Puppets and ME: An interview with Corina Duyn

irish times_colour photoCorina Duyn is a creator based in Ireland whose mastery of a wide range of art forms would in itself be an inspiration to anyone, yet is made all the more impressive when her challenges with Myalgic Encephalopathy, sometimes better known as Chronic fatigue Syndrome (CFS), are taken into account.

Although we were sadly too late to include her film Life Outside The Box in our BFP17 programme of films at the Watershed, this highly acclaimed work, facilitated with her fellow members of the Irish Wheelchair Association (IWA) at the Dungarvan Resource Centre is the most recent in a long line of artistic successes. We caught up with Corina to find out more about this incredible artist.

Hello Corina, and thank you for taking the time to speak to us today. May I start by asking a little bit about your background and how you came to be involved with puppets?

Yes, of course. I grew up in Holland and started making dolls from the age of 10, later going on to train with the amazingly talented and renowned doll maker Marlaine Verholst. I went on to study nursing and social care and moved to Lismore in Ireland in 1990. It was there I started to become known for making my clay ‘Fantasy Folk’ dolls. These dolls found their way into collections around the world including Holland, Japan, Australia, Canada and the USA.

birthdance copy

My last major commission in 1997/98 before my illness was for the Waterford Crystal company where I made fifteen 30cm dolls of the people on their factory floor. My then partner and I made all the machinery to scale and Waterford Crystal contributed by supplying glass at each stage of the manufacturing process to the same scale as the dolls. This commission was displayed in their visitor centre for several years with the dolls and one piece of the beautiful miniature glass being returned to me when the company sadly closed. It was also at this time I started to teach puppet making to students from Finland and to a group here in Ireland. It was then in 1998 that my health deteriorated significantly with the onset of ME/CFS.

You mentioned your illness, what is ME and how does it affect you as an artist?

ME/CFS is an inflammation of the brain & spinal cord. It is a complex and debilitating illness involving neurological and endocrinal dysfunction with immune system dysregulation that is not improved by bed rest and can worsen with physical or mental exertion. In the beginning I would be very tired and feel ill, like I had a bad case of the flu which some months later evolved to include muscle pain, starting in my toes and slowly travelling up into the rest of my body. As the illness progressed my brain functions started to be affected, I couldn’t read, couldn’t write, my memory became poor and I became clumsy and uncoordinated even with simple tasks like opening the door with a key. My journey through this time is told in part in a documentary made in 2003 by my friend David Begley and can be seen here and here. In 2006, Katie Lincoln produced a second documentary covering my journey though my illness called Flight Path, which accompanied my first book Hatched.

lifeOutsideTheBox2
Still from ‘Life Outside the Box’

When I first started drawing after the onset of my illness I might have 5 or 10 minutes of energy to get things down on paper which later improved to half an hour. It was somewhat frustrating to get excited about a piece, wanting to see the finished article but having to stop after half an hour when you really wanted to just keep going.

There is a common reoccurring theme of eggs and birds in flight in your paintings and drawings. Does this have some significance to your illness?

Yes, it was a drawing of an egg that made me realise I had been granted a new life. I can really relate my illness to the process of an egg hatching and my being a small little bird in a nest that still requires care even though I am fully grown and then needing flying lessons to leave the nest. I would sometimes get really ill if someone came near me with a virus or illness and I needed the protection the eggshell provided. One of the things I did to help me fly the nest so to speak was to send ‘MEme’, a stuffed Penguin, together with a diary and a disposable camera to friends and they would keep a diary of what ‘we’ have done and take photographs as they travelled the world. This has allowed me to visit friends and family in Holland, take part in a sponsored walk in Eritrea and go to America and Canada as well as lots of other places. One day I hope to retrace her journey for real.

08.egg

You have been very prolific as an artist in many mediums, painting & drawing, sculpture, writing and poetry, doll making and even weaving. How important are puppets to your work at the moment?

Very much so. Following on from the 6 months of work I did on the ‘Life Outside The Box’ project with the Irish Wheelchair Association, I was invited to speak at the ‘Broken Puppet’ Symposium on Puppets, Disability and Health at UCC in Cork. Our video has now been shown on Irish national TV and at the Disability Film Festival ‘Picture This’ in Canada.   Attending the symposium was like stepping into a completely new world and yet when I entered it, and moved about with open eyes and ears, I realised I had been part of this amazing, creative, fun, healing, and astonishing place for pretty much all my life.

The engagement of people with disabilities with puppets, not only as a form of therapy, but as creators and artists in their own right is something that can be transformative. Listening to the stories and speakers at the event has only served to reinforce to me what a powerful, evocative and meaningful role puppets have played in peoples lives throughout the years and will continue to do so long into the future.

IMG_1678

I have now returned to teaching puppet making, in small groups and by social media/email. Only for one and a half hours a week at the moment but what great fun it is. I am improving my ability to set my own limits to what I can do and enjoying finding ways to enable my students to work on their own puppets in my studio, or in their own homes. The healing effect of teaching puppet making is not something that might bring about a miraculous recovery from my illness, although one would be very welcome however it came about, but it is bringing a new energy into my life and who can say where that will lead.

corina copy

Thank you so much for sharing your story with us Corina. Is it puppets, puppets, puppets all the way now?

Absolutely. My return to teaching puppet making and the experience of the symposium and discussions around disability and health has created an energy and enthusiasm that will take me onto the next stage of my journey.

Interview by Stephen B. Watters


To find out more about Corina’s work, visit her website or Facebook page.  Her film ‘Life Outside the Box’ can be seen on YouTube here.

Advertisements

Grand Designs: An Interview with Catherine V Rock

cat_portraitPuppet Place resident artist, Catherine V Rock is a puppeteer, maker and performer.  Her company, Muddy Duck, specialises in bringing that little … okay BIG… something extra to her client’s events – and to eliminate the predictable, to obliterate the mundane and eradicate any notion of normal.  We caught up with her to find out how she got involved in puppetry on a large scale, what inspires her amazing designs and what she’d love to get into next…

 

How do you describe the work that you do and how did you get involved in it?

The work that I do is quite varied. Hands down I am a performer, I trained in acting and theatre at Kent University and it was there that I discovered puppetry and began to make and perform with my own puppets and characters. Since then, I have gone on to work around the world as a puppeteer and actor – performing in Europe, UAE and Argentina.  Last year, I decided to move to Bristol to start creating more of my own projects but I am always on the look of for exciting productions to be a part of. Currently I develop and make my own costumes and puppets, which I perform in a mostly street theatre basis. That kind of explains why you will see me at Puppet Place for a solid month and then I will disappear into the ether! So just call me Catherine V Rock – Puppeteer, Performer, Maker.

 

cat_rock_02
Examples of Catherine’s stilt puppet characters
14232520_1080345522056619_6086187466057140825_n
Catherine was involved in puppeteering the large scale puppets for Longleat’s 50th Anniversary.  Design by Jimmy Grimes and David Cauchi.

 

What’s the most enjoyable project you’ve worked on so far?

I love big, bold and surprising characters, working with them and creating them.  I really enjoy making things myself and then performing with them. There is something very satisfying about being a part of the whole process, but you won’t hear me saying that a week before a deadline! A favourite singular project is hard to choose, but I loved being apart of the show ‘Count Duckula’. I watched the cartoon and a kid, so to be able to puppeteer Duckula himself was awesome – a childhood dream come true.   I also love performing Aurora the Giant Polar Bear with Greenpeace in London a few years back. Don’t often get to work with a puppet the size of a bus, so that was a good day.

12804713_965808246843681_7478514090715201587_n

 

How do you get your ideas?  Who or what is your inspiration?

Ideas tend to come from what I am interested at the time. I perform street theatre seasonally, so I am able to experiment with a lot of things throughout the year. Last year I loved watching all the leaves falling in Autumn, so I made costumes out of them. Recently I was fascinated by the return of mermaids to the forefront of pop culture, so I decided to make a zombie version for World Zombie Day (an event which me and my friends have been going to for years,) I always use this day to indulge in the gory side of life – we should have a Halloween every month!  When we first started going, we just used old left over make up, but now we plan costumes and techniques months in advance.  Next year full we hope to involve head and shoulder latex mask making in our designs.

37522593936_25512530a6_b

As for inspirations, I recently had a workshop with a puppeteer called Andrew Spooner and now I really want to explore puppetry in television and film. Seeing the films at Bristol Puppetry Festival also help with that one.  I kind of just get a picture in my brain and I go with the flow. When it comes to commissions, I look at the brief and just think if I was going to the event/production what would I want to see?  What would make me unable to blink and want to see it again and again and again?  Theatre companies and shows like Cirque Du Soleil, Fuerza Bruta and War Horse, inspire me to make something … that has that special ‘something’.

02b

 

Any exciting projects in the pipeline?

Nothing official I can report – but I am hoping to to working on a touring production or be on a film set as soon as possible!

 

Interview by Emma Windsor

 


To find out more about Catherine’s work, visit the Muddy Duck website and Facebook page. 

A Dark Art: An Interview with Jarosław Konopka

Jaroslaw_konopkaBorn in 1970 in Lublin, Poland, Jarosław Konopka is an animation director and puppet animator who works in both the commercial and arts sectors.  His award-winning independent work has been screened at film festivals worldwide, gaining him a reputation for beautifully-crafted yet macabre animated works.  His latest work, ‘The Escape’, which screened as part of our Bristol Festival of Puppetry film programme in September, is currently gaining momentum on the international film festival circuit.  We grabbed some time with him to find out more about his background, his interest in dark subject matter and some very disturbing puppets.

 

FILM_PROG_EE_ADULT_Ucieczka_dir_Jaroslaw_Konopka
Still from ‘The Escape’ (2017) directed by Jarosław Konopka

 

Can you explain how you became a puppet animator and animation director? What attracted you to this work? How did it begin?

In the mid-90s I studied painting, drawing and printmaking at Academy of Fine Arts (ASP) in Krakow. On my second year I signed up for animation classes led at the time by Jerzy Kucia. What attracted me to animation was the merger between artistic image, sound and movement creating one message. To me, that connection makes a powerful impression.

While experimenting with a celluloid camera on different animation techniques, I realised I am most fond of three-dimensional animation techniques: clay animation, pixilation or even using… living snails! Unfortunately, due to different personal choices, it took me 10 years to find my way back to making animation. With a digital technology revolution, I could finally experiment on stop motion at my in-house studio in the attic. I created new experimental stop motion shorts. I’ve been also training my stop motion animation skills and preparing for my debut film, “Underlife”. I’ve learned to animate by myself, by observing movement of characters in favourite movies and using my knowledge and drawing skills gained in High School of Arts and Fine Arts Academy.

 

 

Combining the work of animator, director and other creative functions in art house film seems natural and inseparable to me. It’s like painting, where each piece of the image is the emancipation of the artist’s mind. To me, animation is not just a technique, but an act of bringing to life and there’s a deeper, metaphysical character to it.

FILM_PROG_EE_ADULT_Ucieczka_dir_Jaroslaw_Konopka_02
Still from ‘The Escape’ (2017) directed by Jarosław Konopka

 

Your artistic animated short films are quite dark and abstract. What is it about darker themes that appeals to you? Why is puppet animation a good medium to express disturbing and strange stories?

Both “Underlife” and “The Escape” focus on a topic of death. I am interested in emotions and feelings that are connected to it and I try to bring them to the film through image, sounds and music. The characters in my films are therefore unreal creatures, who are a balance between life and death. They only live in memories.

Puppets, who are “dead by nature” represent that state well. Big puppets used by me have different expression than an actor. They can communicate that state in a more realistic way by strange movement and their inner duality of being dead and alive. An animator-director can control their movement fully in each and every second of the film. At the same time that moment of frozen movement on the puppet animation set gives more space for improvisation and allows elements of somehow controlled accidents.

My films are set in a low-key lighting. Back in my student’s times I was fascinated by the work of tenebrists, including Georges de la Tour and Rembrandt and their way of bringing reality from darkness through light.

Puppet animation is often associated with children cinema, which is caused mostly by commercial aspects of animation market, but the technique can be as well used to express any kind of stories. Including dark and surrealistic ones, especially as it is still evolving as a medium.

FILM_PROG_EE_ADULT_Ucieczka_dir_Jaroslaw_Konopka_03
Still from ‘The Escape’ (2017) directed by Jarosław Konopka

 

The design of the puppets in both ‘Underlife’ and ‘The Escape’ is quite distinctive. Can you explain how you came to the design? (Why all the sand?)

Characters in my films are fully my creation, but at the same time they evolve from one film to the next one and adopt new characteristics. Of course, they are also an agglomeration of my different, often unconscious fascinations.

The women remind me of a person, whom I remember from my childhood and was terrified of. As a boy, I spend my holidays in a little village, playing in sandpits, created in a field when a large amount of sand was dug out. These are also the times that caused my fascination with sand as a “liquid matter”. Sand, to me, has a natural purity to it, like water, one can’t really get dirty with it (unlike with soil).

In my films, it suggests a kind of imminence, entropy and decay. It can carry a lot of meanings. It also clings to the characters’ bodies and creates their surface.

Do you have any future projects in the pipeline for audiences to look out for? 

In my next project, that is currently in script-writing stage, I’d like to focus less on the dark topics and more on psychological observations. My inspiration is a story by Abe Kobo entitled “Woman in the Dunes”.   Beside the large amount of sand, it is full of contexts and topics that I feel inspired by.

Interview by Emma Windsor

 


To find out more about Jarosław Konopka’s latest short film, ‘The Escape’ (‘Ucieczka’) visit the Animapol Film Production Blog.

Puppetry In… Puppet Animation in Poland and the Czech Republic

The link between puppetry and puppet animation in undeniable – none more so than in Central Europe, where a rich tradition in stage and screen puppetry exists.  In this, the first in a series of articles in which we’ll be looking at the puppetry scene around the world, Puppet Place’s Marika Aakala sat down with Tereza Porybná, director of the Czech Centre in London, and Adriana Prodeus, author and curator of the ’70th year anniversary of Polish animation’  festival, to find out why puppetry and puppet animation are so deeply rooted in Czech and Polish cultural heritage.

 

What cultural significance do puppetry and puppet animation have in your respective countries and how would you explain its popularity?

Tereza Porybná – Czech Republic 
Puppetry and puppet animation are one of the key pillars of Czech cultural heritage. From popular mainstream children’s shows such as ‘Hurvínek’, to elaborate artistic endeavors in films of Jan Švankmajer or Jiří Trnka, there is no way you can avoid this phenomenon while living in the Czech Republic. The ongoing quality work in this genre has been also recognized in 2016 by UNESCO who added Czech and Slovak puppetry to its list of world cultural heritage.

FILM_PROG_EE_KIDS_Ball_dir_Hermina_Tyrlova02
Kulička (Ball), 1963. Directed by: Hermína Týrlová, Czech Republic, 1963.

The variety of Czech puppetry is as immense as the collection of actual puppets stored in multiple museums around the country. The wonderful wood carving skills of Czech puppeteers are complemented by a unique artistic vision, combining humor, beauty and often a certain type of poetic melancholy typical for the modern work.

FILM_PROG_EE_KIDS_Pat_A_Mat_dir_Marek_Benes01
Pat A Mat. Director: Marek Beneš, Czech Republic, 2014.

The tradition of puppetry has two main lines – folk art or amateur performance and professional performances taking place in the theatre and alternative art spaces. The puppet performances, as we can still know them today, were on the rise during medieval times when they were part of public amusement at fairs and markets. During the 19th century, Czech puppetry also had socio-political importance because it played an important part of the Czech national and cultural regeneration. The bohemian Kingdom was for many centuries part of the Austrian Monarchy and theatre performances were held predominantly in German. However, since the latter part of the 18th century, Czech puppeteers began using the Czech language while wandering with their marionettes through towns and villages of the Czech countryside. The most famous puppeteer, and a symbolic representative of the travelling Czech puppeteer family tradition, was Matěj Kopecky, whose ancestors still continue the tradition through the famous Prague based Cirk La Putyka.

In the first half of the 20th century, the puppetry scene had its established institutions all over the country including its own department at the Prague art school. Visiting puppet shows were, and still are, a common family pastime. Puppet animation films have drawn on this existing popularity and moved it to another level.   To compound this further, during the socialist regime, there were limited opportunities to see “Western” films, therefore domestic production became an even stronger part of our culture and entertainment media.

O sklenièku víc - režie B.Pojar
O skleničku víc ( A Drop Too Much ), 1953, Directed by Břetislav Pojar (with art direction by Jiří Trnka), Czechoslovakia. Photo credit: Kratky film.

 

Adriana Prodeus – Poland
As for the pioneer of puppet animation, the puppetry of Władysław Starewicz is one of the oldest animation techniques and still holds a place of high importance in Poland. Of course, Lodz in Poland is home to Se-Ma-For Studio, where the famous Oscar and BAFTA-winning stop-motion animation ‘Peter and the Wolf’ (2006), directed by Suzie Templeton, was skillfully crafted and animated by local artists.  This was later followed by the Quay Brothers’ beautiful animation ‘Maska’ (2010), based on a short story by Stanisław Lem and with music by the composer Krzysztof Penderecki.

Puppetry is enduring in Poland.  Is this because of the surrealism that puppets bring? Or because of frame-by-frame photography that releases illusory movements and powerful transformations? Not an easy answer. Nevertheless, stop-motion embraces the whole spectrum of cinematic imaginary.   From the very beginning of Polish animation, there have been puppets.   Puppetry was first used in 1912 by Starewicz and post WWII by Zenon Wasilewski in 1947.   And in the last seventy years of Polish animation, several dozen animated shorts were produced. Both popular children’s shows with characters such as Bolek, Lolek, and Reksio and also dark, grotesque shorts de auteur, like Marek Skrobecki’s ‘DIM’ (1992), ‘Ichtys’ (2005) and ‘Danny Boy’ (2010).

DIM_still_01
‘DIM’ directed by Marek Skrobecki (1992)

Shortly after WWII, there was the whole movement to open as many theatre venues for children as possible all around Poland.  This was a therapeutic initiative to address the traumas that children had faced and any malpractice toward them.  For example, performances designed for orphans aimed to tell stories that would communicate artistically with the young audiences to remind them what joy and play mean. Theatre experimented with puppetry engaging children and actors who animated marionettes while being visible on stage.  One visionary director, Jan Dorman, made the puppet a symbol instead of simply a character and started to use ordinary objects animated in highly musical rhythm.

There are no ‘typical’ puppets in Poland – no Punch, no Petushka nor Guignol.  Many Polish puppets are a simple doll with a geometrical shape.  Polish puppet artists have been mostly interested in folklore.   Notably, the legendary puppeteer, costume and stage designer Adam Kilian considered Polish Christmas Cribs (Nativities) to be a symbol of Polish theatre as a whole – its monumental ambition, the tradition of mysticism, mixture of genres, combination of reality with imagination and ordinary with miraculous.  It is fascinating how much of folk tradition was incorporated into Polish contemporary art via puppetry, for example in the works of Tadeusz Kantor, Józef Szajna, and Jan Berdyszak.

 

We live in a digital world, which provides us several technical and visual advantages for puppetry and puppet animation. Should we be worried about the survival of these incredibly beautiful and tactile art forms? How strong are puppetry and puppet animation scenes in your country these days?

 

Teresa
Several of the older theatres are still active – the famous Spejbl and Hurvínek Theatre often has sold out shows, as does the Alfa theatre in Pilsner or the Naive Theatre in Liberec. Drak Theatre in Hradec Králové has created some beautiful contemporary work critically acclaimed abroad. While tourists wait in line for the world famous Don Giovanni at the Prague National Marionette Theatre, the independent scene is also alive and well with companies like Forman Brothers or Theatre Continuo combining puppetry with live performance and fantastic stage design. Buchty a Loutky (Cakes and Puppets) work more in the tradition of humoristic short plays often using hand puppets.

Puppet film aren’t so numerous, but there are some extraordinary examples, such as ‘Fimfarum’ inspired by Jan Werich´s storytelling or the award-winning ‘Kooky Comes Home’ by Jan Svěrák whose main character is a musty old stuffed bear puppet named Kooky who is struggling to find his way back after being thrown in the dump.

FILM_PROG_EE_ADULT_Christmas_Ballad_dir_Michal_Zabka_03
The Christmas Ballad, 2016.  Directed by Michal Zabka, Czech Republic.

 

Adriana
The popularity of puppetry is probably due to a state-sponsored system of puppet theatre institutions for children, which were common across the whole post-soviet region, and was the means by which many artists got secure living conditions.  However, as a result there is no tradition of  solo puppetry in Poland and only a few independent puppet companies in the whole country today, notably: Grupa Coincidentia, Teatr Wiczy, Teatr Wierszalin, Nieformalna Grupa Avis and Teatr Malabar Hotel. The latter recently produced performances for adults based on classic literature as e.g. Madame Tutli Putli by Witkacy and The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann (cooperation with Białystok-based Teatr Banialuka) as now there is a trend toward reaching adult audiences via adaptations of Polish literature.   Poland definitely lacks puppet theatre and animation for adults at the moment – children’s puppetry still dominates almost all production. In fact, we are trying to find a new term for it as puppet theatre (‘teatr lalek’ in Polish) still means ‘made for children’ and we need to encourage the adult audience to be open to more difficult content brought on stage and on screen by puppetry.

FILM_PROG_EE_ADULT_Ucieczka_dir_Jaroslaw_Konopka
Ucieczki (The Escape), 2017. Directed by Jarosław Konopka, Poland.

I would not worry about puppetry fighting digital tools but rather using them wisely in an artistic aim as for example, the Quay Brothers do. In young Polish puppet animation, we have highly talented artists and they prove that puppetry art can be done manually with only a little help from digital techniques.

A very interesting emerging Polish puppetry artist is Bristol-based Magdalena Osinska; a director, designer and animator, whose films have won numerous awards.  Her short films include: Joyets (2008), Zbigniev’s Cupboard (2010) and Spirits of the Piano (2012) in which she used a unique combination of traditional puppet animation shot in 3D stereoscopic technique with Chopin’s Etudes.  In addition to her work for Aardman Animations, Osinska is independently developing two feature puppet animations: ‘Jasia’ about a Jewish girl orphan surviving the war with her imagination and ‘A Pelican’, a family movie about an unusual friendship between a bird and a boy.

The experimental animated docu-dramas by Anca Damian; ‘Crulic’ (2011) and ‘Magic Mountain’ (2015) encouraged other artists in Poland to think about long-feature animation and to do it in co-production.  This year has seen the release of the highly successful ‘Loving Vincent’ by Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welshman, but there is a need for a feature puppet animation to be produced for the adult audience in Poland.

Further, the female tradition of Polish puppetry is still largely undiscovered.  It wasn’t until the 1940’s that women became involved with puppetry by founding puppet theatres for children in Poland, for example, Zofia Jarema in Cracov (Teatr Groteska), Irena Sowicka in Warsaw (Teatr Guliwer), and Halina Lubicz in Poznan (Teatr „Marcinek”, which exists today as Teatr Animacji). These practitioners and their successors, notably; Leokadia Serafinowicz, Natalia Golebska, Monika Snarska and many others, created their original artistic voices in puppetry. Nowadays we have several younger artists, such as Agata Biziuk, but there is room for more.

Puppet animation by female artists is often highly acclaimed.  For example, Berlin-based and graduate from Lodz Film School Izabela Plucinska has won many awards already for her clay-animation shorts (including the ‘Silver Bear for Jam Session 2005’ at the Berlinale).  Thanks to Izabela and women artists like her, the female stories are brought to life in film. Sadly for us, some of our most talented female puppet artists live and work abroad, but that does mean that the Polish tradition of puppet animation is spreading all over Europe.   However, Polish puppet animation is always recognisable as it engages the audience emotionally and creates exceptional realities.

 

Interview by Marika Aakala

 


 

 

 

 

 

Review: Women in Puppetry & Puppet Animation

surya_raja_3
‘Don’t Think of a Pink Elephant’: Directed by Suraya Raja

This year the Bristol Festival of Puppetry is honoring women who are working in key production roles within live action puppetry and in stop motion animation. By raising the profile of all the talented women who are already working with puppets, we can encourage other women to follow their dreams and expect equality in wages and opportunities.

The ‘Women in Puppetry and Puppet Animation’ screening during Bristol Festival of Puppetry was curated by Emma Windsor and the selection was a colourful mixture of wonderful short films. There was no limitation to technique or genre and the films were assembled around the themes: women and puppets.

The viewing theatre is full at Watershed Cultural cinema in Bristol and Emma Windsor introduces the films, the theme, and gives an overview about the challenges that still exist within the puppetry and animation industries. When the first film starts, there is a sense of concentration and enthusiasm in the audience that follows through the whole screening.

What happens when puppets, women and storytelling meet?

While watching the films, I find myself looking out for similarities in the techniques, materials, and topics. I am writing little notes in the dark theatre while trying to make sure that I will not miss anything. After the screening, I believe that I might have identified some common themes that might be specific to the way women use puppetry and animation in storytelling. The most popular theme turned out to be relationships between couples and families. Films such as ‘Belle and Bamber’ (live action) directed by Alex Forbes, ‘Don’t Think Of A Pink Elephant‘ (stop motion animation) by director Surya Raja and ‘Punch’s Letters To His Son’ (live action puppetry) by director Jenny Dee were addressing mother-daughter and father-son relationship, mental well-being, compulsions, anxiety and alcoholism, as seen from the point of view of a child or young adults.

The chosen techniques complemented the stories and it was fascinating to see how stop motion animation and live-action puppetry can be used in telling cohesive and captivating stories. In ‘Punch’s Letters To His Son’, the live action sections carried the story forward, while hand puppets in a traditional booth were performing suppressed memories of abuse and violence. What an excellent way to show flashbacks and difficult experiences while also carrying the story forward.

WOMENS_PROG_Belle_and_Bamber_DIR_Alex_Forbes_03
Belle and Bamber. Directed by Alex Forbes.
Belle_and_Bamber_Cori_and_co_behind_scenes_02
Belle and Bamber. Behind the scenes. Directed by Alex Forbes.

I was especially touched by stop motion animation called ‘A Love Story’, the winner of British short animation Bafta in 2017, directed by Anushka Kashani Naanayakkara. This beautiful stop motion animation tells a story about relationships between two people, and how people share emotions and deal with loss. All this is visualised with heads made out of wool, yarn, and textiles. The soft, yet strong textures fitted perfectly to the story and emphasized the complicated nature of relationships between humans.

 

A_Love_Story
‘A Love Story’. Directed by Anushka Kashani Naanayakkara

Other common topics included the cycle of life and sensuality. I have to mention the one film that got the biggest laughs, the stop motion animation ‘Boris Noris’ directed by Laura-Beth Cowley was clever, funny and its rubber-hose style of animating did not leave anyone feeling cold or puzzled.

WOMENS_PROG_Cosmos_dir_Daria_Kopiec_v02
Cosmos. Directed by Daria Copiek.
WOMENS_PROG_Cosmos_dir_Daria_Kopiec_v01
Cosmos. Directed by Daria Copiek.

Towards the end of the screening, I became more and more convinced that there might be a difference between men and women in the way women choose to tell stories through puppetry and animation. Women are not afraid to openly address the more dark and sensitive subjects, such as violence, sexuality and mental health issues, and for this, puppetry and animation are an excellent tool!

BORIS-NORIS-STILL3
Boris Noris. Directed by Laura-Beth Cowley

I would like to think that not only the choices of topics but also the brave and innovative use of materials will bring the strengths and talent forward. Hand puppetry, rod puppetry, shadow puppetry, multi plane clay animation and stop motion animation were just some of the techniques used within these films. Especially in the stop motion animation films, the use of textiles and clay in puppets and sets was standing out.  To me, these materials symbolize femininity, warmth, and softness. But should women be channeling more masculine values in order to achieve equality? I think that being unique, resilient and aware of one’s own strengths are much more likely to be the right ingredients towards equal opportunities.

Seeing how other women use puppetry and puppet animation to tell stories will be our fuel for change.

by Marika Aakala


 

The BFP17 Film Programme continues this weekend with two feature-length films for adults and families.  An accessible screening of ‘My Life As A Courgette‘ at 6pm, Saturday 09 Sept and the European premiere of the all-star Hollywood puppet film ‘Yamasong: March of the Hollows‘ at 6pm, Sunday 10 Sept.  Visit our website for further information and to book tickets: https://www.bristolfestivalofpuppetry.org

Review: Oh Globbits! A Tribute to Terry Brain

Terry Brain, Animator.

Terry Brain animating on ‘Shaun the Sheep Movie’. Photo: Aardman Animations  

After spending my morning helping to steward the sea of smiling faces marching down North street for BFP17’s colourful carnival of creatures, I made my way to Bristols’ waterside arthouse cinema and cafe bar, the Watershed, to watch “Oh Globbits”, a film tribute to the much loved and much missed Bristol born animator Terry Brain.

Terry, who may be best remembered by the public for his work on the award winning series ‘The Trapdoor‘ which he co-created with his long time friend and colleague Charlie Mills, as well as for the ‘Stoppit and Tidy Up‘ animations, and for his work on Aardman’s ‘Creature Comforts‘, sadly lost his two year battle with cancer in March 2016. Terry and lifetime friend and colleague Charlie Mills had originally met at Speedwell junior school in Fishponds at the age of ten and with Charlie being good a drawing things and Terry being good at making them, an animation match made in heaven was born.

Terry’s first big break came when he was discovered by Tony Hart and he joined Hartbeat in the 80’s before teaming up with Charlie Mills to form CMTB, later to be joined by Steve Box, who having started at the company on a Youth Training Scheme later went on to co-direct Curse of the Were-Rabbit for Aardman Animations.

FILM_PROG_Terry_Brain_Retrospective_02
Terry Brain animating on ‘Curse of the Were-Rabbit’. Photo: Aardman Animations

In his personal eulogy, delivered to a packed and enthralled audience, Steve Box recounted how he had responded to a newspaper job advert for a cartoonist his father had seen and although he didn’t get that job, he persistently bombarded Terry and Charlie with his artwork until they relented and eventually took him on. So began a six year stint at the CMTB studios at the Kingswood Factory, which was, for all intents and purposes little more than a derelict building much the the consternation of his YTS assessor.

The team went on to produce some 40 episodes of ‘The Trapdoor‘, telling the story of Berk, the overworked servant of the thing upstairs and Boni, a skull Steve intimated may have been based on him although I couldn’t see the resemblance, (honest.) Steve went on to share many warm memories of working with Terry, highlighting not only what a talented, inspiring and innovative animator he was but also, as many of the other tributes we heard that day confirmed, what a wonderfully warm and funny person he was. My favourite take-away from his talk had to be how Willie Rushton, the narrator for ‘The Trapdoor‘, who often inserted his own hilarious ad-libs to the script, had on first meeting and speaking to Terry changed Berk’s voice from the planned Cockney accent to the lush Bristolian one we are all so familiar with now.

The audience were treated to a series of clips from Terry’s most loved work including ‘The Birthday Surprise‘, Wallace & Gromit’s ‘The Auto Chef‘, ‘Creature Comforts‘, the workout scene from ‘Chicken Run‘, which was Terry’s first project with Aardman Animations and ‘Shaun the Sheep‘.  My most favourite clip from ‘The Trapdoor‘, the one where Berk moves over a carpet of psychedelically coloured worms together with all manner of tentacled creatures and monsters.

Terry_Brain_event
The audience at the Watershed.  Photo: David Brain

Between the clips personal testimonies on film were given by a host of people who had know and worked with Terry at Aardman Animations including Loyd Price, [head of animation], Charles Copping, [director of photography] and Dave Alex Riddett, [director of photography] who told us the story of an inspiring piece of animation Terry once did on some coloured glass that was best described as ‘Cosmic’!

Further testimonies from other Aardman colleagues followed and each and every one spoke warmly in memory of Terry and testified to the admiration they had for him as an animator and as a person.

Next came a speech by Terry’s friend and colleague at Aardman Animation, Jim Parkyn [senior modelmaker] who spoke first of his memories of watching ‘The Trapdoor‘, with its wonderful world of characters and voices as a child. He went on to say how much it had inspired him to pursue a career  in animation as an adult. Subsequently finding himself meeting and working with Terry, first at festivals, then at the BBC and later at Aardman, Jim mapped out how much Terry had been a major influence on him and how quick Terry has been to give praise and share tips, in addition to being such the approachable and funny person that made him an absolute pleasure to work with.

Jim told us that Terry had earned himself the nickname ‘The King of Lick’, when he took the tradition of animators licking their models to keep them moist to the extreme whilst filming an episode of Creature Comforts. Terry had personally licked each individual tongue, of each individual puppet, in a bowl full of muscles he was bringing to animated life. The Muscles were made out of small pieces of shell with clay popping out for the tongue. They were in truth Jim assured us the most seductive yet disgusting things you’ve ever seen. This visual image will remain with me for a long time..! I laughed most at that story,  I laughed at the images of it in my head on the journey home, and truth to tell, I’ll probably laugh about it again now many times in the future.

Terry_Brain_event_02
Dave Brain talking about his father and ‘Weirdy Rhymes’. Photo: David Brain

The closing eulogy was delivered by Terry son, Dave Brain, who had shared some of the work that he and his colleague Mike Percival have completed on behalf of his father, who had been working on a new children’s ‘Weirdy Rhymes‘ just before he died.  These funny, silly and pleasingly disgusting shorts will be available for everyone to enjoy on Aardman’s YouTube channel in the near future.

If there is one thing that is certain it is that Terry was a very special and talented man much loved by those who knew and worked with him and by those who he has inspired in their own animation careers. Even though he is sadly now gone, he made me and a cinema full of people laugh through his art and his antics and he succeeded in making me laugh again when I got home just in time to watch Wallace & Gromit, ‘The Wrong Trousers‘ on the BBC.

Terry loved to make people laugh, he achieved that when we were children, he did it again today and will undoubtedly do it for many generations of children and adults to come. He has left a wonderful legacy to the world of puppetry and this programme was a well deserved and fitting tribute a wonderful man and an exceptionally talented animation artist.

By Stephen B. Watters


The BFP17 Film Programme continues this weekend with two feature-length films for adults and families.  An accessible screening of ‘My Life As A Courgette‘ at 6pm, Saturday 09 Sept and the European premiere of the all-star Hollywood puppet film ‘Yamasong: March of the Hollows‘ at 6pm, Sunday 10 Sept.  Visit our website for further information and to book tickets: https://www.bristolfestivalofpuppetry.org

BFP+ : An Interview with Programme Curator, Emma Williams

BFP + is the Bristol Festival of Puppetry’s Professional Programme, which aims to provide artists and professionals working in puppetry and animation the opportunity to hone skills, learn new ones, meet up with fellow practitioners and make new connections.  The Programme has always bought a diverse range of workshops, masterclasses and networking events to the Festival, and this year is no exception.  We sat down with the Programme Curator, Emma Williams, to find out what was in store for BFP+ 2017.

Is there a theme to this Festival’s BFP+ Programme?

The notion of sharing knowledge underpins BFP+. the artist development strand of the puppet festival.  My ambition is to curate events where all questions are celebrated with umpteen opportunities to pose them and a range of extraordinary, experienced and diverse professionals to answer them.  Being given permission to ask questions is the key, and I hope within BFP+ we have created such an environment through a range of different events.

What masterclasses, workshops and other events for professionals are planned?

Because we are within the festival we are privileged enough to be able to offer masterclasses from companies who are performing work within the program. As a puppetry director, I am particularly intrigued by Stephen Mottram’s masterclass ‘The Logic of Movement’, which explores questions about the way audience read movement within puppetry.   To my mind,  exploring these questions is fundamental to understanding how to make certain decisions about the work you are making.

Copy of fangirl
Stephen Mottram’s masterclass ‘The Logic of Movement’

In previous years, the Festival Breakfast sessions have been an informal catch up.   Keeping that in mind (and the need for free coffee and croissants) we are simply adding a question to each breakfast and inviting a special guest to present some answers.  These questions will range from “What organisations are out there to support puppeteers and puppet companies and what can they do for you ?”  and “How can we make puppetry inclusive and accessible ?”

The first breakfast is on Saturday 02 September.  We have invited Sarah Wright, founder of the The Curious School of Puppetry and Kneehigh Theatre’s puppet maker/lead puppeteer to this breakfast, to answer questions about training and how to tackled the next steps to building a career.  I’m looking forward to that one.

I’ve also worked with our BFP Film Programme Curator, Emma Windsor, to bring an advanced workshop for stop motion artists to the Programme.  This workshop will be run by Jim Parkyn, senior modelmaker at Aardman and will demonstrate professional approaches to puppet head and hand production – often the most complex areas of puppet design.  It is ideal for those with some prior experience who want to get the best from the most expressive parts of a stop motion puppet.

Copy of FILM_PROG_JIM_PARKYN_01
Stop Motion Puppet Making, a workshop with Jim Parkyn.

We are also holding a brand-new event this year titled ‘The New Faces of Puppetry Animation’, which for anyone over the age of forty will remind you of a 70’s TV talent contest with a very similar title.  This sweet and awkward 1970’s TV show bares no relation to our BFP+ event, except perhaps in its celebration of talent! Instead, we have gathered four experts in the field of puppetry and animation to talk about their experiences. We will be questioning preconceived ideas around what the new face of puppetry and animation is and each member of the panel will talk about their work, goals ambitions and projects. We are a puppetry festival so expect surprises alongside the chat.

What are you particularly looking forward to in this year’s programme?

I love this festival. Two years ago I watched everything in the programme.  It was the maddest week, filled with the strangest of things – sometimes joyous, sometimes sad, sometimes hysterical. Therefore, my unrealistic tip would be just go see everything. However, if you’re interested in new work, and want to see more than one thing on a budget, check out Prototype.  For the first-time we have teamed up with Tobacco Factory Theatres to run a Prototype dedicated to puppetry.

If you have never seen Prototype before, it is an event were new work is performed for the first time to an audience. It is usually the beginning of a process and has led to some of the best bits of theatre I have ever seen in the South West.  It has never been dedicated solely to puppetry, so for me this is extremely exciting and also important for the development of new work.

Can’t wait!

 


Visit the Bristol Festival of Puppetry website to find out more and to book tickets to all the BFP+ Professional Programme events .  You can also find details of all our workshops for adults and children at Tobacco Factory Theatres and Watershed throughout the Festival (01 – 10 Sept) and browse our full Festival programme.

Stay up-to-date with all the latest BFP17 news and announcements via our  Newsletter, FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

SUPPORT OUR CROWDFUNDER!  Puppet Place are looking for your support.
The crowdfunder has some fabulous rewards – including festival passes for families, a one-to-one stop motion workshop and a puppet tailor-made in your image!

Click here to show your support and claim your reward.