Weirdy Rhymes: An Interview with Dave Brain

dave_brainDave Brain is a visual effects artist, one half of ‘Guksack‘ and son of the late stop motion animator, Terry Brain.  As part of our Bristol Festival of Puppetry’s tribute to his father’s career and creations, we premiered two episodes from the brand new series Weirdy Ryhmes created by Terry Brain and produced posthumously by Dave and animator Michael Percival.  Weirdy Ryhmes has since launched on Aardman’s new YouTube channel, AardBoiled this October.  We caught up with Dave to find out more about the series and how it was created and produced. 

 

Weirdy Rhymes was a programme idea of your late father, Terry Brain, who was an accomplished stop motion animator, writer and director.  How did the idea come about?

Originally Weirdy Rhymes was to be a book. Back in the early 90s, fresh off of writing the Stoppit and Tidyup Annual (with Steve Box) he was asked if he had any more ideas. He’d been creating his own version of classic rhymes for years so must have followed from that. It was originally called  Hungry Dumpty and was to be a parody nursery rhyme book.

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

As time went on it was developed further.  By the late 1990s they’d created a pilot for a prospective children’s TV show called The House that Fnord Built. It was a gorgeous 2D animation and – if memory serves me rightly – the music was done by the same guy who did the Postman Pat theme.

Eventually it became Weirdy Rhymes and the same episode has been reshot in stop motion with new music. Keep an eye out for The Slimey Sniffin’ Snork, that’s the one that’s been made twice! I will dig out the original one day.  We arrive at a version for the modern generation, short and surreal YouTube videos!  But his surreal humour remains. I like the way one episode is a beautiful piece of work and the next is about a creature whose arse keeps falling off.  Sums up my Dad’s mind.

 

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Still from Weirdy Rhymes

 

You decided to carry on with the production of Weirdy Rhymes and teamed up with the animator Michael Percival to continue this work.  Can you tell us about this?

It was Michael Percival (who we call Percy) who convinced my Dad he could make Weirdy Rhymes. Technology had gotten to a point where you could make this kind of stuff at home. And while TV did pop up as a format, there is a creative freedom and potential international audience that spurred things on after nearly three decades.

Even though I’ve worked in a similar field (as a Visual Effects artist), we had never worked together. With Weirdy we finally had a chance to work together. When Dad became ill and we became brave enough to talk about the future, he gave us a brief list of people he’d like to continue the work if there was an option to. Once Dad passed (quite quickly and unexpectedly in the end, so there was no plan in place) it seemed like a no brainer to get them done.

 

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Still from Weirdy Rhymes

 

We turned on his home studio to find that he’d filmed ten episodes. It was up to us to make sense of his various bits of animation and much like a jigsaw with no reference picture, we have spent the year trying to put them together. I think we presumed it would take a couple of months but here we are nearly two years later. I’m actually writing this in the middle of a deadline to get the next one done!  Even though they are in mid release we are still very much working on them day and night. Percy has been great in getting these pieces together and Andy, who does the music, has been great at making wonderful soundtracks to bits of animation that were animated to my Dad tapping on a table as a beat. I have been trying to get the last bits of post-production together, the easy bit really.

Aardman have been great. Dad’s work home for much of the last two decades, they have been trying to get a YouTube channel off the ground for some years now.  It was something Dad talked with them about so we knew he’d be happy to be a part of it. And once we talked with them, it was again a no brainer.

 

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Still from Weirdy Rhymes

 

The first episodes of Weirdy Rhymes have just been screened on Aardman’s new YouTube channel, AardBolied.  How does it feel to see the finished work and when will further episodes be released?   

There are now four episodes online. It’s been absolutely amazing to get them out finally and I am over the moon that Dad got a last opportunity to make something of his own (after a long time of working on other peoples projects, which was great, but we knew he had more ideas in him.)  I’m just gutted that he hasn’t been able to see any of it.

We are nearly half way through the run, which are being staggered out every couple of weeks. Dad had a 30 episode plan and if there’s call for it, we have enough notes to go on to complete the rest. But we will see. For now we will focus on the ones that Dad animated himself.

 

Interview by Emma Windsor

 


To watch more episodes of Weirdy Rhymes visit the AardBoiled YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/aardboiled.  Find out more about Dave Brain’s work on his YouTube Channel  or join him on Twitter.

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Doris Rocks! An Interview with Lucy Heard

lucy_heard_Drastic Productions - Compendium - R&D - Joan _previewResident artist Lucy Heard is a performer, events organiser and producer.  She works as ‘Doris Rocks’, where she focuses on all manner of creative and inventive happenings.  We caught up with her to find out how she got involved in this work, who exactly ‘Doris’ is and what plans she has for the foreseeable. 

 

You have an incredibly diverse background, from street performance to mental health advocacy.  How did you get involved in these activities?  How do they relate?

I’ve always been creative and making art, even when I spent years working as a recruitment consultant I would go on courses in printmaking, singing and burlesque. In 2009 I met Liz Clarke and worked on the Gallery Of Superheros and Alteregos, which was exhibited at the Tobacco Factory.

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It really opened my eyes to what I could do and create.  I had no idea that this collaboration would develop into deep friendships, further explosions of work and the guts to have a total career change.

Since the Gallery, we have worked together on the Compendium of Superheros and Alter Egos and Liz’s show Cannonballista.  The compendium is a graphic novel developed using live art and written by a group of women with mental health issues. Together we recruited and employed an artist to make our vision into a book.

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Cannonballista is a live cannonball show which Liz has been developing over many years.  I worked with Liz on the show while developing who took part in the show. Working with personal objects to draw out characters has always been at the core of the work I have done with her.

While my heart loves the performance aspects, my head knows that I am far better off stage, taking a more project management/producer role.  I moved into Puppet Place nearly 2 years ago with a view to making more and developing all the characters I have worked on with Liz (and others) into puppets. Finding time to work on something for me is really a challenge as there is so much else going on.

 

Who is Doris? What kinds of events do you organise and for who? 

I am Doris, the name comes from a nickname that I was given several years ago by a housemate who called everyone’s girlfriends ‘Doris’ because he couldn’t keep up with the ever-changing names.  One year I got more birthday cards for Doris than I did for me! It came from Peter Cook and Dudley Moore sketch.

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I used to work on lots of vintage and burlesque hen parties and theatre events, providing event assistance/management or workshops.  This work has developed a lot over the past few years and now I mainly work for Bath Spa Live on music, poetry and dance events, alongside producing fire performances and street theatre for Juggling Inferno and Circii.

 

Is there an event that you’re particularly excited about this Christmas and New Year?  How will you spend Christmas Day?

I’ve been working on Christmas events since July – I’ll be quite glad when its all over!  I love everyone’s enthusiasm for things, until I tell them how much it will cost to put an aerial act in or the ghost of Christmas past on stilts.

I head off on retreat in January when I don’t have to look at a computer, answer the phone or talk for a week and on Christmas Day, I will see my family in the morning and have a snooze in the afternoon.

 

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Do you have any new year resolutions? Any plans in the pipeline for 2018?

More self-development, my most recent superhero character was about connecting with people using eye contact and being seen.  I’m currently working with Holly Stoppit to look at my inner critic and this is giving me plenty to work with.

 

And there is always my secret puppet army to build..!

 

Interview by Emma Windsor

 


To find out more about Lucy’s work and events she organises, see her website: http://dorisrocks.com, connect to her on LinkedIn or see some of the events she’s been involved in on Pinterest.  

Associate Artist Spotlight: An Interview with Katie Underhay

The Tale of the Cockatrice 13 - Credit- Kirsten McTernanWe wrap up our series of articles following Puppet Place Associate Artists as they get their work in production and out on tour with a review of an incredible year by Katie Underhay from Mumblecrust Theatre, as she reflects on how far her now award-winning show, The Tale of the Cockatrice has come in just twelve short months – from scratch performance to UK tour.

 

You’ve had quite a busy year in 2017.  What have been the highlights for you?  Have you met your goals or even exceeded your expectations?

We certainly have! This time last year we did our scratch performance of The Tale of the Cockatrice at the Lyric, Bridport, to try out new ideas and get feedback from kids and parents about what is working, what else they’d like to see, etc, which we took on board ready for the new year.  In 2017, we wanted to take the show to Brighton and Edinburgh Fringe.  We knew that it would be an incredible amount of hard work and cost an awful lot of money.

So we set some very specific aims: get some reviews and press/industry feedback; invite programmers from venues and touring agencies to get our tour up and running; to have these two big festivals in our show and company’s history and to promote our show and company’s name with audiences. It’s safe to say, we certainly achieved those things. Our absolute highlight this year, which came as a total surprise, was winning our two awards at Brighton Fringe: “Voice’s Best Newcomer” and “IYAF’s Best of Brighton Fringe: Children and Families Award”. That certainly ticked our ‘press/industry feedback’ box, as did the 5-star review from The Voice! After our success in Brighton, it was much easier to approach programmers to see the show in Edinburgh and we had quite a few come along and book us for 2018!

 



What are your plans for the Christmas/New Year season?  What’s special about this season?  How will you spend Christmas Day?

Christmas is always a busy time for us but this year is even crazier! Up until Christmas Eve, I’ll be performing in Stuff and Nonsense’ 3 Little Pigs at the Lighthouse in Poole. We were approached by Theatre Shop, a venue very close to home in Clevedon, North Somerset, to perform The Tale of the Cockatrice a few days before Christmas. I was quite frankly gutted because I knew I’d be away at that time. Thankfully we managed to rearrange to the 28th & 29th December, so that week is going to be insane!

 

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Photo: Kirsten McTernan

Finishing off the 3 Little Pigs run, travelling back to my family in Banwell for Christmas and Boxing Day, then two days later performing our show the first time since Edinburgh in August! We’re so excited to be performing the show in Clevedon. It’s the first time we’ve brought it to North Somerset, my home county – and Clevedon is the town my mum grew up in!  So it’s very close to my heart.  It’s also the first chance a lot of my friends will have to see the show. One of my oldest friends from the drama group I went to as a kid, a friend from my Performing Arts BTEC, my cousins and their children, even my GCSE drama teacher!  I’m really looking forward to it.

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Photo: Kirsten McTernan



What plans do you have for the New Year?  What would you like to achieve?  Do you have any resolutions?

In 2018 we’d really like to take this show all over the country and keep promoting for 2019. We already have tour dates in London, Cheltenham and Hertfordshire; we’re going back to Brighton Fringe and we’re returning to the Lyric in Bridport with the finished show and a puppetry workshop. I don’t think we’ve come up with any resolutions yet, but a lot of plans; some things we need to implement and some crazy ideas that might come to pass.  We’ve been talking a lot about plans for a new show but I don’t know if 2018 is the year for that.  2017 has been full of surprises so I couldn’t even speculate what’s going to happen next year!

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Photo: Eleanor Kelly


What advice would you have for artists who might be anxious about trying to get a puppetry show produced and on the road?

We really didn’t expect the kind of reception we got at Brighton Fringe. And from then all the things we were struggling to get (dialogues with programmers, press coverage) became so much easier.  It really has been a kind of snowball effect. Getting that first bit of recognition was so important for a new company that doesn’t have many contacts within the industry – yet!

When we started, we had a vague idea to do a family show about this old cockatrice myth and decided that we’d apply for every festival we found until we got accepted.  Then we’d create it.  This was what we really needed to get ourselves moving but was a stupid idea at the same time! We got accepted by the first one we applied to, we didn’t have nearly enough time and we were getting more and more elaborate with our ideas as time started to run out.  So I think the advice I’d give to people would be to find that “deadline” so that you have a goal but to give yourselves plenty of time. Within a week of being accepted, we were being asked for a logo and marketing copy (for a show that didn’t yet exist) and then were being asked for risk assessments, posters, flyers, press releases and a thousand forms to fill out.

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Photo: Kirsten McTernan

Never underestimate the amount of admin there will be and make sure you make time for it. And don’t let yourselves be rushed with the creative side! Also remember that there really is no deadline for the show to be perfect. We’re still coming up with ideas to improve the show, a year and a half after we started and 6 months after we got a 5 star review! We also have a lot of friends who have their own companies – some a few years ahead of us, some 10 years ahead of us – and these people were invaluable for advice and support. We’ve been sent example versions of press releases and tech riders and all those sorts of things you don’t even know you’ll need until you’re asked for it!

We’re very much looking forward to creating our next show, taking on board everything we’ve learned this time around, and every festival and venue we go to gets easier and easier, because we already have these important things in place.

 

Interview by Emma Windsor

 


Don’t miss ‘The Tale of the Cockatrice’ at the Theatre Shop, Clevedon, North Somerset on 28th and 29th December 2017 (performances at 11am and 2pm.)  To find out more and book your tickets, visit the Theatre Shop website.

 

Read the full story about the development of ‘The Tale of the Cockatrice‘ in previous Puppet Place News Blog interviews with Katie Underhay ( August 2016 & June 2017.)  Find out more about Katie’s work and Mumblecrust Theatre at their website: www.mumblecrust.com  and join them on Facebook for the latest news.

 

Puppet Place Associate Artist Scheme: Offers a range of benefits to artists including: discounted tickets to all Puppet Place events; reduced rates for rehearsal and fabrication space hire; dedicated training and skills sharing; the latest job/funding information and promotional services via our online network; and a forum to exchange ideas and connect with other artists.  To become a Puppet Place Associate Artist, contact Rachel at  Rachel@puppetplace.org or phone on  0117 929 3593.

 

Don’t Forget To Remember: An Interview with Jacqueline Avery

jackie_avery_01Jacqueline Avery is the Artistic Director at The Makeshift Ensemble in Dorset and a member of the Alzeimers Society’s two million strong army of Dementia Champions and Dementia Friends.  She is also a Puppet Place Associate Artist.  It was therefore an honour for me to interview Jacqueline, and find out more about the new dementia themed show she is currently working on.

Jackie is a choreographer, performer, puppet maker, teacher and a full time mum to boot. I caught up with her during rehearsals for her two current projects, Sofa, a dementia themed show and associated workshops she devised  together with her co-creator Laurence Aldridge, and their new children’s puppet show, The Children In The Moon, planned for 2018. Sofa has been supported by the Arts Council and is being made in partnership with Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham and Heartbreak Productions.

 

Hi Jackie, thanks for agreeing to this interview. May I start by asking what came before Makeshift Ensemble in 2015?

My training is largely in physical theatre and contemporary dance and working with the body to create story and image.  After graduating from Plymouth University in 2005, I was fortunate enough to cut my directing teeth under the mentorship of Kneehigh Theatre writer Carl Grose for the Jonah Lie Project, a collaborative piece performed with core Kneehigh members at The Hall for Cornwall more than a decade ago. There followed stints with Quicksilver Theatre (in association with Lighthouse, Poole) and some workshopping and choreography with Marc Bruce. I helped re-imagine Shakespeare with Tim Supple and most recently I have worked with physical theatre pioneer David Glass, learning about the nature of creative practice and how to embed this into my work. Since then have I worked as a performer, director and teacher across the UK.

MakeShift was formed in 2015 after a stint of writing and directing for other touring companies. I decided to bite the bullet and establish my own ensemble with Laurence Aldridge, a wonderful actor-musician who performed in a reworked version of The Tinderbox I had written.

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Laurence Aldridge is the Ensemble’s chief collaborator and music maker


How did puppets come to be such a large part of your work ?

Puppetry has always fascinated me, there’s something about the in-between world they inhabit and our ability to invest our stories and deep rooted feelings in them. For me, working with them is a natural progression from performing with my own body.  It is a dance expressed through another channel.  I never design my puppets before I start making them, I let them do their own thing and tell me who they are, then there is a brilliant moment when you can greet each other for the first time!

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Still from 2015 tour of ‘Tinderbox’ written and directed by Jacqueline. Photo by Andy Sherlock

 

Your new show Sofa explores the world of memory and dementia. Where did the idea for this show come from and how did you set about making an idea into a real thing?

The idea sprang from tidying up after my children! They used to destroy the kitchen sofa regularly when creating dens, boats, cars etc. out of it. I started to think about when and why we lose that desire to play as we grow, and what roles a sofa plays as we go through life. It becomes a place to rest, talk, entertain, make love and to comfort, as well as a treasure chest of loose change and things you thought you’d lost forever.

That led me to thinking about memory and how we choose to remember. Our brains can do a million things with memories including completely rewrite them, and the differences between shared memories can be astonishing. Sofa explores that idea a lot. From here there was an organic progression to exploring dementia, not necessarily as an illness but simply another way the brain chooses to process memory. This isn’t to say we don’t deal with the realities of living with and caring for those with dementia, it’s important not to skim over that, but the focus is on the role of memory and ‘unmemory’ and what it means as we grow.

To explore this in performance we had a bespoke sofa made that is essentially the stage from which we tell the story of two siblings whose father had dementia, the sofa holds many secret compartments and is used to make other worlds just as we do as kids. The sofa is the constant keeper of a thousand memories, every stain, every indent, every old pair of knickers pulled out from behind a cushion…

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In rehearsal for ‘Sofa’

Have you engaged in other creative activities with people living dementia before this show?

Earlier this year I completed training with Arts 4 Dementia in order to lead theatre workshops for those with early stage dementia and their carers. What struck me about the training is the assumptions we make about those with the illness, an idea that has weaved its way into Sofa. From that training I developed the ‘I AM’ workshop – preserving identity through drama and story sharing, which was trialled at ‘The Reawakening Festival through Arts 4 Dementia’ in May this year. The response was very encouraging and we met some fantastic characters whose enthusiasm to express themselves, their self-identity and their fears was really rewarding. Having said this, it was a struggle to gain trust from the dementia community in the first instance and continues to be a challenge as the project develops. We are working hard to tackle the hurdle and as we pick up support from various bodies along the way.  We have faith that delivering the workshop will be a lot easier in the future.

 

Sofa and the associated workshops are based on real life experiences and stories. Can you elaborate on this?

As artists it’s very hard not to create from your own experiences and, as such there is a strong autobiographical thread running through Sofa. Laurence and I spoke at length about the reality of bringing our personal experiences to the stage and gave each other a lot of permissions on what was and wasn’t too close to the bone. Laurence’s father had Parkinson’s and Parkinson’s related dementia. My Grandmother had Alzheimer’s and lived with my family throughout a large proportion of it.  So, yes we have a lot of first-hand experience.  I suspect it would feel odd if we tried to tell this story without it.  Like it’s not our place. We also opened the research out to others and have had some great stories back in return, the anecdotes are always told with tears and smiles, just as a good memory should.

 

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Playing at den making in ‘Sofa’

 

What would success for this show look like?

For me success is defined by all the little mini goals reached along the journey; meeting new creatives, having a puppet that doesn’t fall apart in rehearsals, working with great mentors, achieving support from others to champion the play and the workshops. In terms of the long game, it’s definitely about confronting and breaking down the stigma of dementia by looking at the playful role of memory. The workshops can go on to have a life independent of the play and I believe there is no end to the good they can do, especially in reaffirming self-identity. If another performance sprouts from it in a few years time then I’d love to delve deeper into what the world of memory and dementia has to offer!

 

You are touring your show The Children in the Moon in the summer of 2018.  Would you like to say a few things about this show?

Yes! So, alongside more challenging pieces of theatre like Sofa, my passion for storytelling and fairy tales sees us creating a family show that tours festivals and theatres throughout the summer months. Next year’s offering is The Children in the Moon, which is loosely based on the story of Jack and Jill, but woven together with snippets of other age old nursery rhymes and folk tales. It is brought to life by a giant teapot of tales which opens up to reveal a magical table top puppetry stage. As with all our work, the narrative hints towards important issues faced in today’s world, The Children in the Moon looks at diversity.  Our last family piece Fox and Rabbit’s idiot’s guide to The Owl and The Pussycat championed the plight of bees, and we handed out wild flower seeds, in association with Friends of the Earth, as part of the performance.

 

I like to try and end on a positive, motivational quote from successful artists where I can.  What good advice would you now offer to either your younger self or to any new and emerging artists who are just starting out on their career hoping to achieve the success you have ?

Always look for new creative ways to develop and deliver your work, make connections and never stop learning. The world is rich with ideas, stories and characters waiting to manifest themselves through your work so never stop searching. I have a notebook full of stories and ideas that keeping tapping me on the shoulder asking if it’s their turn yet. But it’s also about focusing in and concentrating on one thing at a time; I would’ve told my younger self to do that a long time ago, I often have to remind my adult self.

 

Interview by Stephen B Watters

 

 


To find out more about The MakeShift Ensemble and to get details on 2018 tour dates for Sofa and The Children in the Moon visit their website:  www.themakeshiftensemble.com, and join them on Facebook and Twitter

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

 

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Examples of Catherine’s stilt puppet characters
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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.

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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.

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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’.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.