

‘A Terrible Hullabaloo’ is the story of young Vinny Byrne, a fourteen year old boy who found himself fighting for Ireland in the 1916 Easter Rising.  We caught up with the film’s director, Ben O’Connor at the film’s screening at Bristol Encounters Short Film & Animation Festival to chat about puppetry, digital animation and the practicalities of producing animated work in short timescales.

13876275_1612576552373992_1461367748956612562_n

Can you tell us a little about your background, your production company and how you came to make ‘A Terrible Hullabaloo’?

Myself and my business partner Aoife Noonan started Bowsie Workshop five years ago.  I was doing some bits of work on the side and she’d just left her job as an industrial designer.  We’d studied on a college course together, so she came in and gave me a hand and the company just started from there.  We began making music videos and our first production was in stop-motion.  We made four videos in total but quickly realised that no-one was going to pay us to do that!

Fortunately we had lots of other skills such as modelmaking, sculpting, moulding, etc. and found people who would pay us to do that, so that has become the main focus of our business – we design monsters, creatures and visual effects. We work in both practical and digital effects and I would say that about 70% of our work is practical and 30% is digital.  It depends on the problem we are solving, for example, instead of building something that is animatronic, we can sometimes produce the equivalent digitally and save our clients time and money.

13902644_1612574822374165_7195338855245632509_n

We’d been working on a lot of horror films and had become a bit tired of splashing blood everywhere.  We wanted to go back to our original plan as we’d built a bit of a track record and people knew who we were in the business.  So, as it is the 1916 centenary, we applied for some funding to produce the short.  Aoife wrote it and I directed it.  We get asked to do a lot of gruesome stuff for the horror film industry, the kind of stuff where people look away, and I wanted to produce something that people didn’t have to look away from!

 

The film uses an interesting combination of real-time rod and string puppetry and digital effects.  What led you to use these production approaches?

The funding programme was for film production, so the timescales were not animation timescales.  Originally we’d planned the short as stop-motion, however, as the time got tighter and tighter we decided to use puppetry and digital animation to get the shots.  So we started breaking things down to find timely solutions, for example, we’d originally planned the eyes as stop-motion but eventually decided to digitally composite the eyes on.  I was worried that it might be too weird and creepy but then I saw Chris Lavis’ ‘Madame Tutli Putli’ and thought that it worked, so that became the approach.

14068486_1615754205389560_3675492406594666486_o

There are puppet design features that we didn’t use in the shoot, simply because of time constraints, such as the additional time to change mechanisms.  We have some former experience in using puppetry through our visual effects work.  For example, we’d used rod puppetry to create a zombie baby that was birthed in a sewer (and we won an award for that also, ‘Most Disturbing Scene of the Year!) For me, however, it was primarily about composition and producing those images by what ever means best suited.

 

There has been some controversy surrounding the inclusion of real-time puppetry productions in animation programmes at prolific international film festivals.  Do you have any thoughts on this?

Yes, I have had this conversation myself with animators.  For example, we built all the sets for a stop-motion animated film that screened at the Toronto Film Festival and I had a lot of discussions with the animator there who was adamant that our work was not animation.  But we feel we are animating something and bringing it to life.  We have to think creatively and ‘animate’ to make our audience believe that something is alive.  It’s also three dimensional and manipulated by hand, just as plasticine, but via a different technique.  But we all have things we feel strongly about, and that’s fine.  So if anyone has any really strong feelings, I’ll leave those with them.

Interview by Emma Windsor


Bowsie Workshop Ltd was formed in 2011 with the aim to create a facility where ideas can be seen through from concept to fabrication all under one roof, with a strong emphasis on craft and artistry. The studio has gained a reputation for their imaginative approach to FX – mixing traditional techniques and the latest industry standard technology.  For more information, visit the website: http://www.bowsieworkshop.com

New Encounters: An Animated Review

As the 22nd Bristol Encounters Film & Animation Festival gets underway, we report back with a review of the animation screenings and other events so far.  

hullabaloo‘A Terrible Hullabaloo’ dir. Ben O’Connor

 

Tuesday: The Aardman 40th Anniversary Special

It was a cracking start (groan) to this year’s Bristol Encounters Film & Animation Festival on Tuesday, with the Aardman 40th Anniversary Special, a retrospective by co-founders Peter Lord and David Sproxton of Britain’s most beloved animation company.  The event began with a whimsical review by Peter Lord of the company’s history, from their experimental films as teenagers, through years of developing a small yet highly specialist team to the industry-leading organisation that Aardman have become today.  A true love story that encouraged artists to follow their hearts.

This was proceeded by a treat for all audience members (but perhaps even more so for those with fond memories of the 80s) with the premiere of a newly digitally remastered HD version of Peter Gabriel’s ‘Sledgehammer’.  The screening was introduced by David Sproxton who recounted the difficulties faced tracking down the original film negatives, only to eventually find a treasure trove of additional film, including screen tests and footage from the wrap party, all of which provided a unique insight into the very different technical and collaborative processes of the time.

The event was rounded off with a lively Q&A that revealed that despite their many years in the business, Aardman still have plenty more stories they wish to share.

 

Wednesday:  Animation 1 & 2 ‘The Weight of Humanity’ & ‘Moving Pictures’

The first two animation programme screenings on Wednesday included some real gems from the worlds of puppet and 2D animation.  A possible first for Animated Encounters was the inclusion of a real-time puppetry short, ‘A Terrible Hullabaloo’ directed by Ben O’Connor.  The short, which told the story of a young boy fighting for Ireland in the Easter Rising, combined rod and string puppetry with digital animation for a distinctly odd yet humorous feel.  Another short that used evocative hand-crafted imagery was ‘Come Alive’, an abstracted paint-on-glass animation directed by Darcy Prendergast and Xin Li that portrayed the desolation of women hunted as witches in colonial Tasmania.

moving-pictures-analysis-paralysis-anete-melece
‘Analysis Paralysis’ dir. Anete Melece.

In the evening, several shorts captured the imagination.  ‘My Home’, directed by Phuong Mai Nguyen was a beautifully surreal exploration of a young boy’s struggle to accept his mother’s new relationship.  ‘Analysis Paralysis’ directed by Anete Melece  used digital cut-out and quite striking felt tip drawings to deliver a quirky and funny tale about the dangers of over-thinking.  Last, the haunting stop-motion short ‘Lili’ directed by Hani Dombe and Tom Kouris, told the bittersweet story of a young girl’s battle to save her childhood from a sandstorm  (more about the production and fabrication processes can be found on the studio blog.)

All in all, it’s shaping up to be another great festival.

Review by Emma Windsor


Bristol Encounters Short Film & Animation Festival runs until Sunday 25th  September at the Watershed and other venues.  Key animation events include programmes 3,4, 5 and 6, which run from Thursday 22nd – Friday 23rd September.  Also on Friday is a masterclass with Hugh Welchman, co-writer and co-director of ‘Lovin Vincent’, an animation hand-painted by over 100 artists that celebrates the life of Vincent Van Gough.  Further, several workshops for adults and children are running on Friday and Saturday, including Animation Therapy and Build Your Own Gromit or Shaun the Sheep.

For further information and to book tickets/passes, visit the Encounters website: http://encounters-festival.org.uk

What importance does collaboration overseas have for puppetry in the UK?

At first glance, it may seem odd to write about the importance of artists getting together.  So much time is often spent alone in a studio, workshop or at a laptop, involved with the making of this or that project.  And for many, creative enterprise is very much a one-person vehicle, a freelance or small business venture.  Yet, in one way or another collaboration is prerequisite for the arts sector and creative industries to flourish.  In recent months, the question of how to collaborate overseas has become a hot topic, so below some ideas about the need and value of bringing it all together.

11811323_10152866829071899_8392232831151624189_n
Photo: BFP13

Thoughts about how to stimulate good company and its benefits have been on our minds at Puppet Place for sometime now.  Of course, Puppet Place produce the bi-annual Bristol Festival of Puppetry, an event that has always celebrated diversity and internationalism. More recently, however, we kicked off our ‘Creative Hub’ conversation – an open discussion about the future of puppetry and Puppet Place.  This discussion has not only covered topics about local and international networks, such as best practices and the many benefits beyond resource pooling, but is itself, reflective of positive connections in action around common ground.

Then in June, the EU referendum result set the course for what will surely be given time, an overhaul of the infrastructure underpinning the UK creative sectors and industries.  Now more than ever, it seems appropriate to have those conversations about our relationships; who we work with, who funds us and how.   For some artists, in particular those seeking to work worldwide, there are various concerns:

cp_pull_outGreen Ginger could not have survived four decades of making work aimed at young adult audiences without the international market to work in.  The UK alone offers limited opportunities for companies like ours.  Theatres are still nervous about risk-taking and festivals are few in number and if they can offer bookings it is rarely for more than a single night.  The lack of any post-Brexit road-map is scary for those of us trying to work globally.  Forward planning is necessarily restricted to the short-term whilst the powers that be work out what it will actually mean in terms of free movement of labour and goods. We hope that the current wave of cross-border dialogue between festival producers, artists and enthusiasts will continue to stimulate fresh ideas and possibilities for all concerned.
Chris Pirie, Co-director, Green Ginger, UK.

 

But possibilities remain open, especially in appreciating collaborative endeavour:

dc_pull_outI’m unsure how Brexit will affect those involved in the Arts. I hope that it will not cause an “economic fear-factor” leading to more conservative programming in theatres around the UK.  I personally hope to find many more collaborators who will bring their diverse skills to the table so that we can create something new – and that we all go from the experience as better artists. It is important to protect traditions, but also to invest in work that is not always obviously commercial or conventional.

It would also be wonderful to see more specialists – puppeteers who focus on one aspect of puppetry, master it and make it their own – so that they can collaborate with other skilled masters to create work.   Drew Colby, Artistic Director, Finger and Thumb Theatre, UK.

 

Certainly, arts organisations in countries that have opted for a cooler approach toward the EU have managed strong and positive relationships with European and other overseas partners, which have in turn, nourished and enriched their domestic culture and creative industries:

ga_pull_outOur main mission is to develop visual and puppet theatre as a genre in Norway. Interdisciplinary and international collaborations are crucial for such a development. Without international exchange, the visual arts could easily become a traditional and over protected art form – that has a bad smell of old socks.   A wide and vital international network and exchange is the main base in order to obtain artistic development.  Norway has never been a part of the EU, but still there is trade and cultural exchange between EU and Norway.

Being from such a desolated part of Europe, we have experienced that the only way forward is maintaining a close relationship to the artists in the rest of Europe, and maybe even more importantly the rest of the world.  Geir-Ove Andersen, Producer, Figurteatret i Nordland/Nordland Visual Theatre, Norway.

 

And here in the UK, vital spaces for international exchange remain vibrant and vocal about their pivotal role in supporting widely collaborative creative enterprise:

ka_pull_outThe creative industries in the UK are a significant contributor to GDP and festivals, no matter how small, play an integrated and important role in the promotion and vibrancy of the creative product… It is through an active use of festivals internationally where filmmakers and animators in the UK become known worldwide as producers of noteworthy and high quality films. It would be tragic both culturally and economically if this was damaged in any way. I hope that new ways of collaboration arise and opportunities with other countries open up, whilst we continue to preserve the excellent relations we have worked hard to build over the years with our EU friends.
Kieran Argo, Curator, Encounters Short Film & Animation Festival, UK.

 

So there is much potential, as we move forward, to continue to develop and enjoy the creative sectors and industries here in the UK. Effective collaboration is key to unlocking that potential, both overseas and among arts organisations.  Touring theatre companies need the opportunities that international connections bring to maintain vibrant ventures and our cultural economy is clearly enriched by overseas investment whether that is direct finance, collaborating organisations or visiting audiences.  Lastly, our communities are better off with a range of perspectives and ideas in the mix.  And at Puppet Place we will continue with our discussions regarding a collaborative hub and our vision for it into the foreseeable future.

We believe that by talking and listening with each other, we better learn as a society to accept difference and work together to make a better world for all.  Puppetry is a universal artform that communicates across language barriers, cultural, national, generational, political and social divides.  Puppet Place dedicates itself across all its activities to breaking down these barriers and divisions.   

Rachel McNally, Puppet Place Executive Producer, UK.

 

Article by Emma Windsor


We are opening up the debate about what Puppet Place should be and are working with a Creative Group to focus our thinking. Our Creative Hub Conversation continues into the autumn 2016.  Your thoughts and feedback are most welcome.  Minutes and materials are available on our website:  http://www.puppetplace.org/hub/ 

Puppet Place is 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 artforms.  To find out more about our organisation, our resident artists and associate artist scheme, visit the website at www.puppetplace.org or contact Rachel at rachel@puppetplace.org.

 

International Encounters: An Interview with Kieran Argo

Kieran Argo is animation programmer for the Encounters Short Film and Animation Festival.  Now in its 22nd year, the festival presents one of the world’s leading international competitions for short film and animation, and official gateway to the world’s most prestigious awards; BAFTAs, European Film Awards and Cartoon d’Or.  We spoke to Kieran about this year’s Animated Encounters programme, whether live-action puppetry might find a place in future programming and why international forums play such an important role in the arts. 

It's Only Natural, Blue Honey, Constance JoliffIt’s Only Natural, Blue Honey, Constance Joliff


The 2016 Animated Encounters programme features a diverse collection of shorts relating to six umbrella subject-matter.  How do you decide upon the themes?

hud_DZphFor the last five years Encounters has been offering themed programmes for a couple of reasons. It was agreed that straightforward programmes with no over-arching feature to them were, well, a bit boring. Many festivals randomly collate their selected films into the given screen slots and this leads to a very diverse and eclectic mix of films. In my experience, programming that has no rhyme nor reason can sometimes lead to audience confusion. By offering a themed programme we are not necessarily preventing confusion but at least indicating some of the themes and topics covered by the films in the programme. It is good to see many other festivals also working their programmes into thematic groups. I think it makes for a more interesting offering to the audience. The great thing is that even with any given theme to a short film programme you will still discover great diversity in styles, techniques and stories.

Themes arise naturally during the end stage of the selection process. Common themes occur every year, for example, loneliness, loss, romance, nature, environment and underpin many of the narratives in the films. It’s simply a question of making notes along the way then revisiting and grouping films once the long process of short-listing has been made. The recurrence of a particular theme within the shortlisted films leads naturally to a theme for the programme.

The criteria for selection has remained constant for many years and it is with the dedicated help of Nigel Davies from Aardman and others over the years that we have maintained a high standard in the selection process. We look for good and outstanding production values in at least one or more areas of the production. At the end of the day (and this applies to narrative work only) it is the story and strength of delivery that counts. The selection process we apply ensures continuity from year to year.

Late Lounge Xxxtra, B., Kai StanickeLate Lounge Xxxtra, B., Kai Stanicke


Other international film festivals have recently featured live action puppetry works in their animation programmes (for example, The 2015 Seattle Film Festival).  Do you think that this is something that Animated Encounters would consider including?

Encounters is always looking for ways to develop and expand and we are constantly discussing ways of improving and changing the festival. This has to be done carefully with an eye to preserving our strengths whilst also developing new and exciting activities.

Live action puppetry has a lot in common with animated film as it also uses the power of a proxy character as a vehicle for the story. Live action puppetry, being in real-time, clearly differentiates from animated film as animation is defined for our purposes as a frame by frame process. I am aware of one puppet film that has played at festivals as an animated film but is clearly been filmed in real-time.

I would love to see greater expansion and inclusion of other art-forms including live action puppetry in Encounters as they would complement each other greatly especially with the many stop-frame puppet animation films that are screened each year. I hope we will be in a position to develop this in the future.

Close Encounters of a Short Kind, Planemo, Veljko PopovicClose Encounters of a Short Kind, Planemo, Veljko Popovic


Encounters is a long-established event that prides itself on being the UK’s leading international short film and animation festival.  What do you think spaces for international exchange such as Encounters bring to animated filmmaking?

Festivals such as Encounters offer a space and platform for filmmakers and audiences that no other activity can rival. It brings people together to exchange ideas, celebrate creative achievements and make new friends and collaborations. There is an amazing international network of festivals for short form and animation where both aspiring and established animators and filmmakers can build and develop their reputations. The chance to see the films where they belong, on a big screen in a great environment is also a key feature of a good festival.

Whilst there have been unprecedented changes in production and distribution over recent years that has led to a plethora of short film production this has only reinforced for me the need for quality opportunities such as Encounters to play its part in the assistance of filmmakers, animators and audiences. We strive to help filmmakers and offer them a space to exhibit, celebrate and discuss their work. It is a well deserved space and one that should be protected. Festivals play a critical role in the life of films and filmmakers especially in the short and animation world and the wider culture in general.

A Look Inside, Ticking Away, Michael Sewnarain.pngA Look Inside, Ticking Away, Michael Sewnarain

 

The recent EU referendum will bring many changes and opportunities for all organisations involved in the Arts.  What are your hopes for the future?

My hopes are that the cultural and economic role festivals play are not forgotten or sidelined or seen as some kind of cultural luxury where costs can be saved. The creative industries in the UK are a significant contributor to GDP and festivals, no matter how small, play an integrated and important role in the promotion and vibrancy of the creative product, in this case short film and animation.

I also hope that our friends and colleagues overseas continue to look to the UK for collaboration and partnerships and appreciate that the vast majority of creative led people played no part in the ridiculous referendum outcome. My twenty plus years has been underpinned by working with friends and colleagues overseas. It is through an active use of festivals internationally where filmmakers and animators in the UK become known worldwide as producers of noteworthy and high quality films. It would be tragic both culturally and economically if this was damaged in any way. I also hope that new ways of collaboration arise and opportunities with other (non-EU) countries open up, whilst we continue to preserve the excellent relations we have worked hard to build over the years with our EU friends.

 

Interview by Emma Windsor


This year, Encounters will host a big 40th birthday show-and-tell from the Co-Founders of Aardman.  The festival welcomes back the cutting edge studio Nexus to show their shorts and discuss their latest developments in augmented and virtual reality animation, and the Oscar winning Founder and Creative Director of BreakThru Films, Hugh Welchman, who will discuss the making of the highly anticipated Loving Vincent feature film from his studio in Poland. 

The 2016 festival will run from 20 -25 September at Watershed & Arnolfini, Bristol, UK.  For further information on how to book tickets and passes, see the Encounters website: http://encounters-festival.org.uk/festival-passes-now-on-sale/

All Fingers & Thumbs: An Interview with Drew Colby

As director and founder of Finger and Thumb Theatre, Drew Colby’s work with puppets has evolved over 30 years.  He has performed at many key venues and festivals around the world; including the International Festival of Marionette Art in Prague, Norwich Puppet Theatre  and The Little Angel Theatre. We caught up with him to chat about his latest project ‘Carnival of the Animals’, his experiences of collaborating with artists abroad and his future hopes for the arts in the UK.

cat_drew_REV
Photo: Nir Shaanani


Your latest show ‘Carnival of the Animals’ is based on the suite of fourteen pieces of music by the French composer Camille Saint-Saëns.  What inspired you to produce the work?  How does hand shadow puppetry lend itself to the work?

drew_colbyI wanted to create a performance around this music because it is of great quality – but also accessible. And beautiful. And a bit of a conundrum that needs to be solved. I like the limits imposed by (and possibilities inherent in) using a set piece of music combined with the limits and possibilities of my own technique. Hand shadows are suited to the work because they are capable of quick transformations and portraying a large number of different animals – the challenge being to keep the interest of the audience so the performance doesn’t resemble a mere list of creatures – a “look what else I can do with my hands” show. The Carnival of the Animals was not written specifically for children, yet its moods, characters and small harmonic storylines are entirely accessible to them. And it is great fun. I’ve wanted to do this show for almost twenty years!

Back of Flyer COTA

A focus of Finger and Thumb’s work in Israel was collaboration with local artists. How did this come about and what opportunities and challenges did working with practitioners with a different language, culture and artistic heritage provide?  What do you think spaces for international exchange can bring to puppetry performance?

I was invited to the festival in Israel to perform a family show and an adult show. Ilan Savir, the artistic director, also wanted me to train puppeteers at the puppet centre in Holon. As negotiations for the festival progressed Ilan had the idea to have all the international companies (and some local puppetry students) perform with Israeli diva Shefita for two adult gala concerts. Shefita is an invented character who performs stand-up comedy alongside her cross-over pop / folk music. Ilan also had to find a concert pianist in Israel to work with me. During this time The Carnival of the Animals was being rehearsed in the UK and emerging as a piece which relies on the relationship between the puppeteer and the pianist. I was very fortunate with Ilan’s choice of pianist, Michal Solomon, as she was a quick study .  We had three quarters of a day to rehearse the entire show and then  gave  our first performance.

dc02_pull_outThe theme of Finger and Thumb’s Carnival is about working together – sharing different skills – and bringing those skills together collaboratively to make something incredible. In total we performed four Carnivals and two gala nights with Shefita. Working with both Michal and Shefita was straightforward. There was a humility and willingness from both artists (alongside very good technical and production support from the theatre) that allowed a relationship and creative rapport to easily develop.

One of the ironies for me was that Shefita performs her show mostly in English (for an adult audience) whereas I had to perform my text in Hebrew (so the children could understand). Learning the Hebrew was a challenge! Everybody I worked with spoke good English though, so there were no communication difficulties during rehearsal.

All of my activities in Israel were created with people I was meeting for the first time, in an intensive and focused environment. From the Carnival performances, to the concerts, to the three day workshop I facilitated. Creating the performance with Michal in Israel was a transmogrifying experience. An amelioration. Likewise improvising to Shefita’s song (sung in a language I didn’t understand) was a freeing experience. I left Israel with many new ideas of what to do next with my technique – inspired by the freedom to play and suggestions / dialogue with the workshop participants. Hand shadow work is like an oral tradition – it literally needs to be “handed down”.  Over the years I have learned a bear from a puppeteer in Georgia, a chicken in India and a goat in Uganda.  Students now come to me with screen grabs of some of my videos asking “how do you make this chicken” or “how do you make this bear” and I show them. I think we will see some good hand shadow work coming out of Israel before long!

Donkey by Nir Shaanani 270 Shefita
Photo: Nir Shaanani

The recent EU referendum will bring many changes and opportunities for all organisations involved in the Arts.  What are your hopes for the future?

I’m unsure how Brexit will affect those involved in the Arts. I hope that it will not cause an “economic fear-factor” leading to more conservative programming in theatres around the UK. I personally hope to find many more collaborators who will bring their diverse skills to the table so that we can create something new and that we all go from the experience as better artists. It is important to protect traditions, but also to invest in work that is not always obviously commercial / conventional. It would also be wonderful to see more specialists – puppeteers who focus on one aspect of puppetry, master it and make it their own – so that they can collaborate with other skilled masters to create work.

And I hope there will be more live music in live theatre shows!

by Emma Windsor


Carnival of the Animals: Shadowgrapher: Drew Colby; Pianists: Michal Solomon, Daniel Wallington, Sarah Kershaw and An-ting Chang; Additional direction by Liz and Daniel Lempen; Illustration by Hannah K Broadway. Commissioned by Junction, Goole and funded by the Arts Council.

Tickets are now on sale for the UK premiere of ‘The Carnival of the Animals’ on 17 September 2016 at Junction, Goole, Yorkshire.  Find out more at the Junction website and buy tickets here.  It will also be performed on 27 November 2016 at the Dulwich Picture Gallery.

Finger and Thumb Theatre create visual shows for family and adult audiences using different combinations of hand shadows, video technology, live and recorded music, storytelling and songs.  Find out more and see tour details on the website.

Peafrog Puppetry: An Interview with Katie Underhay

Puppet Place associate artist Katie Underhay is a designer, maker and performer for theatre.  She is also co-artistic director and founder of Peafrog Puppetry.  She and Anthony Burbridge create compelling and original theatre for audiences of all ages. Peafrog Puppetry undertake private commissions for other artists and performers as well as delivering flexible puppetry workshops to various education establishments and theatre groups.

Katie & Tony Cockatrice 2
Photographer Rosie Mastel

Hi Katie, thanks for taking time out to give us this interview. Can you share with our readers how you came to be doing what it is that you do?

Katie The Boy Who 1

Yes, of course. After initially studying at the Wessex Academy of Performing Arts I started a Musical Theatre degree. I realised that the course wasn’t right for me, and maybe even that career, so I jumped ship to study Theatre Design at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama with the intention of focusing on costume.

At the end of my first year, I played the lead in the college’s puppetry performance called The Boy Who Went Fishing For Compliments which caused me to realise that the combination of design and performance working with puppets gave me, is where I wanted to be as an artist.  Then at the end of my second year I was asked to step in as a last minute replacement for a show going to the Edinburgh Festival. Written and created by Jonathan & Tony Leach, the show was called King Kong the Musical. I had only two days to learn the show before our first preview! It was scary but exciting and it was an amazing, never to be forgotten experience of the festival and a fantastic show. It was also nice to step back into the world of musical theatre.

By the time I reached the end of my third year I was able to submit as my final project – a puppet, murder-mystery musical called Murder at Monishing Manor. I conceived, designed, built the set, wrote the songs and scored the music for a cast of 9 puppeteers and six live musicians. That was when Peafrog Puppetry came into being.

Murder at Moshing 2Photographer Bill Underhay

Wow, that would be the culmination of a lifetimes work for many people. Such a complex and challenging show must have been really demanding. How did you cope with everything?

I loved working on ‘Murder’ but it was hard to do so much alone. It’s easier to cope with things you love doing, but you’re right, it was very demanding. Since graduating I’ve worked on lots of projects with some amazing people, which is so much nicer than going it alone. I am lucky enough to be in 3 Little Pigs with Stuff & Nonsense which I’ve performed 92 times since December 2015, including an amazing 7 week stint at Plymouth Theatre Royal. I’m very much looking forwards to hitting the hundred shows mark in London in October, and then perform the show in Ipswich over the Christmas period.

 

You have a new show at the moment, ‘The Tale of the Cockatrice’. How’s that going?

Oh, better than we could have hoped. We have just had our ‘world premiere’ at the fantastic Midsummer Dreams Festival in Dartington, Devon and we got some brilliant feedback from audiences and the festival organisers. We are looking to further develop the show and take it on tour in 2017. We have the small hurdle of funding to overcome and will be applying to the Arts Council, as well as asking people to help support and promote our show in any way they can.

Katie Cockatrice 1
Photographer Rosie Mastel

Is there any specific way in which readers of the Puppet Place newsletter might be able to help?

Well if anyone can give us a heads up on festivals or venues which we can include in our tour plans, let us know of any funding opportunities they think we might be eligible for, of just help promote our show on their social media that would be amazing!

One final question, looking back on your last few years experience, what advice would you give your younger self or to others wanting to have the success you have?

Be selective in the things you do for free. It’s a great way to network and the experience can be invaluable but don’t sell yourself short.  Be tenacious and keep applying for things, even if they are not quite what you want or think yourself perfect for. Each application could open the door to other connections and opportunities.If you can’t find someone to employ you, employ yourself! Get a group of people together and create something. I’ve done a lot of that!

Thank you so much Katie, good luck with the show and the tour.

 

Interview by Stephen Barrie Watters


Peafrog Puppetry create compelling, original theatre with the aid of oddball puppets, live acoustic music and general tom-foolery! Based in the South West of England, they create and design bespoke puppets for stage and screen and run interactive workshops, providing puppetry tuition in theatres, colleges and drama societies for toddlers, teenagers and even grown-ups.  Find out more on the 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.

 

Yamasong: March of the Hollows: Behind the Scenes

A sneaky peek clip for forthcoming puppet feature film Yamasong: March of the Hollows from Dark Dunes Productions and executive producers Heather Henson and Toby Froud.  The video gives some juicy behind-the-scenes insights into the puppet filmmaking process. A must-see for lovers of puppetry and practical effects onscreen.  For more information about Yamasong, read our exclusive interview with the film’s director, Sam Koji Hale.