What importance does collaboration overseas have for puppetry in the UK?

At first glance, it may seem odd to write about the importance of artists getting together.  So much time is often spent alone in a studio, workshop or at a laptop, involved with the making of this or that project.  And for many, creative enterprise is very much a one-person vehicle, a freelance or small business venture.  Yet, in one way or another collaboration is prerequisite for the arts sector and creative industries to flourish.  In recent months, the question of how to collaborate overseas has become a hot topic, so below some ideas about the need and value of bringing it all together.

Photo: BFP13

Thoughts about how to stimulate good company and its benefits have been on our minds at Puppet Place for sometime now.  Of course, Puppet Place produce the bi-annual Bristol Festival of Puppetry, an event that has always celebrated diversity and internationalism. More recently, however, we kicked off our ‘Creative Hub’ conversation – an open discussion about the future of puppetry and Puppet Place.  This discussion has not only covered topics about local and international networks, such as best practices and the many benefits beyond resource pooling, but is itself, reflective of positive connections in action around common ground.

Then in June, the EU referendum result set the course for what will surely be given time, an overhaul of the infrastructure underpinning the UK creative sectors and industries.  Now more than ever, it seems appropriate to have those conversations about our relationships; who we work with, who funds us and how.   For some artists, in particular those seeking to work worldwide, there are various concerns:

cp_pull_outGreen Ginger could not have survived four decades of making work aimed at young adult audiences without the international market to work in.  The UK alone offers limited opportunities for companies like ours.  Theatres are still nervous about risk-taking and festivals are few in number and if they can offer bookings it is rarely for more than a single night.  The lack of any post-Brexit road-map is scary for those of us trying to work globally.  Forward planning is necessarily restricted to the short-term whilst the powers that be work out what it will actually mean in terms of free movement of labour and goods. We hope that the current wave of cross-border dialogue between festival producers, artists and enthusiasts will continue to stimulate fresh ideas and possibilities for all concerned.
Chris Pirie, Co-director, Green Ginger, UK.


But possibilities remain open, especially in appreciating collaborative endeavour:

dc_pull_outI’m unsure how Brexit will affect those involved in the Arts. I hope that it will not cause an “economic fear-factor” leading to more conservative programming in theatres around the UK.  I personally hope to find many more collaborators who will bring their diverse skills to the table so that we can create something new – and that we all go from the experience as better artists. It is important to protect traditions, but also to invest in work that is not always obviously commercial or conventional.

It would also be wonderful to see more specialists – puppeteers who focus on one aspect of puppetry, master it and make it their own – so that they can collaborate with other skilled masters to create work.   Drew Colby, Artistic Director, Finger and Thumb Theatre, UK.


Certainly, arts organisations in countries that have opted for a cooler approach toward the EU have managed strong and positive relationships with European and other overseas partners, which have in turn, nourished and enriched their domestic culture and creative industries:

ga_pull_outOur main mission is to develop visual and puppet theatre as a genre in Norway. Interdisciplinary and international collaborations are crucial for such a development. Without international exchange, the visual arts could easily become a traditional and over protected art form – that has a bad smell of old socks.   A wide and vital international network and exchange is the main base in order to obtain artistic development.  Norway has never been a part of the EU, but still there is trade and cultural exchange between EU and Norway.

Being from such a desolated part of Europe, we have experienced that the only way forward is maintaining a close relationship to the artists in the rest of Europe, and maybe even more importantly the rest of the world.  Geir-Ove Andersen, Producer, Figurteatret i Nordland/Nordland Visual Theatre, Norway.


And here in the UK, vital spaces for international exchange remain vibrant and vocal about their pivotal role in supporting widely collaborative creative enterprise:

ka_pull_outThe creative industries in the UK are a significant contributor to GDP and festivals, no matter how small, play an integrated and important role in the promotion and vibrancy of the creative product… It is through an active use of festivals internationally where filmmakers and animators in the UK become known worldwide as producers of noteworthy and high quality films. It would be tragic both culturally and economically if this was damaged in any way. I hope that new ways of collaboration arise and opportunities with other countries open up, whilst we continue to preserve the excellent relations we have worked hard to build over the years with our EU friends.
Kieran Argo, Curator, Encounters Short Film & Animation Festival, UK.


So there is much potential, as we move forward, to continue to develop and enjoy the creative sectors and industries here in the UK. Effective collaboration is key to unlocking that potential, both overseas and among arts organisations.  Touring theatre companies need the opportunities that international connections bring to maintain vibrant ventures and our cultural economy is clearly enriched by overseas investment whether that is direct finance, collaborating organisations or visiting audiences.  Lastly, our communities are better off with a range of perspectives and ideas in the mix.  And at Puppet Place we will continue with our discussions regarding a collaborative hub and our vision for it into the foreseeable future.

We believe that by talking and listening with each other, we better learn as a society to accept difference and work together to make a better world for all.  Puppetry is a universal artform that communicates across language barriers, cultural, national, generational, political and social divides.  Puppet Place dedicates itself across all its activities to breaking down these barriers and divisions.   

Rachel McNally, Puppet Place Executive Producer, UK.


Article by Emma Windsor

We are opening up the debate about what Puppet Place should be and are working with a Creative Group to focus our thinking. Our Creative Hub Conversation continues into the autumn 2016.  Your thoughts and feedback are most welcome.  Minutes and materials are available on our website:  http://www.puppetplace.org/hub/ 

Puppet Place is your hub for all things animated on stage and film in the UK. We are dedicated to sharing our passion for puppetry and animation with the wider public and supporting artists and professionals working with these artforms.  To find out more about our organisation, our resident artists and associate artist scheme, visit the website at www.puppetplace.org or contact Rachel at rachel@puppetplace.org.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s