Bristol Festival of Puppetry 2015

An Interview with Rachel McNally, Bristol Festival of Puppetry Co-Producer

Rachel is Executive Producer at Puppet Place and Co-Producer of the Bristol Festival of Puppetry.  She has previously worked as a producer and tour booker for Full Beam, Pickled Image, Stuff & Nonsense Theatre Company and The Devil’s Violin Company.  She took a moment from her hectic schedule to talk to us about Bristol as a city of puppetry, this year’s festival line up and her vision for the future at Puppet Place. 

Why Bristol as a centre of puppetry?

Bristol has always had a strong community of puppeteers. I think that is partly because puppetry works so well with other artforms and in so many different contexts. For example, many of our local companies and artists also have strong reputations in street theatre, which is also a significant part of the performing arts scene in Bristol. Also, the number of academic institutions that are now offering puppetry modules or training is on the increase. The impact of the animation sector on live puppetry in Bristol is huge. Both sectors feed off each other with artists and fabricators switching between the two. I think we also are a city that favours collaboration over competition as a working practice in the arts, this means that the boundaries between artforms are very permeable which keeps the work interesting for everyone.

What’s new about BFP 2015 compared to its predecessors?

The main new elements are the extended film programme at Watershed and the fact that we are working across the city for the first time. For each festival we have always been very clear that we do things because they make sense and there is brilliant show or something new and exciting for the public. For example in 2011, we had our first outdoor show in the car park at Tobacco Factory. This time we are working around the harbourside and introducing puppetry and events along the waterfront. Also, our curating team has expanded, which is great as this brings new artistic thinking to the programme. Joseph Wallace has put together a truly amazing film programme, Emma Williams has honed our professional programme for artists and I’m really excited by the puppetry lab that she is facilitating. This is a 48 hour experiment with established puppeteers, giving them the opportunity to explore ideas together. We’ve got Dik Downey from Pickled Image, Chris Pirie from Green Ginger and Kid Carpet confirmed already. At the end they will share their findings with an audience and there will be a discussion about puppetry and what they do. I love it when we get to share the process with audiences. I see it every day at Puppet Place so it’s easy to become blasé. However, producing great performances is real mix of inspiration and perspiration….and puppets of course!

What are you most excited about in this year’s line-up?

I’m really not sure if I’m allowed to have favourites. I programme the festival with Chris Pirie from Green Ginger and the reason the programme is so full is because there is so much amazing work out there from talented artists! However, I’m really looking forward to BOT’s performance of Ramkoers at Arnolfini – I think it will be extraordinary. I’m also really intrigued by the installation by The Quay Brothers on the Redcliffe Bascule Bridge in the Control Room. It’s just arrived at Puppet Place all neatly packaged and I’m not allowed to peek. It’s worse than Christmas!

Puppet Place just secured its base in Bristol until 2022. What are your key objectives for the organisation over the next 7 years?

We already know that Bristol is a centre for puppetry. We want Puppet Place to become a real hub for the artform – a centre of excellence. We think it can be a place of inspiration for both artists and the public. We want to open up our resources to more artists, offering our fabrication and rehearsal studios to the wider puppetry community. We also want to run a bigger public programme of events and workshops and finally by 2022 we want everyone to think about puppetry the way we do. Puppetry is an artform that is constantly inspiring and constantly changing. We love the traditional forms such as Punch & Judy and marionettes, even socks, but we also know that there are artists, engineers and others working with puppetry in a range of contexts from robotics to education, from social care to the commercial sector. Puppetry appears on the street, on stages, on films and in video games.

However, the funding and investment environment is becoming ever more fragile. This makes it difficult for artists and innovators to be bold and adventurous in thinking and stymies growth. We want Puppet Place to be a place that gives everyone the space to explore and dream big!

Interview by Emma Windsor

Rachel will be joining Emma Williams and other practitioners at the BFP+  Festival Breakfasts to discuss issues surrounding the industry and successful practice.  For more information about the BFP+ Professional Programme, visit the Bristol Festival of Puppetry website.

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