Puppets at the Pop-Up Palladium! An Interview with Emily Morus-Jones

Josh Elwell talks to Emily Morus-Jones, the creator and curator of Puppets at the Pop-Up Palladium – an extraordinary online live puppetry variety/magazine show with illustrious guests and performances, produced from Emily’s home in Wales.

 Where did you first conceive the idea of ‘Puppets at the Pop-Up Palladiumand what were the steps that you took in order to start the ball rolling?

The idea came about through watching the success of an old friend of mine who is a successful Welsh Comedian, move her gigs online during the first wave of lockdown.  The online gigs that she organised were helping performers twofold by both providing them with some paid work and the opportunity to have a gig to prepare and perform at, i.e. do what they do at a time when there was no work, which helps with your mental health as a performer in addition to the financial benefits.  It was also making audiences aware of the comedians’ plight where, because of the pandemic, they were staring down the barrel of a year of no work but still had to negotiate the cost of living.  I thought, if it can work for comedy, then why not puppetry?

To get the ball rolling and make this idea happen I needed an amount of capital to invest in the creating the necessary infrastructure, which having been fresh from finishing the course at the Curious School Of Puppetry in Falmouth, I simply did not have.  In the time of a pandemic where performers, puppeteers and freelancers working in the entertainment industry had seen their livelihoods stripped away by the lockdown restrictions, I did not want to be another person asking them to work for free (a particularly weird phenomenon in my opinion.) So I relegated the idea to that of a pipe dream and went about supporting my family in Wales. 

It was then that the Welsh Arts Council announced that they were offering Stability Fund for individuals impacted by the pandemic. I met he criteria because I had rinsed all my savings in studying, finishing just in time to lockdown and was supporting my Mum who has an auto-immune disease. This meant I could not seek work without being a risk to her, so I applied and much to my shock and surprise, was granted the funds that I was asking for.

In this bizarre time where theatres are closed and live performance is having to adapt and adjust to completely new ways of working, you have attempted to do something entirely new. An online live puppet variety show may not have happened before! What have been the main challenges? Also what do you feel are the main things that you have learned or gained from the project?

There have been so many challenges on this project!  First of all I am incredibly lucky to have received support from the girls behind Cardiff Animation Festival – Lauren Orme and Ellys Donovan in particular – without whom I just wouldn’t have been able to do it because the complexities of orchestrating this kind of event over Zoom would have been a nightmare to learn alongside everything else I was doing.

The main challenge I have encountered has been the volume of work, which I had never done before. It felt like with every hoop I managed to jump through to get the show going, another layer of work to do was added.  It started with writing a funding proposal (which I had never done before), getting the funding (which I had never done before ), emailing all the acts to say you’ve got the funding, then finding freelancers to help you make press materials and the necessary digital infrastructure (which I had never done before.) 

Once I’d done all that, I had to find a publicist and go about publicising everything (which I hadn’t done before) until we were ready to launch where you get a momentary sigh of relief. But then you have the mammoth task of generating enough ticket sales to keep the event going, paying everyone and chasing up publicity and acts for the next shows (which was also completely new.) This was all before I had even began to consider my own performance!  There’s a reason roles like Producer, Director, Performer, Set Builder, Writer, and Production Manager are separate and I’ve certainly found a new respect for the people working in them!

All that aside, I think the biggest challenge has been finding our audience.  This project, like a lot of my work, has been experimental.  The key difference I have found between puppetry and comedy is that there already exists a great deal of infrastructure out there for comedy. So you have well established localised and national comedy circuits, TV comedy panel shows etc and a strong following, which is something we don’t have anything like for puppetry.  

Puppeteers are often hidden, and like animators, you seldom know who is behind a piece of work with perhaps the exception of the Muppeteers and a few key Directors/Performers. So there is no huge following that you can easily tap into like there is in comedy. There is no established circuit of watching puppet-specific entertainment for an adult audience. It is usually tied in as part of a theatre show for example, or thought of as being something that is specifically for kids with a few notable exceptions.

Finding our audience was made even harder by the second part of the goal of this project, which was to try to platform puppetry from across the entire spectrum of what is an incredibly broad art form. Often people associate puppetry with Henson’s style muppetry, Punch & Judy, or Warhorse, which is great but there is a lot more out there that often gets forgotten.  As everyone had lost their incomes, I thought it was only right that I try to build a platform for everyone so that audiences could learn about them.

Add to this the newness of working online where we had to figure out an entirely new format to see if we could make it work for puppetry. This also begged the question, would audiences be up for paying to watch entertainment over Zoom and how do we make Zoom work for all the different types of puppetry out there?  It’s not just a matter of worrying about what a stand-up comedian is going to say but rather thinking about and trying to pre-empt as best you can, all the bonkers technicalities that each type of puppetry brings with it.  For instance, an online performance of shadow puppetry requires a completely different set of technical requirements to a muppet style performance. How do we work with performers to show them off in the best light? 

Finally, creating a puppet character in Ddraig has been enormously challenging for me.  First of all having the confidence to do it in the first place felt like a pretty huge barrier!  After getting the go ahead from the Welsh Arts Council I did go into a state of shock for a while and was questioning if I was capable of pulling this off.  I have been puppeteering for 4 years and usually puppeteers spend a number of years working as an assistant. I was thrown in the deep end from the get-go, which has some advantages but means I still have a lot to learn.  I’m sure you can appreciate that platforming myself alongside puppeteers like Laura Bacon who’s been doing Patsy May for a decade, or Andy Heath doing Nelson the Fox and puppeteering for over 20 years professionally, or Ronnie Le Drew who’s been doing Zippy since before I was born was a teensy weensy bit daunting!  

These characters take a very long time to really form and while I think Ddraig has progressed a lot, she still has a fair way to go.  It has also been very challenging doing this type of puppetry live. So in addition to having a new puppet, trying to work out a new character, doing a new role in hosting, there was the added challenge of doing it all live.  I have come into puppetry through TV puppetry, so ordinarily I would be doing a couple of lines/actions for a single take lasting a few minutes, then cut, repeat if necessary. Then whoever is editing would pick the best one. For this there is no second take or chance to get it right. You are puppeteering for over an hour with a few breaks – it’s a very different beast.

In terms of what I have learned – well there’s just so much.  I think I can say I am a more confident puppeteer with a much better understanding of what goes into making any kind of show, and the costs and time involved in putting them together.  I have learnt loads about publicity, marketing, pitch writing, material writing, hosting, time and money management/budgeting. Actually I think the biggest thing this project has given me is the confidence in my own instincts. It has taught me to be more assertive.  It has also been really fascinating learning from other puppeteers and see how different people approach making new work.

You have had some highly illustrious guests from Handspring to Zippy! How did you go about curating the project and how easy was it to get people on board?

In my view, one of the key tenets of working in puppetry is to be an ambassador for it as much as you can. There are so many pre-conceptions about it being just for kids.  So when I set out to write the funding proposal, I knew that I wanted the event to be a positive part of the industry in promoting puppetry to new audiences.  I am very fortunate that, as someone who is relatively new to the industry, I am pretty well connected. So I sought the advice from many of my colleagues who have a wealth of experience as puppeteers before I even wrote the funding proposal to find out whether or not they thought it was a good idea. Curious and Talk To The Hand Puppets were an amazing source of encouragement in particular.  Many of them even wrote me a letter of support, which was very heartening.  

The key idea of this event was to use the more well-known puppets, puppeteers and puppet companies as a draw to help the lesser known, up-and-coming puppeteers platform themselves to new audiences.  There was no point in using the funding grant to pay only the performers who were already well-established and likely to be struggling less. But we did need their help to publicise each show and give audiences taking a punt on the event the security that there would be something that was a known quantity there for them.

Getting people on board wasn’t very difficult because everyone was feeling the affects of the pandemic. They weren’t busy and could see that many performers were struggling. They were up for helping in any way they could, which actually has been one of the most heart-warming and exciting  aspects of running the event for me. Having some really high quality acts get on board because they want to help others that they don’t even know through these dark times.

There’s a huge amount going on in one show! Perhaps you could also say a bit about how it all works technically? Also, how does it feel to be performing a live show from your own home?

Well we have been learning with each show we do. The truth is that we never really know how it’s going to turn out until we do it, partly because of the tight turnovers on each show which leave barely any rehearsal time, and partly because that is the nature of both live performance and technology!

Ellys is really the queen of the technical running of the show and I genuinely have no idea how she does it. Perhaps one day when I eventually get to meet her in person I’ll find out!  

Certainly from my side I try my best to work with each performer to see how we can best work with their act online. Everyone has to be having fun first and foremost, so it’s been a balancing act between needing to be decisive and guide them based on my experience of what worked in previous shows against what they want to do.  I then try and put each piece into an order that flows best. It’s like trying to put a jigsaw puzzle together where each of the pieces comes from a different puzzle and then trying to make an interesting picture out of it.

Performing at home has been advantageous for everyone in that you don’t have to go anywhere to do it. There is an ease in the fact that all you have to do is log in, rather than take a set and suitcase with you.  It has also been extremely challenging as I didn’t really envision having to move back in with my parents in my 30s. Whilst they are supportive and have allowed me to commandeer their spare room and turn it into a theatre, I don’t think they really understand it. So I feel very isolated in doing this a lot of the time.  Finally, when I finish a show I’m on a bit of an adrenaline high from the day of rehearsals and all the work leading up to it, but then I switch my computer off and I’m suddenly just sat in the spare room on my own again. It is just a very odd feeling that I still haven’t got used to.

Restrictions seem to be set to continue. How do you think that live performance may be able to move forward from here? Do you have any plans to continue or evolve in anyway?

It has been really interesting to watch how different people have adapted their work to the new reality and I think the truth is that the people who are really serious about their art will always continue to do that.  I think everyone is looking forward to next year with a hopeful return to some sort of normality but that said, I really hope people continue to experiment with their work.  

Someone said to me recently that as artists we are always working against limitations and part of the reason that we work with puppets is that they are very limiting in many ways in comparison to working with an actor for example.  If you reduce down the way you think about lockdown restrictions to just a new and challenging limitation to be played with, then it becomes far less depressing.  Certainly from my experience of the Pop-Up Palladium some of the positives we have encountered have been that it has provided live entertainment to people who would not be able to go to a theatre because of social anxiety or because someone in their family is autistic.  Similarly the YouTube recording of each performance has meant that people have been able to revisit stuff and watch from across the world ( we have a very loyal following from across the globe.) So I think there is a future for online entertainment and I’m intrigued to see where it goes from here.

In terms of the Palladium, we are constantly evolving and figuring out what works.  We plan to take a break for the time being because I for one need my life back for a bit!  That said, we are looking to do a Christmas show sometime in December.   I will continue collaborating with Ellys and Cardiff Animation Festival so who knows what next year may bring.

Interview with Josh Elwell

Keep up-to-date with events at the Pop-Up Palladium by visiting the website: https://www.popuppalladium.com/lineup, and connecting to the Facebook page.

Puppets Online: Interview with Ian Woods, Norwich Puppet Theatre

Roald Dahl’s Dirty Beasts – The Scorpion.

Since 1979, Norwich Puppet Theatre has been a precious and rare habitat for puppets and their puppeteers. A place where all sorts can come together and experience the tangible excitement of a puppet show. The pandemic has of course meant that coming together isn’t such a safe thing to do and like many other venues across the world, Norwich Puppet Theatre has had to adapt quickly. Online Puppet Theatre is their shiny new YouTube channel that launched six months ago. With theatre being such a physical and sensory experience, it’s amazing that they’ve managed to convert their entity into online content and keep the magic alive! A series of making tutorials for building puppets/ DIY mini puppet theatres has been uploaded. Sock puppets, rod puppets, paper puppets, shadow puppets… Before you know it, you’ll wake up surrounded! It’s a nice thought that while many theatres have temporarily shut their doors, Norwich Puppet Theatre has caused hundreds of tiny home theatres to spring up. 

The theatre has a 165 capacity main auditorium so there are limits to how many can see a show in the flesh, however the number of views a YouTube video can get is limitless! You can pause it rewind and watch the same bit over and over! Going online means that the theatre is reaching new audiences, including families who can’t afford theatre trips and people across the world. People are now able to access the wonderful world of puppetry whilst being safe and comfy at home.

Roald Dahl’s Dirty Beasts and Revolting Rhymes is the latest collection of performances. Each one is performed by a different puppeteer in a unique style, devised and performed at home during lockdown. With such a unique form of entertainment it’s probably a relief to parents to see something fresh for their kids after hours of playing on Roblox or Minecraft. The idiosyncratic Roald Dahl, with his silliness and absurdity, is a perfect match with the crafty genius that puppeteers have to offer. Clever poems, wild visuals and kooky characters, an ideal way to escape and shake off those corona blues.

Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes – Cinderella.

A personal favourite of mine is Cinderella, performed by Clementine the Living Fashion Doll. Clementine is a humanette puppet, a combination of small fashion doll puppets with large human, drag queen heads all composited together perfectly. The tiny ball costumes, sparkly sets and sound effects are all fabulous. Who knew a barbie doll drag queen with an oversized head was missing from my life!

There’s something special about every film in the series, they’re all so varied and distinctive using so many contrasting art styles. The DIY nature of them will be sure to inspire people to try out making their own productions. It just shows what can be achieved even without piles of money and equipment. The premieres are popping up weekly on their channel until October Half Term 2020, and all the shows will be available for free to watch and rewatch again and again until 4th December 2020. Get them while their hot! You do not want to miss out. Ian Woods, the manager of the theatre, kindly filled me in on what they’ve been up to and how they’ve been affected since the pandemic began.  – Amy Baker

What was Norwich Puppet Theatre like before COVID?

A building based company creating and touring puppet shows to venues across the UK and to schools in the eastern region. A vibrant creative learning outreach with craft based puppet making workshops delivered to the public at the theatre and into educational settings across (primarily) Norfolk and Suffolk.  A venue to present our own work and also that of visiting puppet companies, and when not used for our prime charitable mission (i.e. puppetry) we accepted hires for local am-dram theatre and dance groups. We also had 8 wedding/civil partnership ceremonies booked for 2020.  As well as being the ‘place to ask’ about puppets, we have a regular trickle of visitors interested in the building in its former role of the church of St James’ for family history searches etc.

How have you adapted to the situation?

On the evening of 16 March when the PM said that people shouldn’t go to bars and theatres, we ‘closed’ all our work – a week before the official lockdown started. Our tour of Beastly Belle ended. Planned schools workshops stopped.  We had a week to arrange for staff to move PCs etc. to their homes and to start working from there.  For the remainder of the month all seven of us carried on ‘normal’ working hours.  From April 1st, four of the seven were furloughed. We then received the £10K hospitality grant. We applied for ACE Response Funding primarily to secure the building costs through to September 2020 but also to enable development of online delivery. Our Foyles capital grant was converted to core costs with very rapid approval by Foyles Foundation. We secured £5K from the Martin Laing foundation to cover core costs and support online product making. A volunteer started making face masks for £5 donation to the Puppet Theatre and has raised over £2500 with gift aid. That financial stability and desire to link with our audiences meant from Day 1 of lockdown we wanted to have a digital online presence and so we created our Online Puppet Theatre YouTube channel. This was a vehicle for online puppet making sessions.  

These pre-recorded sessions were designed to use simple everyday materials – paper, glue, tape, card etc. that could be found at home – to make simple but effective puppets. Our pre-COVID workshops when delivered at the theatre or out and about, always had a huge range of decorating/making materials that we couldn’t expect anyone to have at home! The making workshops were added to with some “behind the scenes” videos of Pied Piper (recorded before the total lockdown) and information on how to manipulate puppets. They were ‘old’ and not specifically ‘made for’ online delivery. 

Zara Goodfellow (creative learning coordinator) wrote to the Roald Dahl Story Company with the idea of making puppet adaptations of his poems. We were pleasantly surprised to receive a reply, and even more so that it was positive. When they had released the rights from Netflix to us, an agreement was reached for royalty-free access to the poems provided the films were free to access and that the exact words were used of the poems. The RDSC had final clearance before the films were released. This free licence period comes to an end on 4th December when all films will be taken down.

The result – 15 unique videos each made by a freelance artist that we would, could or have worked with. This enabled us to trickle-down some of our ACE Response Funding to freelance artists whose income had been eradicated by the COVID lockdown. As part-time furlough came into play we have been able to visit the building more regularly, keep it secure and have been able to host two companies for rehearsals.  Also most recently a partner artist of the theatre was able to present her one woman play to a private audience (max capacity is now 35 but her shows played to 24 and 19 people respectively) with live zoom feed as well. 

With CRF funding we are now able to plan for a season of Christmas performances with social distancing in place. CRF money is subsidising a loss making opening, allowing us to design more intricate online workshops for schools delivery and plan/consult on how we can create and deliver work in 2021 and beyond.

Roald Dahl’s Dirty Beasts – The Crocodile.

What’s been your favourite video from the, ‘Roald Dahl’s Dirty Beasts and Revolting Rhymes’ series?

Each video is unique, and has its own special moments, so it would be invidious to select one over the others.  How can you select from the plasticine stop-frame animation of The Lion or The Anteater, the live puppetry of Jack & the Beanstalk or The Toad and the Snail, shadow work of The Cow or multi-role play of Cinderella? Whatever your medicine, each poem is a treat for a cup of coffee moment or even to entertain a child (or two!) 

Have you found that you’re reaching new audiences now, having an online presence?

As we have set all our videos to being child-friendly. We do not get direct comments on the YouTube channel so it is hard to say where we are being watched.  But social media comments do indicate an international footprint. For example, we had a flurry of Malaysian comments on our Sock Puppet making video!  We have been releasing the Roald Dahl videos on a weekly basis but now all 15 are available we can push the boat out to spread the word about them.  Each poem has subtitles available, increasing accessibility and also their use in educational settings.

How can people support Norwich Puppet Theatre?

Socially/spiritually by going to our Online Puppet Theatre YouTube page and enjoying and sharing the videos and link: https://bit.ly/NPT_online_puppet_theatre 

Financially by donating via Total Giving:  https://www.totalgiving.co.uk/donate/norwich-puppet-theatre-trust-limited – this can be a one off or regular payment.

Norwich Puppet Theatre will be 40 on 1st December 2020.  We won’t be able to have the hoped for big gala celebration but the date will be marked to be sure! If anyone has memories of the theatre we’d be happy to hear about them and if they want to make a 40 second ‘memory’ and send that through, we will be working to make a compilation!

Interview by Amy Baker

What will come of all this?!

Josh Elwell takes a look at some of the work that has been created during lockdown and reflects on ‘where are we at?’ in a year that has meant huge changes for puppeteers.

There is no doubt that, like many art forms within the live arts sector, puppetry and puppeteers have taken a huge hit this year. Theatres have closed, tours have been cancelled, projects have been dropped and artists are struggling. After months of uncertainty and a new lockdown in place, there is much concern about the future of live performance.

I think we can all agree that it has been a challenging time for us puppeteers. However, there has been a huge amount of creativity bubbling out of the struggle. It seems that there is some truth in restriction providing artists with something to kick against and take inspiration from. This of course does not take away from the very real need for us to earn a living and to find new ways to monetise our work within a completely new landscape. There are those who have found this all really hard and continue to do so, and this is entirely understandable given the circumstances.

It is my hope that by drawing attention to and celebrating some of the incredible creative work that has started to surface out of the thick Covid mist, it may inspire us all to take new brave steps towards breaking new ground.

Over the last 6 months there have been some weird, wonderful and outright trailblazing work going on within the puppet community. Here are a few of these projects that have crossed my radar. Please let us know at Puppet Place if you hear of any more or you yourself are in the process of working on something.

‘I Want My Hat Back’. Directed by Ian Nicholson, Little Angel Theatre

One of the first puppet pieces to appear online during the first lockdown was a live performance of Jon Klassen’s picture book ‘I Want My Hat Back’. Little Angel Theatre partnered with theatre director Ian Nicholson to stream a live performance. The show was broadcast on Little Angel Theatre’s YouTube channel during Easter earlier this year. Nicholson directed and performed the show from home, with a delightful set by Samuel Wilde and music by Jim Whitcher. 

This show paved the way for a whole program of work commissioned by Little Angel and presented by a talented cohort of associated artists. This ranges from a charming tale of ‘Little Fish’ told by Kneehigh’s Mike Shepherd to a compelling telling of ‘Rumplestiltskin’ by Arran Glass. If you go now to Little Angel Theatre’s YouTube channel you will find a superb array of performance, storytelling and creative ideas.

Then Norwich Puppet Theatre decided to create their own Online Puppet Theatre YouTube channel…

Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes and Dirty Beasts, Norwich Puppet Theatre

NPT have commissioned some of the top names in touring British Puppetry to present a series of brand new performances of Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes and Dirty Beasts poems.

Each mini-show has beed created and performed by a different artist or company working in lockdown, using Roald Dahl’s original words and lots of different styles of puppetry. These vary from animation to marionettes and everything in-between.

There is a hilarious rendition of Cinderella by Mark Mander and Clementine the living doll (who we have previously spoken to.) This is as engaging for adults as children. Just as beguiling is the true story of Goldilocks created and performed by Nik Palmer & Sarah Rowland-Barker of Noisy Oyster, performed on a miniature set with rod marionettes. There are many more and they are all well worth a watch for free on the NPT YouTube Channel.

Another company that has put together some impressive online output is Theatre Rites. They have adapted two of their productions for YouTube and have made a hybrid children’s TV/theatre series with their show ‘Talking Rubbish’. These are two short films created during lockdown inspired by rubbish and recycling. 

‘Big Up’ Theatre-Rites

They have also put together a big collection of very short films based on their show ‘Big Up’. ‘Big Up – at Home’ is aimed at little people who want to be Big and Big people who might just have forgotten how to play. They’ve been adding content weekly so you can check in for more beatboxing, puppetry and music that you can create at home.

With Beverly Puppet Festival going online earlier this year, many small companies like Garlic Theatre, Hand to Mouth, Moth and Indigo Moon were cajoled into creating work in a new way. You can still check them out on the Festival website

Beverley Puppet Festival Flyer

Many other festivals have also gone online and offered artists the opportunity to present work in a new way. I was asked to produce a short film for Bournemouth Arts by the Sea Festival that introduced various different puppet styles as well as sharing how to make a puppet at home.

One extraordinary project that has striven to break new ground with its live puppet variety/magazine show is Puppets at the Pop Up Palladium. We have a separate interview with them in this issue. Check it out.

These are just a few examples of what people have been up to during this crazy year. In some cases having to create work for an audience online has made work widely accessible to a much bigger audience. 

Whilst there has been a willingness of the Arts Council to support artists in adapting their work to the climate, the longer term question of where all this is leading us is yet to be fully answered. Is the answer in charging audiences to access live performance online? Are there more ways, yet undiscovered, that artists and puppeteers can adapt their work in a way that will sustain them? One thing is certain – creativity is clearly alive and kicking and artists are continuing to producing outstanding work. Please let us know what you are up to!

Article by Josh Elwell

The Anarchist’s Mobile Library Audio Adventure

As theatres have been locked down for months, theatre makers have been creating new show formats to reach audiences in new ways. Tessa Bide Productions have created an interactive audio adventure to empower children to be masters of their own destinies, to be inspired by literature and to change the stories they see unfolding around them. We caught up with Tessa to find out more about this audacious adventure!

How have you been over recent months? How have you adapted to working?

The million dollar question! The last few months have been a real rollercoaster, as I’m sure they have been for just about everyone. I have felt a mixture of feeling lucky that, as an independent artist with a small team behind me, I am small enough to do a complete U turn and totally change my plan and how I create work. I don’t have to make huge decisions that affect hundreds of people, but at the same time I have felt like a small island more than ever, and at times so very isolated and powerless!

My producing team (Alice Massey, my Co-Producer and Holly Bond, my Assistant Producer) and I have adapted to remote working, keeping in touch via shared working documents on Google Drive with lots of Whatsapp messages and video calls. At the start of lockdown, when all of our 35+ gigs for the year were being cancelled, we took stock and made a bit of a plan about how we could adapt to the situation. We came up with the idea of regular online content and the creation of an audio piece, so that’s what we did!

Can you tell us about The Anarchist’s Mobile Library which you have made for lockdown touring. What’s it about?

The Anarchist’s Mobile Library was originally a show that toured in a 1970s pop-up caravan called Sydney. I won the caravan in 2018 and made the show last year with support from Seven Stories: The National Centre for Children’s Literature and Latitude Festival. It was about encouraging young people to engage with literature, write stories and change endings, but also to look around them at the ‘stories’ that are being played out in the world. We wanted to encourage them to change the endings of those stories too. Literature and activism for 7 year olds!

A family enjoy the adventure. Binoculars are needed in this part of the story!

Obviously an intimate, interactive show is the Covid nightmare so we repurposed an ACE grant we received at the start of the year to subsidise our tour and created an audio version of the piece. Originally I wanted to create an adaptation of the show, but I didn’t want it to be another screen-based thing for families. How can you encourage families to step away from the screen and the sofa, and physically act out the adventures together, like they did in the original show?

We decided that an audio piece would work best and set about creating it. It’s a choose-your-own-adventure (but not in those words, thanks to the copyright) interactive story experience, where audiences are transported to 6 different story settings – a witch’s kitchen, space, through the magic wardrobe, and then an incredible immersive sound design by Chris Menes and narration from myself takes them on the adventures. They have to answer questions and make difficult, slightly moralistic decisions along the way…then deal with the consequences! We’re creating a D/deaf accessible version with the amazing David Ellington at the moment that will be released on the 21st Nov, thanks to a commission from The Library Presents.

We didn’t stop there with adapting the piece, however. We received a commission from the National Rural Touring Forum and Pound Arts in Corsham to trial a Covid-safe live version of the original piece too. So in October, we took the caravan to a small town called Calne and brought a load of story postcards with us, that said ‘Once upon a time in Calne…’ on them. Along with performers Peta Maurice and Charlotte Dubery, we performed an adapted version of the show outdoors, scooping up family bubbles from the park and bringing them towards the caravan (at a distance!) We played improvised story games with the audience’s suggestions, then encouraged them to write their own stories on the postcards. We then collected the 40+ postcards up and spent a day at Puppet Place collating them all into one mad mega story. Then illustrator Camille Aubry made them into a zine. So this gave us a completely different take on the project, plus a third version of the show that we hope to tour next year too.

How can people watch The Anarchist’s Mobile Library?

The audio adventure is touring venues and theatres at the moment and is available to play now until 31st December via ‘The Library Presents‘. You just need a device that can play sound and access the internet – so a smart phone, tablet or computer.

We hope that the live, covid-safe show will be touring from next Spring so we’ll put dates on our website soon for that.

Looking at the wider picture, what do you think artists like yourself need to support your work in these ongoing challenging times?

We need money! It’s great that a lot of the venues and large companies were bailed out with the government’s funds but I’d like to see more support for freelancers and small companies like ours. It’s also so important to have someone bigger than you ‘flying your flag’. I’ve found that so helpful recently with Pound Arts, Farnham Maltings and the NRTF backing us, and another commission from The Library Presents. So often, as a small company/independent artist, it can feel that we are doing really great stuff but no-one knows about it – like you’re just shouting into the wind. So it means such a lot when an organisation with proper infrastructure and a bit of clout can shine a light on you and just say “Hey, I see you and I think you’re doing great stuff”. Without that, and access to our audiences at the moment, it’s just very, very hard.

The Anarchist Mobile Library Audio Adventure has been touring venues and theatres, and is available to play now until 31st December via ‘The Library Presents, where families can engage with the interactive show online.  Keep an eye on the website for more information and to sign up to the mailing list for details on the virtual tour as these are announced. 

Puppeteers Wanted! ‘The Bristol 48 Hour Puppet Film Challenge’ Needs You!!!


With the lockdown bringing the live performance industry to its knees, many artists are turning to online platforms and film making. The ‘Bristol 48 hour Puppet Film Challenge’ has already received registrations from some of Bristol’s most exciting talent as well as from Scandinavia and the United States. This is a wonderful opportunity for creatives of any age or level of experience to jump in and trust their creative responses. Puppet Place talked to resident artist, Cat Rock, who is curating this exciting online event.


How did the ‘The Bristol 48 Hour Puppet Film Challenge’ come about? I understand that you may have had some success in entering this kind of challenge yourself?

‘The Bristol 48 Hour Puppet Film Challenge’ came about after myself and my house mates took part in the LA Puppetry Guild’s 48 hour film project. This was in the height of the lockdown in May.  As a household we had all lost work and for the first time found ourselves free to enter the challenge. Izzy Bristow is a member of the Rocky Mountain Puppetry Guild and she got us involved.

We got to work, hardly slept and produced our very first puppet film in 48 hours called “Belly”. We received an honourable mention,  and were awarded ‘Best of the Rocky Mountain Puppetry Guild Entrants’.  We had a great weekend building weird things with lot of cardboard.  After it was all done, I thought that this was the kind of event we should be running here in Bristol. I’m a resident artist at Puppet Place, Bristol and after chatting to a few people we decided to go for it.  With the future looking unsure for theatre and performance in general, we really wanted to bring an event that anyone, anywhere could enter and take part in.  Professionals, enthusiasts, anyone with a passion for puppetry.  People will have the chance to get their work out there and be able to see a wide range of amazing puppet films.  By hosting the festival online, we hope to reach a wide audience and spread the puppet love in lockdown.

instagram square on cutting mat.jpg

Can you tell us more about your background in puppetry and how you came to making puppet films in particular?

(Cat Rock) I have a Masters Degree in Theatre and Performance from the University of Kent and have been working in the puppetry industry for over 10 years. I’m a puppeteer, fabricator and have worked with all kinds of puppets.  Some fun ones to mention are Greenpeace’s ‘Giant Polar Bear Arora’,  Longleat Safari Park’s ‘Atlas the Lion’, ‘Count Duckula’ and I am currently working with The Paper Cinema.

 I have been mostly theatre based but have been looking for a way to create and produce my own puppet films.  I see all the amazing puppet film productions being made at the moment and I want to be a part of it.  The LA Puppetry Guild’s 48 hour film project combined with the lockdown gave me the push to focus and get it done.  It also helps living with an amazing bunch of puppet people.  We have joined forces and created “The House Of Funny Noises”, and we are now on our third film with a couple more in the pipeline.  We love the weird and the surreal, and look forward to creating our own unique puppet films that are short, sweet and sickening.

The House of Funny Noises is made up of three puppet professionals.  The other members are:

Izzy Bristow is a puppet and costume maker with a Masters in Puppetry from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.  She works internationally building large puppets for shows like Regent Park’s acclaimed production of ‘Little Shop of Horrors”.

Helena Houghton is a filmmaker, animator, props and puppet maker. She graduated from the University of the West of England with a degree in stop motion, and has since fallen in love with all puppet mediums. Helena embraces the weird in her work to make visually stimulating art.


How will ‘The Challenge’ work and who are you hoping will take part?  Will there be a theme and guidelines or is it all up to the entrants?

The Challenge will begin at 7pm (BST) Friday 28th of August. This is when we will announce the three prompts to all the individuals and teams that have registered to take part in the challenge. The prompts will consist of an action, an item and a theme.

For example, The action ‘throw’, the item ‘pencil’ and the theme ‘temptation’.

Participants must include these prompts in their film.

The timer is then set and they will have 48 hours to devise, build, film, edit and submit their original puppet film. The submission deadline is 7pm on Sunday 30th of August (BST).

Participants can use pre-made puppets, but the film content story and its actual filming must all be done in the 48 hour timeframe.  The films will then be reviewed by our judging panel (to be released soon.)  We will be hosting an online film festival on the 12th and 13th of September (full schedule to be released nearer the time) where we will show all of the entered films and announce the winners of our categories.

The awards categories are:

1st  Place

2nd Place

3rd Place

Honorable Mention

Audience Choice (voted for by the audience)

Participant Choice Award  (voted for by the participants of the challenge)

Top 10

Age – 16-18, Judges’ Choice

Age – 11-15, Judges’ Choice

Age – 10 and under, Judges’ Choice

Everyone who wants to submit a film in The Challenge must register before 28th August.

Registration is FREE!

We ask those who are able to donate to the event but our main goal is to make this accessible for everyone.  We especially want to reach out to Black, Asian, ethnic minorities and youth communities, to help encourage diversity in the puppetry industry.  We will be in contact with registered participants to give them more information about The Challenge in the weeks to come. If you can’t join us in The Challenge, we welcome everyone to join us at the Watch Party to see what everyone has created.


What are you hoping to achieve with ‘The Challenge’ and what will happen to the films once they have been made?

We have six main aims for The Challenge:

  • To enable the art form of puppetry to reach new audiences, targeting young people and Black, Asian and ethnic minorities communities. We want to encourage diversity within the puppetry industry.

  • To provide a platform for audiences to become an active part in the creative process, creating their own original work.

  • To provide an opportunity for existing puppetry professionals to showcase their work to a wider audience.

  • To encourage people in these unprecedented times to create and have fun.

  • To inspire creativity, experimentation and growth in the puppetry field.

  • To provide an event which allows people to build bridges and make connections in the puppetry world, developing careers and prospects.

It is important to make events like this accessible and reach out to new people in these unprecedented times. It can be so easy to get lost in the chaos that is 2020.  We hope to give people a creative outlet which will be fun to do, great to watch and give people a challenge.

After the festival, the Top 10 films will be edited together to form an anthology, which will be available to watch online after the event. All of the other films submitted will be in the hands of their creators to do with what they will after the event. We hope everyone will share their work, spread the joy and join us again next year.



How can people take part?  And how can people help?

You must register to enter, so you can take part by registering to enter a film in The Challenge and you can join us at the online film festival and watch all the entries. Registration is FREE but you must register before 28 August to enter the competition.  Register here.

You can help by spreading the word about  The Challenge and if you are able you can donate for our fundraiser, we can go on to make this event an annual one. We are also seeking sponsorship from any companies or organisations who want to support us.  Email us at houseoffunnynoises@gmail.com to find out more.

But mainly we just want people to have fun!


Interview with Josh Elwell


To find out more about ‘The Bristol 48 Hour Puppet Film Challenge’ and join in with the fun, visit the event Facebook page  and register now here.

Tokri (The Basket) – A Stop Motion Short From The Heart

Interview with Director Suresh Eriyat , Studio Eeksaurus

Suresh Eriyat is a Mumbai based director and animator, with an Annecy Cristal Award under his belt and a hefty portfolio of over 450 films! After 8 years of production, Suresh Eriyat with his studio, Eeksaurus have released another award winning stop-motion film called ‘Tokri’ (The Basket). 

The film follows a young girl whose treasured relationship with her Father, (visible by pats on the head, nudges and giggles) is threatened when she cracks his prized heirloom – a golden pocket watch. Suddenly there are no more nudges or giggles. Her only hope is to sell baskets in the streets, try to raise enough money to salvage both the watch and their relationship. 

‘Tokri’ has a remarkably intricate landscape of the colourful and bustling Indian city. Time-lapse style cars wooshing by, all with moving characters inside. It’s impressive for an independent stop-motion film to achieve a set of this scale and quality. No wonder it took so many years. The attention to detail is bordering on microscopic, the folded fabrics on the shelf, the pots and pans, characters costumes and individual hairs. It’s these details that give the film a time and place, you know instantly where you are. The nuances in movement and facial expression add realism and make the characters feel human. 

The film’s conclusion is totally moving, earnest and warm, showing the beauty of unconditional love. It’s a touching portrait of the grief that comes with family disputes and the overwhelming relief of forgiveness. Sure to melt the coldest hearts and bring tears to the driest eyes. 


How did the idea for Tokri come about?

The film is partly fiction, partly real. In India, people beg and come and knock at your car, and they keep shoving their products at you or asking for money.  When I was driving to work one morning in 2008, this kid came up with this basket and I think I shooed her away. It was pretty much routine, I think everybody does it. But the fact that she was wearing a school uniform haunted me.  I also have a daughter who would have been about six at the time who just about started going to school.  For the rest of my drive I began to feel terribly guilty.  I thought why not develop this experience that I’d had into a story?  When I told this story to people, I  could see that they had moist eyes and they were reacting in a very different way, and that created conviction in me to go ahead and do this film. I decided to tell the story in a very subliminal way where you portray a sensitive story and maybe you start seeing these people in the people you encounter in everyday life.

Empathy is something that I wanted to convey to Indian audiences. The need for us to be empathetic to the needy, giving a little part of what you have, to support someone emotionally, physically.  That really was the intent of making this film.

Indian family values are unique. The unique emotional bonding within the Indian family with unsaid feelings for each other, the unconditional love for each other without repeatedly saying ‘I love you’ to one another to reaffirm, the concept of respect for elders and their feelings and vice versa, all these are absolutely not something the Western audience relate with.  In India people are driven by their hearts rather than heads. This is why Indians lead a content life despite so many shortcomings.  Life here is not transactional.  One of the reasons why the people in the West always admire India despite the filth and the poverty on the surface that precedes the deep ethos and values, is probably because of these aspects.


Could you tell us about your studio, Eeksaurus?

After 11 years of setting up and running Famous House of Animation in collaboration with the legendary Famous Studios, we felt the need to expand the canvas beyond advertisements and animation services related work we had been undertaking. To work in a medium agnostic way, exploring and experimenting with mediums, formats and platforms where stories played a bigger part than briefs.  Of course being a designer first, working on briefs was important to us for impacting a larger audience. The ads kept rejuvenating our problem-solving prowess and pushed us to outdo ourselves creatively to come up with unique solutions using the art and film medium for making the impact of a brand, a message or a product stronger. But our team’s collective dream to create films from stories for the love of pure cinema was something that pushed us to create different self funded projects at Studio Eeksaurus.  We felt Studio Eeksaurus should change the perception of animation film making in the country by sticking to Indian stories and making them enjoyable for Indian audiences. Nilima and I were very sure that the ethos of our company should be to constantly raise the quality of storytelling using animation.

Mixing analogue ways of working in the digital age is something that we fancy a lot. This interest has created various strange synergies and serendipities in our work resulting in amazing outcomes. With more than 200 films and 150 global awards to its credit, Studio Eeksaurus clearly strives towards quality content. When we won the first ever ANNECY Cristal for India in 2015, we did not know that we were embarking on a territory unexplored by none in India. We have seen many who are inspired by our work and our journey, and taking risks by doing great work by funding themselves and making Indian animation proud. 


The film took 8 years to produce, what kept you going through the production process?

First of all the film was self-funded. So we couldn’t dedicate the assigned team only for this project as it would call for us blocking a certain amount of funds for this. In the case of Tokri, as and when we got a commercial project that paid us, we paused work on Tokri,  in order to sustain ourselves. The team always took a while to get back on the track when we resumed again. This resulted in the escalation of time and hence the budget. The biggest learning from this exercise is to dedicate a team for a stipulated time within an allocated budget for a project like this. If we had worked on Tokri at a stretch we would have still taken about 3 years! 6 years we produced just 9 minutes of animation which were mostly the interiors. The more complicated exterior section animation of 5 minutes duration took just 7 odd months including the set making!


Why did you choose to tell the story from the daughters point of view?

For the daughter the universe is her parents and their happiness. The family is bonded with love and all the shortcomings in their lives are all overlooked because of that. For the father, the daughter’s education is of utmost importance. In my mind he has actually forbidden her from helping her mother even in making baskets as he doesn’t want that occupation to be her future. It is evident in the very opening shot where we see her picking up her study books as soon she hears her father approaching. The father’s story is a self-centred one, mother has other priorities to make both ends meet. The only person who is really affected by the despair at home is the daughter. She is led by the love for her father and nothing comes in between her and the goal. So I decided to see the story from her point of view as she sets off on a difficult path to repair her broken home.

Watch the film ‘Tokri’ (The Basket)

Interview with Amy Baker

To find out more about Studio Eeksaurus, visit the studio’s website at studioeeksaurus.com and catch their latest news on Facebook.


‘How It Felt’ – Puppets Talk Mental Health

Deborah Chapman or ‘Big Debz’ spoke with Puppet Place’s Martha King to discuss her Dundee based company ‘How It Felt’ and why she uses puppetry to discuss issues surrounding mental health through workshops and online content.


Hi Deborah, could you tell us a little bit about ‘How It Felt’ and what you do? 

Hello Puppet Place! My name is Deborah Chapman or Big Debz and together with my fuzzy friend Little Debz, we are ‘How It Felt’.

Photo by Y Photography

‘How It Felt’ provides supervised and interactive puppet building, drama and filmmaking workshops with an emphasis on mental health and emotional well being.  At the workshops children, adolescents, adults and staff can make puppets of themselves (or any character they want) and learn to operate and puppeteer through them.

This involves drama, games, team building exercises, empathy, communication, expression and understanding their relationships with others and themselves through puppetry activities. Then we look at how to use these tools to break down the barriers surrounding the stigma of mental health and help the individual with their own personal issues or anything they wish.  Other options can include creating a short scene/film about an issue that is important to them.  We’re also happy to adapt the themes of our workshops to the organisations and groups we work with.

At the end of the workshop the participants can keep their puppets and, if made, copies of films they have worked on. The final product is usually a finished puppet and a finished film, created by the participants. Our hope is that the experience can be educational and fun with clients going away with a new found sense of creative and emotional confidence.  This allows them to express themselves in a safe space and to understand themselves and others better with added fun!  Our services have also grown into doing more one-to-one and in depth sessions with clients, sensory storytelling, commissions, films, collaborations, events and educational talks with ‘Little Debz’.

How did you discover puppetry and what was it about this art form that made you want to use it in this way? 

I think puppets have always been around and influenced me but I didn’t understand the complexity and beauty of them until was I older.  Growing up in the late 80s and 90s, I was very fortunate to be exposed to British children’s shows and films, which had a huge variety of types of puppets.  Examples were things like Button Moon, The Clangers, Bagpuss, The Herbs, Tots TV, Watch with Mother, etc. I also grew up watching a lot of animation and puppet films, and also how puppetry was being used with groundbreaking effects in the film industry.  Of course Jim Henson, Tim Burton, Jurassic Park, Wallace and Gromit etc.  I remember getting an Aardman stop motion animation kit for Christmas and learning how to make models with wires in them for the first time.  I would watch the shows and films on repeat, and would always watch the behind the scenes of the whole process.

My love for the art form has never died and anytime there are puppets on television, the big screen, theatre, or performers in the street, I can’t help but be engaged and fascinated. During university I was lucky to go see a production of ‘War Horse’ and the experienced moved me in a way that made me realise that maybe I could be a puppet maker and puppeteer.

While pursuing a degree in the arts, me and my friend at the time ended up creating puppets that look like ourselves, which then lead to the creation of ‘How It Felt’.  This led to our short dubbed puppet films that were based on real conversations we had about our own mental health struggles. Then eventually our first funded puppet project working with young people and their families ‘How do you see ADHD?’ film.

During the process of ‘How It felt’ we have found that people don’t judge puppets as much as we judge each other. Puppets can get away with expressing and saying quite powerful subjects, even if the subjects are serious.  Mental health doesn’t discriminate but people do.  Our puppets don’t judge anyone and people want to engage with them and hear them out.  We have found the art form is powerful in being used as a tool to say what is important to them and we want to make it accessible. It has been giving people voices and has allowed them to feel like they are being seen.  Everyone deserves that.

How It Felt puppet making workshop

What have you been doing over lockdown to keep bringing us content from ‘How It Felt’ in this unusual time?

It was difficult adapting our workshops to move online to begin with.  We usually do group workshops in person as I feel it’s really important in the creative process to be present and make connections with someone during the experience.  But I think I’m quite fortunate to be part of a generation where being self-employed means doing a lot of work online, especially through social media and film.

Over lockdown we have been providing crafting and puppet making workshops remotely over platforms such as Zoom. We understand that it has been harder for people to go outside and go to shops, so we have adapted our puppet building to materials you would find around the home – such as old boxes, packaging, and spare office and art materials you may have laying around.  It still has the elements of group connection and also some of the sensory tools you would have using your hands, with the same guidance and support. This has involved collaborating with local organisations and charities with themes to the workshops.

Dragon Egg Boxes with ‘Befriends’

My puppet ‘Little Debz’ has been interacting with everyone online. She’s quite well known in our community. She’s been answering the Q&As people have been sending in and also doing small interactions.  She has also been writing postcards and sending them out to people who may be feeling lonely during this time or might know someone who would appreciate it.


We have also been creating free online puppet making tutorials ‘Fuzzy Finger Crafts’ for viewers to have a try and enjoy at their own pace at home. Some of our videos have also been addressing mental health education and support with our own puppets ‘Fuzzy Thoughts and Feelings’ as we love integrating creativity and mental health together with this art form.

We also have a ‘Fuzzy Friends Adventures Group’ Facebook community page, which is a safe space for people who like puppetry or have been to our workshops and who want to connect and share.  We’ve been posting behind the scenes content, activities, giveaways, news and updates before anyone else gets to see it. ‘Little Debz’ has been doing streams and interactions with everyone and sharing her adventures. You can check this out here.

Finally, we’ve had time to make a website, which we’re quite excited but also nervous about launching. It’s been really positive to have the extra time to grow as a creative but also as a human during this time.  You can have a look at the new site by going to howitfelt.org

What do you think might be next for ‘How It Felt’? Have you got any plans for the future?

We will be turning six years old this November and we have made over 300 puppets with our workshops and collaborators.  As for the future, we now know we can work remotely with our workshops and support content online.  We’re hoping to expand our mental health education videos and also interview more people in our communities and make puppet films with them. We also love collaborating and were hoping to connect and work with more puppeteers and puppet builders working in different fields such as theatre.

Puppet Building Workshop with ‘Mix It Up Theatre’

We’re in the planning stages of setting up a creative hub for our local community and would love to invite puppeteers and performers to be involved.  We’re always learning and training within the art form and my mental health training has been growing as well as learning how we can combine the two together.  We would also love to create a puppet club for others who want to try out the art form and make films/productions. These are our long term goals, but continuing to let the art form be accessible and give people the tools to be seen and listened to is our main focus.

We’re open to collaborations and continuing to do our workshops remotely along with talks if anyone would like to get in touch. We are also accepting donations on our website to keep ‘How It Felt’ going.

Interview by Martha King

You can donate or find out more information about ‘How It Felt’ by going to their website or by checking out their YouTube Channel.

Or you can join them on their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.

All The World’s A Stage – Our Theatres in Lockdown

The on-going lockdown due to the coronavirus has had a dramatic impact on us all; on our businesses, our livelihoods and our personal lives. Many organisations in our arts and culture sectors have been particularly affected due to the performance nature of their work and without the means to bring live audiences in their venues; their core business has suffered a great deal. Whilst some organisations are arguably better placed to shift their business models online, such as organisations involved in film, the experience of theatre has live performance at its heart. We looked at three of our beloved theatres here in Bristol, to find out how the lockdown has affected them.

Tobacco Factory Theatres, Raleigh Rd, Southville, Bristol

As a charity with only 5% of its annual costs coming from public subsidy, Tobacco Factory Theatres has always depended hugely on its loyal audiences. When it closed its doors in March, for the safety of all of its communities, the sudden loss of income placed the charity in imminent danger of permanent closure. However, due to the generosity of so many people who have donated and the Job Retention Scheme, Tobacco Factory Theatres is still here in August.

During that time, a skeleton team have been distributing grants, on behalf of The Gane Trust, to freelance artists who are experiencing hardship, and working tirelessly to ensure the survival of Tobacco Factory Theatres. A grant from Arts Council England’s Emergency Response Fund will enable the organisation to stay afloat until October. But sadly, with the Job Retention Scheme closing at the end of that month, Tobacco Factory Theatres has had to make the heartbreaking decision to make redundancies, reducing staff costs by 70% in order to keep the organisation afloat.

“Whilst audiences are the lifeblood of Tobacco Factory Theatres, our staff are its beating heart and most valuable asset. We thank them for their skills, passion and wisdom which have made the theatre a place to be proud of, and for their patience, understanding and courage during these hardest of times. We are working hard to plan for the reopening of our theatres as soon as it is safe and financially viable to do so and to continue talking to all of our communities in the meantime, finding out how Tobacco Factory Theatres can best serve them in this changed world.

For anyone in a position to help secure the future of Tobacco Factory Theatres and those we work with, with any level of donation, you can visit www.tobaccofactorytheatres.com/make-a-donation/. Artists can also find out about our free Artist Membership scheme at www.tobaccofactorytheatres.com/artist-membership to talk to us about the impact of Covid-19 on our communities and the future for our sector. An enormous thank you to everyone who has already made a donation.”

Mike Tweddle, Artistic Director and David Dewhurst, Acting Executive Director

To donate to Tobacco Factory Theatres: https://tobaccofactorytheatres.com/make-a-donation/ and stay in touch on Facebook, Twitter & Instagram

The Wardrobe Theatre, 25 West Street, Old Market, Bristol

The Wardrobe Theatre has cancelled all performances from March-August 2020 and there is a big question mark hanging over everything booked in from September 2020 onwards, including Christmas. With the current rules soon allowing indoor theatres to reopen to social distanced audiences, we’re going to be running a couple of very small test performances to see how we could run a night with these rules in place and whether it’s practical for us to run a whole season like that. We’ll have to see how those go!

We have no definitive date of when we will reopen yet but when we do, we will be launching a crowdfunder to help us reopen and to support the artists and theatre companies we want to bring here.”

Matthew Whittle, Co-Director of The Wardrobe Theatre

To donate to The Wardrobe Theatre: https://thewardrobetheatre.com/livetheatre/donate/ and stay in touch on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Bristol Old Vic Theatre, King St, Bristol

In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, Bristol Old Vic has embarked on a consultation process with affected staff in the face of a significant reduction in the work it can undertake and the income it can generate.  It is anticipated that over 20 roles from its full-time workforce of 60 could be at risk.

“We’re used to having to fight for our funding in the arts, but this time we are in the same boat as tens of thousands of businesses from Penzance to Pitlochry. On 17 March, 75% of our income disappeared and we’re clinging to the lifeline of the Job Retention Scheme to keep our heads above water, until lockdown eases…”

Tom Morris, Artistic Director & Charlotte Geeves, Executive Director

“…We are hopeful that the Government’s Cultural Investment will support our survival further as we prepare to reopen the theatre gradually over the coming 18 months. However, there is no avoiding the fact that the current circumstances mean that we will be unable to recover the income levels we’ve built up over the last decade with any speed or predictability. Therefore, in order to ensure Bristol Old Vic survives and is able to emerge, we have to reshape our business.”

Bristol Old Vic’s Executive Director Charlotte Geeves

“It is with enormous regret that Bristol Old Vic has begun a consultation process to reduce the size of its workforce due to the COVID-19 crisis. The last 5 years have brought astonishing success for Bristol Old Vic and the Board are very clear that these successes have been achieved through the skills and dedication of our wonderful workforce. Nonetheless, by taking these steps now, we are putting ourselves in a position to emerge flexible, solvent, and fighting fit to meet the challenges of the post-COVID world.”

Bristol Old Vic’s Chair, Liz Forgan

Bristol Old Vic is launching a campaign to reopen the theatre and would love your help. Every pound you give will go directly into making shows and employing the artists who work with the theatre to make them. To make a donation visit: https://bristololdvic.org.uk/support-us.

Stay in touch with Bristol Old Vic Theatre on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

It is clear that despite their remarkable flexibility and the dedication of their staff, our theatres need the support of their patrons more than ever in these unprecedented times. Reduced activity and closure doesn’t only affect those directly working for our theatres, but the thousands of performance artists, designers, technicians, makers, musicians and countless others who work to bring us their craft. Furthermore, in the words of Victor Hugo, “The theatre is a crucible of civilization. It is a place of human communion… It is in the theatre that the public soul is formed.” In these times of great change and unrest, our theatres are a crucial part of our sense of community and ourselves.

Article by Emma Windsor

There are many ways you can support our theatres in these difficult times.  Direct donations make a real difference and can help support both staff and the artists who rely on theatres for their livelihoods. Becoming a member of the theatre also provides a vital lifeline for their survival and journey ahead, during and following the coronavirus pandemic.  Some theatres are also involved in initiatives that support their subsidiary businesses, such as the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme that runs throughout August, and run their own online stores with great gifts for theatre lovers.

Finally, if financial support is not something you can do at the moment, joining their mailing lists, and liking and sharing theatre social media posts, ways to donate, and online shows, is a great way to show your support and appreciation.  Your theatre needs you more than ever, and with your support a better and brighter future for our theatres is possible.   

Breathing New Life into Lockdown Puppetry with Half a String

Peter Morton of ‘Half a String‘ Puppetry talked to Puppet Place about their unique collaborations and how the lockdown has inspired a new wave of creative work. This includes a series of online films called ‘Seedling‘.

Tell us about your background and interest in puppetry. How did Half a String come about?

I grew up doing “muppet” style hand puppets in my Dad’s church, writing sketches etc. I then went to the University of Kent to study Drama & Theatre and then a Masters in Contemporary Performance.  As part of this, I discovered Bunraku and War Horse, etc. and fell in love with making things move.  I have always been a builder,  and designing and constructing things that move is the most interesting form of this for me. That live moment when an audience fully invests in the puppet and world constructed around it is really special and something I really like to explore.  I love the dishonesty of everyone pretending a puppet is alive.  There is something really communal and honest about it.  Half a String came about after Avi Simmons, a singer/songwriter and physical performer, collaborated to create ‘A Heart at Sea‘. We wanted to create a puppetry and live music show that could be performed anywhere and things snowballed from there. I run Half a String now, creating and touring shows as well as designing for other productions.

Dragon Hill Close.jpg


Half a String started as a collaboration between you and Musician and Performer Avi Simmons. You have a beautiful design style and Avi writes equally stunning music. How did you find each other and how does the creative relationship work?

I met Avi when I co-ran Knuckle and Joint, another puppetry company.  We got her involved puppeteering an outdoor show with giant bird puppets.  I heard her music after that and we started collaborating.  We actually went to the same university and did the same course but a few years apart so missed each other then. The creative relationship differs from project to project.  I take the lead on producing all of Half a String’s work.  Avi is usually there at the beginning; helping with forming the idea, funding applications and writing music etc.  A lot of ideas come in the tour van for new projects!  For ‘A Heart at Sea’ we sat and wrote the story together, then she went away and wrote the songs and music and I went away and built.  We would come back and share, then go away and repeat until we had a show. ‘Boulder’ was led by myself more as a director, so I wrote a loose script and a fantastic devising team worked on it in rehearsal, with Avi taking the lead on the music and song-writing during the rehearsal process. For ‘Under the Frozen Moon’, I collaborated with a poet called Alice Bryant to write the script and story and Avi came a little later into the process to rehearse and add songs to this. So we are quite fluid in the way we work project to project.


Boulder Principle Image 2.jpg


Can you say a little bit about your shows ‘A Heart at Sea’, ‘Boulder’, and ‘BEE’? How has the current situation affected this work? 

‘A Heart at Sea’ was the first show that we created.  It was an epic folktale about a boy who bottles his heart up and throws it out to sea.  Lots of wooden puppets and a mechanical transforming box that turns into different set pieces, and which does steal the show. This was a very intimate show that had a lot of our personalty in it, so the songs were personal to Avi and very much her style. The puppets and set were very much what I wanted to build out of wood and design.  ‘Boulder’ was a more ambitious project and a lot harder to produce.  A bigger cast, projection, animation; lots of different scales to the puppets and big set pieces. This was based on the myth of Sisyphus, the guy pushing a boulder up a hill, and the show explored this in quite a real way.  We looked lots into philosophy and got quite dark as points. It was really great working with that fantastic team of puppeteers and a cellist, and it had a more epic nature.

‘BEE’ is an outdoor show with a 10 foot man and a giant bee puppet that wonders around festivals, more pure puppetry this one and a lot of fun. More of a design challenge for me than anything else.  We are starting to book ‘BEE’ more now because of the focus on outdoor work, which was something I hadn’t been putting a huge focus on previously due to other projects.  This year was meant to be the final year of touring ‘A Heart at Sea’ and we had a few dates, one being the studio in the Royal Albert Hall and a festival up in Orkney, which was really exciting but of course all got cancelled.  Hopefully there will be some kind of ending for the show that’s a little more triumphant.  ‘Boulder’ was meant to go out touring as well.  With the larger cast it’s a lot trickier to tour without funding, which is what we usually aim for.  We are thinking of new ways our work can reach people, which might mean shelving the more intimate indoor work for a while. There has all been a lot of blue sky thinking about how to present our work in the future, all to be confirmed though!

Under the Frozen Moon’ is taking bookings for Christmas and beyond. What are your plans for this piece?

We have a tour booked this Christmas, a little reduced due to the situation, and we’re keeping fingers crossed that it will go ahead.  We are also beginning to look at next year, but currently trying to get this year sorted really.  It was really fun touring this winter show last year and we hope to be doing it for a couple of years yet.  It’s a very magical and visual show with a lots of room for puppetry and moments of silliness.  We also have big plans for the book that we produced with the show – a fully illustrated story book – and plan to try and get that out into some kind of book shop or other outlet, as we do still sell it on our website.


As a response to live performance being shut down you have created a series of charming online films. How did those come about and where do you see that work going in the future?

We have been wanting to create work online for a while actually, something to compliment our live performances and keep the conversation going.  So the opportunity to make Seedling with First Art, who funded the piece, was amazing and something we were really grateful for as an outlet for our work at this time. The idea came from a project we were already and still are planning and rehearsing called ‘Breathe’, which is about trees and finding space in a busy world. We were really amazed by the different effects on nature the lockdown was having with animals and plants reclaiming places they would otherwise be isolated from. Our Seedling was our envoy from nature to see what was going on.

So the collaboration from Suitman Jungle and Avi Simmons will continue and we hope to launch ‘Breathe’ the live show Spring/Summer next year.

Interview with Josh Elwell


For more information about Half a String Theatre, visit their website: www.halfastring.co.uk and find out the latest news on Facebook and Twitter.

Living With An Invisible Octopus: An Interview with Corina Duyn

In this Puppet Place podcast, artist Corina Duyn talks with Emma Windsor about her ‘Invisible Octopus’ project. Corina worked with Dr. Emma Fisher through a mentoring bursary from the Arts & Disability Ireland Connect Scheme, to explore alternative forms of puppetry to accommodate the physical challenges due to her chronic illness/disability M.E.

Further information about the project and Corina’s other work can be found on her website at: corinaduyn.com. With thanks to Arts & Disability Ireland (adiarts.ie)