Space Invaders Bristol: An Exhibition From Another Dimension

We’re in the midst of an invasion! An artist take-over of two shop units at The Arcade in Bristol’s city centre.  It’s a coup, a creative revolution, an innovative initiative to bring art to the public in unusual places (and leave those spaces in a better condition afterwards.)  Resident artists Beki Wills, Max Dorey, Richard Hewis and Cat Rock from Puppet Place have transformed units 12 and 26 into pop up galleries; exhibiting artworks including illustration, fine art, modelmaking and puppetry.  Over the next few weeks until Nov 03, passers-by can see some amazing window installations at unit 26 or drop into unit 12 to view or purchase prints, postcards and even original pieces by the contributing artists.  Entry to all exhibitions and events is FREE.

Artwork: Beki Wills


COMING SOON: SPACE INVADERS HALLOWEEN SPOOKTACULAR
From Oct 24 to Nov 03, the current exhibition will be transformed and a host of additional activities are planned that will turn the space upside down a reveal a spookier side to the exhibition.  The exhibition spaces will feature the following events: 

Disphoria: Mike Stuart    
24 Oct – 03 Nov, FREE 
Mike’s earliest artistic influences were comic art, the Beano, 2000AD and Asterix. He also loved discovering the work of Druillet and Moebius in Metal Hurlant magazine. Childhood visits to National Trust properties and the books on the shelves at home gave him an early taste for classical and neo-classical art, and as a teenager, the iconoclasm of punk rock was a big influence that opened up new ways of looking at the world.

Artwork: Mike Stuart

The Art of Mark Hollis
24 Oct – 03 Nov, FREE
Mark Hollis’ method allows a process of using his own scanned images of earlier prepared paintings, Found, and Digital Photographs. Many of the image structures used are a result from walks in Bristol, Dartford, Thamesmead, Avonmouth and Essex.

Artwork: Mark Hollis

Puppet Place: Uncanny Valley – Bringing The Inanimate To Life
21 – 27 Oct, FREE
Puppet Place is the UK’s hub for puppetry and animation. Our building, Unit 18, is full of brilliant artists and creatives working in puppetry, animation, film, visual arts, theatre, outdoor arts and creative technologies.  This exhibition presents a collection of puppets and other works made onsite by three of our resident companies: Green Ginger, Pickled Image, and Muddy Duck.

Puppets: Green Ginger Theatre

AfterLife Drawing Class
28 Oct – 03 Nov, FREE
Life drawing with a deadly twist. AfterLife Drawing present seasonal horror themed life drawing events in Bristol creating original characters, costumes, make-up and sets to give you a life drawing experience like no other (no nudity.)

Reanimation: Spine-Tingling Shorts
Oct 31 (evening), Nov 02 (day). FREE
Our programme of animated short films, perfect for fans of the freakish.  Featuring works from Puppet Place resident artists, associate artists and local independent filmmakers, this bag of visual tricks and treats will keep you up this Halloween.  With screenings for adults only (15+) on Halloween (31st Oct) and Day of the Dead special (02 Nov) for families (12A – parental guidance), there’s something spectacularly spooky for everyone.

‘MiLK HaRE’, Dir. Emma Windsor

Further events and activities are planned for Halloween, so keep an eye on the Space Invaders Bristol Facebook page and Puppet Place’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for all the latest news.


About The Resident Artists

RICHARD HEWIS
A long time fan of trawling car boot sales, flea markets and charity shops for forlorn, faded and overlooked pieces of artwork, Richard gives these once loved pictures a second lease of life. He is unsure whether his additions enhance the original canvas or not, but what is guaranteed is that the process of reappropriation in his collection ‘Inappropriate Reappropriation’ is incredibly enjoyable for both the artist and the viewer.

Artwork: Richard Hewis

BEKI WILLS
Beki Wills is a multidisciplinary artist whose work focuses on paintings and ink drawings of complex, industrial organic juxtapositions. Her work is always in a state of flux, growing and shaping as she works, and never in a state of completion. Through her work she explores the nature of patterns and randomness within nature and humans desire and natures impulse to bring order to chaos. Her new collection, ‘No, Not Yet’ forms a new body of ongoing work.

Artwork: Beki Wills

CAT ROCK [KAPPA KAPPA ART ]
Cat Rock’s artwork began when her Pappy gave her five hundred unwanted tiles. 

Being a hoarder of many unwanted things she decided to try to give these tiles a new lease of life and began painting them; experimenting with colour and pouring techniques. What started as an experiment quickly became a passion. ‘Vascular Bundle’ is the biggest piece she’s attempted to date, presented on a recycled piece of acetate, displayed in a recycled wooden frame. 

Artwork: Kappa Kappa Art

MAX DOREY
Max Dorey is a multi award nominated theatre designer who works across the UK.  His designs have earned Off West End award nominations for ‘Best Set Design’ nine times, including Finalist for his design for ‘Talk Radio’ in 2018, and most recently for his design for “Chasing Bono” at Soho Theatre.  Max also makes models, sculpture and illustrates.  His working project ‘Dreamy Ox’ uses waste materials which he reassembles in new and surprising ways.

Artwork: Max Dorey

Keep an eye on the Space Invaders Bristol Facebook page and Puppet Place’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for all the latest news and events information. Exhibition runs until 03 Nov 2019 at Units 12 & 26, The Arcade, Broadmead, Bristol.

Relaunching Intronauts: Interview with Chris Pirie, Green Ginger Theatre

Green Ginger’s Intronauts propels audiences into a microscopic journey deep within a human being; an adventure story complete with big screens, tiny buttons and body parts. The show has just been remounted with a brand new cast, before winging its way back on tour. Josh Elwell caught up with Artistic Director, designer, puppeteer and performer, Chris Pirie to chat about the exciting changes to the show and what’s on the horizon for Green Ginger Theatre.


Photo: Jack Offord

Intronauts has been through a reinvention of late. As well as having a new cast you have also made some changes to the show I believe? Can you tell us how the production has evolved?

Yes, the show has enjoyed a complete overhaul and we are very excited by what it has now become. We needed to recast the two lead roles (Intronaut and Host) and this presented an opportunity to invest in an extended remount. We were well aware of some of the show’s weaknesses in story structure; these were largely due to the technical demands of the projected animations taking up precious rehearsal time during the original production period.

Our amazing director Emma Williams presented a new narrative structure that immediately addressed some profound issues in the original version and then we were able to spend three weeks in the rehearsal room, bringing two new performers into the fold, and then working in the new material. It was scary and exhilarating pulling apart something so tightly woven and none of us had any certainty that it would be an improvement. But by week two, we really felt like some of the shifts and tweaks proposed by Emma were really starting to land.

Photo: Jack Offord

I have heard the newer version described as more ‘Monty Python’! Please explain what might be meant by that?

It’s possible that the original version had that absurd Python vibe, but it was buried away. All we did was clarify the essential storytelling and flesh out the two main characters, giving them both a little more substance. The absurdity is now underpinned by tension and threat, and the audience can actually care for the characters.

You have just come back from Charleville (Festival Mondial des Théâtres de Marionnettes.) How was the show received at the festival?

We arrived the day before our first performance to discover that all three of our shows in one of the festival’s larger 300-seater venues, had already sold out. The bigger surprise was that having had grown accustomed to smaller, quieter audiences at our UK preview performances, we hadn’t anticipated such playful and vociferous crowds that seemed to laugh at every moment. It felt like a massive vindication of a month of very hard work.

Photo: Jack Offord

Next stop is Norway. Tell us a little bit about your relationship with Norway and how do you anticipate the show being received there?

Norway will be quite different from Charleville. The audiences will tend to be unnervingly quiet – largely because they are listening intently. Over the years we’ve learned that many performers tend to feel they may have ‘lost’ them because of a lack of discernible feedback during the show. Then at the end – if you’ve earned it – they show their appreciation loudly and enthusiastically!

Intronauts is the third in a series of Norwegian co-productions; Rust (2005) and Outpost (2014) were also made possible through generous support from Nordic theatres and production houses. Cultural budgets are healthy, and they seem to enjoy investing in theatre companies from other parts of the world. We have chosen to collaborate with Nordland Visual Theatre in their Arctic base in the Lofoten Islands. The remote location offers both stunning scenery and a particular focus through isolation.

What plans do you have the show beyond Norway?

We have aspirations to tour extensively throughout Europe but these plans currently hang in the balance until it becomes clearer what impact Brexit will have. A ‘no-deal’ will be catastrophic for any touring industry; bands and performing arts companies will face massive increase in costs due to artists having to pay national insurances to every EU country, plus the costs of buying and preparing carnets for the temporary export of sets, costumes etc.

Photo: Jack Offord

What does Green Ginger have up its sleeve for 2020?

The first two months will see the company in collaboration with Lyric Opera Chicago. We will be revisiting Tchaikovsky’s Queen of Spades; a Welsh National Opera production that we devised and performed the puppetry for back in 2000. It’s totally bonkers – extremely dark, but beautiful music. It’s quite something to be performing with puppets in a 3500-seater opera house, a full orchestra at our feet, whilst behind us a 60-strong chorus is singing at full voice!

We are still shaping up the rest of 2020. We are collaborating with Bath University’s Biomedical Engineering Department on a year-long public engagement project. At the heart of the activity will be Key Stage 2 puppetry-based workshops for primary schools. The aim is to make biology attractive to boys and engineering more enticing to girls.

Green Ginger also has aspirations to further develop some of the important work on puppetry and disability that was started during the Broken Puppet Symposium events in Dublin (2017) and Bath (2018) and Bristol Festival of Puppetry in 2017. We are convinced that there is much more to be done to make our artform more accessible to and representative of disabled practitioners and audiences alike.

Oh, and the very first show that I co-created with Terry Lee (Green Ginger’s founder) back in 1988, will be dusted off for a special one-off appearance in a Somerset cow field sometime in June… Watch this space.

Interview with Josh Elwell


To find out more about Green Ginger Theatre and to read all the latest news and tour information, visit the website: www.greenginger.net , Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

A Life Fantastic: An Interview with Sarah Wright

Sarah Wright has lived a life of puppetry. Daughter of John and Lyndie Wright, who founded the famous Little Angel Theatre in North London, she was raised and trained at the theatre, and has worked extensively within physical and puppetry based theatre ever since. We caught up with her to find out what is was like growing up and what has most inspired her on her long career.

The Tin Drum
Credit: Steve Tanner

You were raised in a puppet theatre environment at North London’s Little Angel Theatre. What was it like growing up? 

Growing up in a puppet theatre was as magical as you can imagine! Watching each show again and again from out-front, backstage, above and below. Learning every move and every line and every bar. The Little Mermaid, Rapunzel, Mak the Sheep Stealer, Hans the Bell Ringer, Sleeping Beauty; string puppet shows operated from high bridges with beautiful carved figures, superb lighting and carefully chosen music.

My first theatre memories include making play bread from sawdust and water on the workshop floor, peeling pearl glue from my fingers, learning how to raise the enormous ‘resistance dimmers’ for lighting and answering the phone, “Hello, Little Angel Theatre!” The box office phone number was also our house phone, so my brother Joe and I learnt how to answer and make bookings in the large red book, anytime from breakfast to bedtime as soon as we could talk (there was no answering machine.)  And of course, operating puppets.  I remember watching my Dad operate the Little Mermaid, her gentle determination, and the furious frenetic witch in Rapunzel, my Mum operating the beautiful hopeful Fisherman in Fisherman and his Soul. They and other company members taught by example, patiently encouraging me.

Lyndie Wright, John Wright and Ronnie Le Drew

Touring: I totally loved it. I had my own passport from 5 months old because, as Lyndie says, she never knew which van I might end up in. Once or twice a year the whole resident company of five to eight adults plus kids would bundle into vans and head to France, Germany, Poland, Greece (and even further by plane) to perform at British Council venues and World Puppet Festivals, bringing back much needed cash to keep the London theatre afloat.

Holiday work: essential pocket money. Particularly winter season when an extra pair of hands would be needed for the larger scale Christmas production. From age 9 getting dressed into black velvet costumes for Amahl and the Night Visitors or Angelo meant staying warm, and being part of the family obsession.  It felt good to earn a place in the team, to work, to be occupied, to learn a skill.

These shows were often strong classical stories, which were both technically challenging and full of character depth. Without knowing it I learnt from the adults around me, not only a technical skill but also a rich sense of storytelling and performance.

Age 13: I may have needed cork platform shoes to reach the play-board to operate Mrs Noah in our medieval rod puppet Noah’s Ark, but I was completely confident in portraying how Mrs Noah felt when her husband asked her to abandon her friends on the drowning Earth!

You decided to step away from Little Angel Theatre (although you remain a Trustee and associate artist.)  What led you in this different direction? 

By late teenage things changed.  I still appreciated the holiday work but became more interested in audiences of my own age. By the time I left school in the mid 1980’s companies like Barry Smith, Eric Bass and later Faulty Optic were producing fantastic eerie work but by then I’d seen Archaos. I wanted BIG theatre. Mind blowing theatre. Theatre as raging as the pubescent anger I still felt.

In 1988 I studied with DRAK in Czechoslovakia.  For 8-months I followed director Joseph Krofta around, absorbing all I could of his brilliance and his flair. The Mill of Kalevala was the first show I’d seen where puppets and actors truly shared a stage. But I still didn’t create my own work. I wanted to be part of a team.

DNTT was an international fire/theatre/circus company that took all my attention for the next 8 years. We travelled Europe in trucks (yes, the love of touring) performing huge exciting shows to thousands of non-theatre going audiences in squats, festivals and town squares. We had no director and I was the stage manager, lighting designer and co-creator within this functioning collective. We built machines, blew up dragons, designed cities and deserts. The Berlin wall came down. We had an absolute blast!

DNTT ran its course and my next passion was abstract, object, figure as object: Silo Theatre and leading artist Milou Veling. I moved to Amsterdam for the summers to work and learn with Milou. She nudged me from lighting design back to puppetry and to standing on stage myself, visible, something I had strongly resisted until now. Our first project was The Tower, a 16 metre high cone of boat sail and pine tree, held together with industrial clamps stripped out of the shipbuilding yard we worked in. The audience lay down in a circle, their heads towards the centre looking up at the abstract world created within tower and cocoon cloth; hoops that turned to hourglass, ladders for counter-weighted human climbers, a bucket of smoke descended as if into a well, the dark disc in the upper distance spun to a flashing mirror showing ourselves.  And then came PlanetariumSilo, a show I totally loved, touring Holland and to Prague and Croatia.  Then home again to Amsterdam to stage manage Robodock Festival.

Silo Theatre

Back at Little Angel another inspirational artist Christopher Leith was now directing.  A precise and generous director, Christopher kept me employed all the months between Silo tours. We explored Faust throughout the LAT building, toured Philemon and Baucis in Austria and Bluebeard with Henk Schut.

And then with Steve Tiplady at LAT (and Lyndie’s extraordinary design/making) came Venus and Adonis. This show really did change things for me. Here was a puppet show with a wider audience brought by Greg Doran and RSC. It got great national paper reviews and the puppeteers were even named in the reviews – for the first time in my life! It’s easy to forget since the brilliant response to War Horse that until Venus and Adonis, in my experience, the press and wider theatre-going public had seen puppets as a niche form (or for young children) and suddenly we were the ‘in thing’.

Importantly for me (and Rachel Leonard, we shared the role) Venus was a character with a real emotional journey, an acting part for a puppet, like the Little Mermaid so many years before, full of rage and fear and love. The horizon seemed wider.

Emma Rice and Mike Shepherd came to see V&A at Little Angel and Lyndie and I have worked with them both ever since. Kneehigh was uplifting and a perfect dream; beautifully told stories, exquisite lighting, music to hold your heart, all made me feel at home. A true sense of company, a Joseph Krofta style of theatre making, a DNTT popular reach, a Milou exploration, an exhilaration and joy in theatre making… and Mike of course.  The horizon became the Cornish sea and Oscar of The Tin Drum heads my list of ‘favourite puppet roles ever.’

Venus (2004)

So, what was it like working on Tao of Glass with Lyndie? 

I have always loved working with Lyndie, the recent Tao of Glass by Improbable at MIF included.  She used to give me instructions and I tried my best to follow.  More often now I propose ideas and she runs with them, taking them up and beyond anything I could imagine. The transition from one role to the other was tricky at times, classic master/student trouble I suppose.  It has settled down now.  She doesn’t want to rush to the meetings or work up budget sheets but her making is still the most expert and the fastest in the UK, I reckon. I often get to teach the operators how to work the beautiful figures she creates; they have life built into them and contain a laughter always ready surface.

The Adventures of Curious Ganz

I have made two shows of my own working with Lyndie as maker; Silent Tide (now the name of my company) and The Adventures of Curious Ganz,which is touring this Autumn.  Yes, I finally got around to making my own shows (inspired by Milou, Bob Rutman, Liz Walker) and would love to do more as Curious School develops.

Silent Tide
Credit: Peter J. Charlton

You are now artistic director at Curious School of Puppetry, a puppetry course led by professionals for professionals.  How did this come about?  Can you tell us more about the aims of the course?

I repeatedly observed these things: Teaching puppetry to actors during show rehearsals can be great fun but it’s not ideal, and as a Puppet Director on an actor’s stage, this is what I am employed to do most of the time. An actor with one show involving puppets under their belt is not necessarily fully qualified to put ‘puppetry’ on their CV but many do simply because they want the chance to work puppets again.  How else can they learn professionally except on a job?  The type of resident companies that used to train up a few extra hands no longer exist (except Puppet Barge!) and evening classes are hard to attend if you are touring. Something else was needed.

I started Curious School of Puppetry in response to the actors, puppeteers and theatre-makers who wanted to get inside puppetry and become really good at it professionally, who wanted to take time to reflect on existing skills and build new approaches to their craft.  Having had the huge advantage of growing up in a puppet theatre, I wanted to offer a similar kind of inspirational training and the industry contacts to go with it.

Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs)
Credit: Steve Tanner

Curious School of Puppetry offers one full-time, 10 or 7-week course per year taught by the best puppeteers, directors, writers, movers and shakers I can find. We teach in-depth operating technique and we teach theatre-making. We aim to find students who will be the next generation of ground-breaking creatives in the field.

I love my work. I love puppetry for its otherness, for containing all our passions but being outside of us. I get so excited by ‘seeing’ into it and by the material nature of it. I adore the challenges of directing, the satisfaction of teaching and the dizzy excitement of performing.  And I look forward immensely to witnessing the brilliant work of future puppeteers.  I want them to rock my puppet world as Lyndie Wright, John Wright, Joseph Krofta, Christopher Leith, Liz Walker and Milou Veling have done.

Here’s to them all!


Interview with Emma Windsor

Curious School of Puppetry

Dates: 27th January-14th March 2020
Venue: ‘The Poly’, Falmouth, Cornwall
Application Packs are available now from sarah@curiouspuppetry.com
Website: http://curiouspuppetry.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CuriousSchool/

The Adventures of Curious Ganz

Tour dates October 2019:
The Boo, Rossendale: 2nd October
Skipton Puppet Festival: 6th October
Tunbridge Wells Puppet Festival: 11th and 12th October
Assembly Roxy Edinburgh: 18th and 19th October
La Tartan Teatro, Madrid: 1st – 3rd November
Website: www.silent-tide.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Silent-Tide/

Better By Design: An Interview with Max Dorey

Max Dorey is a multi award nominated theatre designer who works across the UK. His designs have earned Off West End award nominations for ‘Best Set Design’ nine times, including Finalist for his design for ‘Talk Radio’ in 2018, and most recently for his design for “Chasing Bono” at Soho Theatre. In 2016 he was nominated for ‘Best Set Design’ in the Prestigious UK Theatre Awards for his design for ‘And Then Come The Nightjars’, alongside Lez Brotherston and Robert Jones.

He is also a resident artist at Puppet Place. In this video interview, Puppet Place’s Martha King caught up with him to find out more about his practice, background and current projects.


About Max Dorey: maxdorey.com
About Puppet Place: puppetplace.org

The Paper Cinema: An Interview with Nic Rawling

The Paper Cinema is an illustrated song, a shadow, a smoke, a mirror, a puppet show, a cinema show, side show, magic show, a show and tale, a show off. It exists in the meeting of live music and moving drawings.

In this interview podcast, Artistic Director, Nic Rawling talks with Puppet Place’s Martha King about their work, processes, challenges and what’s next for the eclectic theatre come animation company.


About The Paper Cinema: thepapercinema.com
About Puppet Place: puppetplace.org

On Screen And Stage: An Interview with Josh Elwell

In the second in our two-part series on the artists involved in Puppet Place’s press team, we meet puppeteer and performer, Josh Elwell. Josh has worked in TV, film and theatre and has been involved in some prominent projects, including brand new ‘The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance’ that will premiere on Netflix at the end of this month. We caught up with him to find out more about his background, his craft and some of the extraordinary situations he has worked in..!

How did you get involved in puppetry?

Puppetry was just part of my childhood. My dad made me a puppet theatre when I was about 5 and I put on shows to friends, family and anyone who was kind enough to watch. With an actress mum and a painter dad, their combined influences left me no doubt that dolly waggling was in my genes! We even had a family show that we performed at various events. My professional career started as an actor by going LAMDA, one of the UK’s best drama schools. This gave me an amazing foundation in the craft of performance. Spending 3 years studying amazing things from movement to clowning, from voice to animal behaviour. These skills and techniques have served me well over my nearly 30 year career.

My first professional job out of college was as a puppeteer and I just seem to naturally follow this crazy impulse. I guess I have always loved the selflessness of puppetry. I always feel that actors take themselves too seriously. As a puppeteer, it is by taking the attention away from myself that I feel truly free to playfully inhabit the character. I love the fact that all those techniques I learned at drama school can be applied to my hands.

You’ve varied professional experience in theatre and also film & TV.  What differences are there between puppeteering for stage and for screen?

I am very lucky to have worked with some amazing theatre companies including The National Theatre of Scotland, Norwich Puppet Theatre and Little Angel. Over the last 10 years I have been working more on screen with companies like The Jim Henson Company and Children’s BBC. It is amazing how different the two worlds are. In theatre we tend to have more time to develop ideas and try out creative solutions to see how best to serve a story. In TV & film there is usually much more of a time pressure and we have to find quick solutions to achieving the best possible shots. There are also very different skills involved in creating a performance that either works well for a live audience or that looks good on camera. Working with a monitor, for example, is a particular skill that enables the puppeteer to work within the frame. 

I really enjoy the process of working on film as you are required to find a performance really quickly. I love finding quick solutions to making it look like a puppet is carrying a ladder, blowing bubbles, climbing a tree or (in the case of my most recent job) pissing against a wall! I really enjoy the more condensed repetitive process of problem solving, rehearsing and shooting. You achieve the right shot and performance, it is done and you can move on to something new.

What has been the most challenging and/or fun project that you’ve worked on?

Each new job has its own unique challenges. I have just been puppeteering a dolphin in a swimming pool for an advert..! We were in the water quite some time. It was cold and I couldn’t see anything. I loved working with the team that make ‘Don’t Hug me I’m Scared’. The challenge there was to make the extraordinary puppets, props and sets that we needed at the same time as we were shooting. This was a very creative and collaborative process. I have also had to puppeteer a mile underground in a mine shaft, up a tree on a rainy day and even amongst a swarm of bees!

Last year I got to work as an additional puppeteer on ‘The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance’ which is out on Netflix this summer. This was a challenging experience due to the huge scale of the production and the sheer number of people involved. It was amazing to get the chance to work on so many different elements of the production alongside some of the best puppeteers, designers and builders in the world – check it out on the 30 August.
Working as a puppeteer is full of endless challenges. This is the thing I most enjoy about it. Finding clever and sometimes magical solutions is both the joy and skill of being a puppeteer. 

What’s next?

I have become clear lately that I most enjoy working with a team of people to make something amazing that exists separately from everyone who is part of it. This has meant that I have started to become intrigued with the whole process of film making. I am particularly interested in mixing different screen mediums like animation, live action puppetry and actors. Similar to some of the work of Michel Gondry – ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’, ‘Science of Sleep’, ‘Be Kind Rewind’.

Being fairly new to Bristol I am very interested in collaborating with anyone here who would like to use/develop/explore the use of live action puppetry within their film making. Over the next few years I would like to find some new people to collaborate with and get back to creating some of my own work.

Give me a call! 


To find out more about Josh’s work and watch his showreel, visit his website: http://joshelwell.co.uk or connect with him on LinkedIn.

Cranking Up The Magic: An Interview with Sue Truman

Sue Truman, photo by Doug Plummer

Sue Truman is a fiddler, guitarist, stepdancer and crankie artist living in Seattle. Her love of crankies has led her to create and perform with these beautiful objects worldwide. We sat down with her to find out more about how she discovered this almost forgotten art form, its historic roots and what the future holds for her and the magical world of the crankie.


Can you tell us about your work as an artist?

I have been a long-time crafter, primarily traditional textiles: quilting, weaving, sewing of all sorts and playing the fiddle as well. I have always been drawn to folk art and folk tales. When I saw the Lost Gander crankie by Anna & Elizabeth in 2011, my mind was blown! This was a way to bring together all those skills and loves.

A crankie is an old storytelling art form. It’s a long illustrated scroll that is wound onto two spools, which are loaded into a box with a viewing screen. The scroll is hand-cranked while the story is told, a song is sung or a tune is played.  I began making crankies in 2011 and, not long after that, I started adding shadow puppetry to some of the crankie stories. One friend told me after a performance, “The shadow puppetry made the story come alive.” It’s especially effective when you have scenes that involve travel: ships sailing on the ocean, cars driving, hot air balloons flying, bears lumbering, a pod of whales, a flock of birds or a train steaming down the track.


Crankies with accompanying puppetry is something of a forgotten art form. Can you give us a bit of the history?

Scrolling artwork moved by means of spools and a cranking apparatus can be traced back to Europe in the 1700s. Examples of scrolling backdrops with accompanying puppetry are rare. Luckily, Dmitri Carter, Director of the Northwest Puppet Center in Seattle, has been kind enough to share information and images from the late 19th/early 20th century.

Below is one example from the group Mantell Manikins from Everett, Washington, 1902. There is a revolving drop (the scroll is a continuous loop) behind the horse and jockey marionettes. While the horses jockey for position, the backdrop races round and round. Read more about it and see more examples here.

Horse race by Mantell Manikins featuring the revolving drop. The original marionettes and drop are part of The Cook/Marks Collection at Northwest Puppet Center. 
Used with permission.


How have crankies been rediscovered in recent years?

In the early 1960s, Peter Schumann, who is co-founder of the Bread and Puppet Theater, coined the term “crankie” or “cranky”. You will see it spelt both ways. Peter started what I call the first wave of the crankie revival. In 2010, Anna & Elizabeth (annaandelizabeth.com) and Katherine Fahey (katherinefahey.com) began making crankies and this started the second wave. Anna & Elizabeth’s extensive touring and large social media following did much to increase awareness of the art form and provided huge inspiration! Here are two You Tube crankie videos from 2010 that helped launch the revival:

Lost Gander – by Anna & Elizabeth
Francis Whitmore’s Wife – by Katherine Fahey

I wrote an article about this movement “Crankies: Reinventing the Moving Panorama as Contemporary Folk Art”. It is being published in a book of articles by the International Panorama Council members entitled “More Thank Meets the Eye, The Magic of the Panorama” (IPC, 2019). The book will be available this fall.


Tell us about the Crankie Factory website

When I first began making crankies, I had read they were an old folk art but I couldn’t find any information about crankies prior to Peter Schumann in the 1960s. Then, I ran across the term moving panorama. That opened the door to information about their existence and popularity in the 19th century. I began contacting moving panorama historians to find out more. They were quite surprised to hear that a small but growing group of artists were reviving this art form.

At that time most crankie artists were not aware of moving panorama history. I decided to create a site to bring together these two groups of people who had something in common. Then, in 2013, the book “Illusions in Motion” was published. Written by Professor Erkki Huhtamo, it is considered the ‘bible’ of moving panorama history. He has been very generous in sharing information and images.

Below is an example from Professor Erkki Huhtamo’s book. The horses run on a treadmill in front of a Moving Panoramic background. The fence in front of the horses moves as well. This was from the last act of Charles Barnard’s “The County Fair”, produced by NeilBurgess at the Union Square Theatre, New York, 1889.

The Crankie Factory site also includes over 100 videos from artists around the world and “how to” information. I am constantly updating all 60 pages of content. It’s a total labour of love! Visit the Crankie Factory website to find out more.


What are you working on now?

I have many projects going at once, as usual! In September, I will be giving a talk at the International Panorama Council Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. The talk is entitled “Hibernicons: A Moving Panoramic Tour Through Ireland” and you can read more about that here. Instead of using a Power Point presentation, which I could put together in less than an hour, I am making a crankie to present the information. God knows how long that will take but I haven’t made a crankie in six months, so I am looking forward to getting started on it. This is what I do and I love it!

I will also be teaching a week-long class in crankie-making at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Ashville, North Carolina beginning Oct. 27th, 2019. This school was established in 1925 and sits on 300 acres of wooded forest. It is arts and crafts heaven. There are still a few spots left, so come make crankies with me!

Finally, I am involved in coordinating and performing in a couple crankie festivals this fall and right now I am thinking about spooky crankies and the Halloween season.



Interview with Emma Windsor


To find out more about Sue’s work, the history of crankies and how to design and build your own crankie, visit the crankie factory website: www.thecrankiefactory.com