Puppetry for Change: Talking Turtles with Jacqueline Avery

The MakeShift Ensemble explores physical ensemble performance in all its forms as a tool for engaging, affecting and passing on the story. In an age of uncertainty and change, it sneakily aims to incite small acts of revolution through live theatre. We caught up with Creative Director, writer and performer Jacqueline Avery to chat about their latest engaging performance, ‘I am Turtle’.

Can you tell us about The Makeshift Ensemble? How did it get started and what is the ethos behind the company?

MakeShift came into being 4 years ago now when my main collaborator Laurence Aldridge and I met working on another show. We had similar ideals and many years of experience in making new work, so joining forces seemed natural. We had a mutual love of traditional storytelling alongside contemporary theatre technique, and thus was born our first show based on the ‘Owl and the Pussycat’ by Edward Lear, complete with live loop pedals and pig puppets with rockabilly quiffs. We also thought it important that the merriment on stage should carry a message of responsibility, that it should hold a mirror up to the key messages of our time and incite our young audiences to create change.

‘Owl and Pussycat’ carried a message about looking after our bees. We worked in association with Friends of the Earth and handed out wild flower seeds at every performance. We even had photos sent from audience members of their flowers in bloom! Since then our shows have always followed this path and it felt right, so we ran with it. Our following show, ‘The Children in the Moon’, which was a show about celebrating differences, came complete with an anti Donald Trump song for three year olds. I wrote this in response to the rise of the right in the immediate wake of his election. Bringing ‘I am Turtle’ into the world now, at a time when we see the youth of the world rising to create change, feels like a logical conclusion of collective energies. Every show is performed in solidarity.

So what is ‘I Am Turtle’ about? And what drew you to the subject matter? 

After our last show, ‘The Children in the Moon’,  I wanted the next step for MakeShift to be a contemporary book adaptation, so I started researching modern children’s books with an environmental message. ‘Turtle’s Song’ by Alan Brown and Artist Kim Toft really stood out. The lyrical nature of it is just beautiful and the images so strong. Keeping key elements of the narrative, we have adapted it to include clear messages about our use of plastics and how this impacts both our world and the world of others. We were extremely lucky to have Norwich Puppet Theatre supporting us in the final making stages and premiere performances of this show in April. Having the run of their incredible building for a week was invaluable to getting this piece and its narrative past and present in just the right place. Our two main characters are Pocket, a spritely, newly hatched turtle, and his (very) great uncle Archie, who take us on a journey to the past of the magical sea turtles as well as visiting a future that leaves them in huge peril.

Can you tells us about the puppetry design and materials used?

MakeShift believe in practising what we preach and, as such, our puppets and entire set for ‘I am Turtle’ are made from recycled materials. The only thing bought new was glue for the puppets, because puppets like good glue. A lot of the materials came from the Dorset Scrap store and from my own kitchen as an experiment in how much plastic I could reuse creatively. Doing this made me realise how much plastic my family used and we have since made huge steps  to reduce this. For ‘I am Turtle’ there are a lots of recycled fabrics and our two turtle puppets are made largely from recycled hessian coffee bean sacks.

Where and when can people catch the show?

We have a great Spring/Summer run of this show lined up including exciting places like The Boo and festivals such as Latitude. So watch this space!

Full details can be found on our website www.themakeshiftensemble.com

Interview with Emma Windsor

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