An Interview with Gérard Schiphorst: Artistic Director, TAMTAM Objektentheater

TAMTAM objektentheater is an internationally touring theatre company that has been producing visual theatre since 1979.  Visual theatre is a very personal and peculiar style of objectheatre in which objects, images, sound and music, light, video and inventive stage-technology tell the story.  We spoke to TAMTAM’s Artistic Director, Gérard Schiphorst, about this style, how it connects with children and how to be as smart as a donkey.


How does ‘visual theatre’ differ from other theatre performance?

In visual theatre the images tell the story. There is no narrator or dialogue. This is very different for both spectators and performers. The spectators will have to make their own story in their own head. They have to sit down and let their imagination work. The performers on the other hand will have to provide enough visual input for the spectators to fire that imagination.

The funny thing is that each spectator sees a different performance. Since we do not define with language about what a certain character or object represents, the audience will have to invent it themselves. So for one person a rusty piece of metal can be a mouse and for someone else a prehistoric monster. You can imagine that it is very important that the makers and performers of visual theatre try to control the effect of the images they show, so that in the head of the spectator the development of the drama gets clear.

When text is absent, music, sound light and manipulation become very important to guide the spectator into the right direction in the storytelling or to load a scene with a certain atmosphere.

What is distinct or innovative about the theatre you produce?

We are an Objecttheatre. Next to the absence of text and the focus on the visual aspect of the theatre the use of objects as actors and props is also very specific to our work. In our case that means that we use a lot of found objects and discarded materials. They are our starting point when we produce a new performance. We do object auditions to see which things could tell the story that we want to tell, and the also inspire us to find new drama and to squeeze stories out of them. We are also always looking for innovative ways to stage the performances. Sometimes very hi-tech, with video and computers, sometimes no-tech – but mostly something in between.

‘As Smart As A Donkey’ is a nice mix of high-tech that you don’t see (a computer runs the whole sound, light and video of the performance) and low tech with just two visual puppeteers – or should I say ‘objecteers’ – playing with object characters and the donkey. Our collaboration with writer and painter Wim Hofman, who is quite famous in Holland, is very special. He wrote the story together with us in the workshop during the production process while fooling around with the objects. And he also drew 26 meters of background for Donkey to fly over, walk across of fall from in the animations that link the scenes.

‘As Smart As A Donkey’ is a performance for children and families. What does your particular style of object theatre bring to this audience?

The fact that they will never look at their household things the same way again, and that they will probably start secretly playing with their utensils when nobody is looking. Objectomania is contagious! And beware: Donkey is an instantly charming character and he is bound to conquer the audience from the start.

What opportunities do events such as the Bristol Festival of Puppetry provide?

We perform in festivals all over the world and everywhere the audience is different. This teaches us to look at our own work in a new way, and be as universal as possible in our theatrical language. We also like to meet other performers and theatre people and exchange ideas and talk and what goes on in the world of puppetry. It is also great to know that a lot of spectators will carry a little bit of our show home with them and will be part of this volatile medium that only exists during the performance. No DVD’s or such, but you can always replay the performance in your own head – and of course we love it when people come to talk with us after the show.

Interview by Emma Windsor

‘As Smart As A Donkey’ is on today (29 Aug) at 2.15pm and tomorrow (30 Aug) at 11am & 2pm at the Tobacco Factory Theatre.  Find out more here.  It is one show in a full programme of events this weekend for families and children, which include live performance, film and workshops.  To find out more, visit the Bristol Festival of Puppetry website.

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