Beverley Puppet Festival Comes to Your House

Beverley Puppet Festival is one of the UK’s largest celebrations of puppetry in all forms. This year however, due to the extraordinary times we find ourselves in, we are experiencing this festival in an entirely new way. Puppet Place’s Martha King spoke with Co-Artistic director, Kerrin Tatman, to find out more about the events still in store for us and how to access them.

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Hi Kerrin, would you be able to tell us a bit about Beverley Puppet Festival? What would we usually expect from this event?

Every two years, the award-winning Beverley Puppet Festival attracts 13,000 people to the quiet East Yorkshire town for a weekend of performances, workshops, free outdoor theatre and much, much more. Giant creatures roam around the Beverley’s town centre streets; tiny, magical worlds are revealed to unsuspecting audiences in the Friary Gardens and many indoor shows for all ages including adults take place at various venues across the town, including at East Riding Theatre.

The festival has grown to be a much-anticipated event of family arts provision in the Yorkshire calendar but also as a meeting place for puppeteers from around the country and internationally. The Scratch Space offers a platform to puppeteers wanting to try out new ideas to get feedback from a critical audience – the five selected companies receive a festival pass and a small bursary so they can fully immerse themselves in the festival. Networking meetings through Puppeteers UK and Equity take place as well, allowing puppeteers to take part in sector conversations.

Our usual programme of around 30 events across one weekend caters for all ages and genres of puppetry, including some of the best adult puppetry shows from the UK and overseas. Previous visiting international companies include Close-Act, Sofie Krog, Magische Theatertje, TAM-TAM objectentheater, Zero en Conducta and Compagnie with Balls. We always try and make sure that there is something for everyone – from comedy to the avant-garde – and so that everyone can understand that puppetry is for them, no matter their age or interests.

Of course, due to our current situation, the Beverley Puppet Festival has been slightly different this year. How has it differed and how will you continue to bring us content from the event?

We made the decision early on in the coronavirus epidemic that we didn’t want to cancel. Cancelling would have meant the loss of income for the full team and programmed artists, plus our audiences would be in lockdown without their biennial dose of puppetry arts. Instead we decided the only way forward was to go online. All of our pre-programmed artists (apart from two companies) and a few new editions were re-commissioned to design, create and film 25 videos of puppetry-related activities that could be completed by audiences in their homes using simple materials. Three activity videos per week are being posted on our website until July 12th 2020. Activities range from shadow puppets, moving mouth puppets, illusions, rod puppets and even a step by step guide on how to create a toy theatre.

We will still be running the Scratch Space but instead the 5 selected companies will perform their work-in-progress pieces through live streaming on our Facebook account across 5 Fridays in June / July. We were able to open this opportunity up to international artists for the first time due to it taking place online and are thrilled to have puppeteers taking part from Puerto Rico, Italy, Greece, as well as two from the UK.

The third main output we are focusing on for 2020 is our Education Project, which saw festival Co-Artistic Director / Founder Anna Ingleby of Indigo Moon Theatre create shadow puppet theatre packs sent into Beverley care homes. Residents under the assistance of care workers can play and create shadow stories, with participation from family members on Zoom / Skype. With families not being able to visit residents during this time, we wanted to put together a project that would creatively draw families together through digital means.

All activities are free, however we ask audiences to consider making donations to our Go Fund Me page. The money raised will be split between the festival delivery costs and some of our usual partners who missed out due to the festival going online, such as East Riding Theatre, our caterers, marquee hire company and festival technical team.

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What inspired the chosen theme ‘Back to Nature’?

Our festival theme of ‘Back to Nature’ was already in place before the transition to an online programme. We chose ‘Back to Nature’ to inspire people more about our natural surroundings and to raise awareness of the climate crisis. The theme feels more relevant than ever with what is happening in the world right now.

Originally we had planned for giant birds, tortoises and sea creatures to greet audiences on Beverley’s streets, but instead now all of the festival activities are linked to the theme in some way. Some activities teach people how to make animal puppets; others ask audiences to collect and use materials from their gardens, and one even shows people how to make a potato marionette monster! We hope that during these difficult times, the festival theme keeps nature and the environment at the forefront of people’s minds and if they are unable to get outside at the moment they are at least bringing a little bit of nature into their households through these activities.

 Will Beverley Puppet Festival go ahead in its usual format at a later date?

We have repurposed all of our secured funding to deliver the online version of the festival. For this reason, as well as team members being involved with Moving Parts: Newcastle Puppetry Festival on alternate years, the next live Beverley Puppet Festival will be the 10th edition in 2022.

Although the online festival is unchartered waters for our festival team, we have been looking at the change as an opportunity to develop the event for future years. For instance, we are still printing a brochure of the 25 activities on offer but rather than distributing these nationally and regionally as normal, we are focusing on our immediate geographical audience by sending them to every single household in the Beverley area and surrounding villages.

We’ve used the time to develop a festival app (available through Apple App Store and Google Play Store) so that people can access puppetry content easier and quicker, and we hope to repurpose the foundations of this app for future live festivals. We’ve explored new ways to improve our festival image and branding, such as commissioning artist Rachael Horner to design the front cover of our brochure rather than using a photograph. Rachael’s beautiful design is a real-life collage of a pop-up toy theatre which we hope will inspire audiences to get involved in the activities on offer. To help us deliver this online adventure we have also brought on a new team member Rachael Jones as a Digital Specialist to train the team up and help us reach as many people as possible.

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Do you think the restrictions to our way of living due to Covid-19 could influence a new way to experience live puppetry in the future?

We have to keep positive and obviously the ideal will be that after this is all over live puppetry and other arts events can go back to normal as soon as possible. Although putting the festival online is an exciting adventure for us and our audiences, we will be thrilled to deliver the festival as normal again in 2022 – but maybe with some additional digital elements that we wouldn’t have thought of including before!

That being said, we will emerge after the Covid-19 crisis into a different world and no one knows what that will look like yet. Arts funding (in England and Wales at least) is currently in flux with necessary emergency grants being given but resulting in rolling Project Grants coming to a halt. This will affect puppetry and arts organisation in 2021, unless rolling Project Grants are reinstated very soon. For instance, unless Project Grants are reinstated by September 2020, Moving Parts: Newcastle Puppetry Festival will not be able to happen as planned in April 2021. Adaptation is key though and in the case of the latter we will push the festival back to October 2021. There is also concerns about people not buying lottery tickets in the current climate which may affect arts funding and more worrying, a potential ‘hangover’ after lockdown of audiences not wanting to attend live events for a lengthy period of time.

Puppetry, as with other art forms and lots of different industries, is having to adapt to the situation. It is brilliant seeing lots of puppeteers putting up activities and performances online around the UK and internationally. People are coming together more than ever before across social media and with puppetry being a primarily visual art form, puppetry will withstand the current challenging circumstances. But we must fight it together – watch puppeteer videos, share knowledge, look at festival programmes, support organisations and artists in need. We will get through it and puppetry will be stronger on the other side.

The festival is live NOW until 12 July and the full festival programme can be downloaded at www.beverleypuppetfestival.com  You can also follow the festival and find more information on their facebook page  @BeveryleyPuppetFestival  and their twitter account @Bevpuppetfest.

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