All posts by joshie12

Preview: The Wider Earth – The Story of Darwin

Award-winning Darwin drama The Wider Earth , an incredible production about the young Charles Darwin, will be opening at the Natural History Museum in mid October in a new purpose built theatre.

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The Wider Earth has a cast featuring War Horse actors, Ian Houghton, Andrew Bridgmont and Matt Tait. Written and directed by Dead Puppet Society’s Creative Director David Morton, The Wider Earth was initially conceived in 2013 in Cape Town during a mentorship with Handspring Puppet Company, the creative team behind War Horse. This visually spectacular production features 30 extraordinary puppets representing the tropical wildlife Darwin encountered on his voyage. The production will have its European premiere in the first performance theatre ever to be built at the Natural History Museum.

This coming-of-age story follows a rebellious young Darwin who, aged only 22, set out on an intrepid five-year voyage on HMS Beagle to distant and exotic lands.

 

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These incredible hand-made puppets are as much the stars of the show as the stellar cast who will bring them to life. From tiny Galápagos finches, to giant tortoises and a fossilised glyptodon, the puppets have been made following observations in the field and extensive analysis of anatomical drawings. Created over the past two years, the puppets have now had their final stages of fabrication and modification at the Darwin Centre in the Natural History Museum.

Nicholas Paine and David Morton of Dead Puppet Society comment, what makes this work special s its unique approach to storytelling, casting talented actors to play famous historical figures, who bring to life an array of incredible creatures through masterful puppetry. 

 

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The new 357-seat theatre, built for the first time in the Jerwood Gallery, will allow audiences to enter the Museum after dark and pass the cutting-edge Darwin Centre, a working scientific laboratory full of zoological specimens including those collected by Darwin on his voyage. Led by paleobiologist Professor Adrian Lister, author of Darwin’s Fossils, the Museum’s scientists are working closely with the creative producers.

 

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“This is a voyage of extraordinary theatrical discovery that celebrates the power of curiosity, the natural world and big ideas.” (Sydney Morning Herald).

 

By Josh Elwell

 


The Wider Earth runs at the Natural History Museum from 13 October-30 December 2018.  For further information and to book tickets, visit the NHM.ac.uk website.

Being Satyagraha: An Interview with Caroline Partridge

Caroline Partridge is an experienced actor and successful puppeteer, specialising in hand puppetry.  In this interview, Josh Elwell chats with her about her performance in the ENO/Improbable Opera Production of Satyagraha, currently in Los Angeles.

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You are a multitalented performer, actress and puppeteer and have worked with a wide spectrum of companies from Little Angel to CBeebies to English National Opera. How did your interest and career in puppetry begin? How did you develop and build your skills as a puppeteer?

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I suppose my interest in puppetry began when I was at school. I elected to make a marionette for one of my A Level Art papers and the creation of that puppet, (Don Quixote), led me down a wonderful road of discovery. I became totally immersed in researching the best way to construct a marionette, and how to create a show, which inevitably led me to the Little Angel Theatre in Islington.

I clearly remember my first visit in 1988, and the first show I saw there, ‘The Little Mermaid’, a beautiful marionette piece which, 30 years on is still being performed I’m happy to say. Funnily enough my puppet was sent to the Little Angel to be marked and the Little Angel was the first place I got an acting job after leaving drama school. I have a lot to be grateful to the Little Angel for, I consolidated my skill as a puppeteer there and became involved in teaching puppetry in many of their educational projects.

You were part of the creative team that developed the award-winning Opera of Satyagraha by Philip Glass presented in a staggering visual collaboration between The English National Opera and Improbable – charting the early life of Gandhi in South Africa. You have been working as a puppeteer on the production over several years. What was it like working on such a large-scale opera piece and what was your main involvement at the start?

I am so immensely proud to have been involved in this production from the start. It really has been a life-changing experience, not only in terms of the success of the show but how the work has influenced my life and relationships.

I had desperately wanted to work with Improbable since I saw their production of Shock Headed Peter and was totally blown away by the humour, ingenuity and freedom of their work. I found out that I’d been chosen to be part of the Skills Ensemble, helping to create the visual language for the show, as well as build the puppets that have become such an influential part of the opera and it was the realisation of a big ambition for me.

On this show I have been privileged to work with some of the most uniquely talented, warm, generous and funny people over the last 11 years and count them as some of my dearest friends. As clichéd as it might sound, the stars aligned and the right people came together at the right time to inject their expertise, experience and love into this beautiful piece of work that it has defied all expectation and has been running revival after revival both here and in the US for over a decade.

Satyagraha was Improbable’s first staging of an opera and because of this Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch, the then Co-Artistic and Creative Directors were incredibly open to experimentation and play. The combined approach of Phelim’s unique directing style and Julian’s dazzling design complements Glass’s epic score beautifully and made them a joy to work with.

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The Ensemble in Satyagraha play an important role within the piece. Can you tell us from an ensemble member’s perspective how this feels? Also, how has this group creatively grown or developed over the last few years?

It’s funny but I don’t really know if I can justly distil down and quantify how it feels to be part of the Skills Ensemble within the show.  The simplest way to describe what we ‘do’ within the piece is to say that we not only create, and constantly re-create the beautifully fluid stage pictures, but how it feels.

Well I suppose you feel responsible and aware of the mechanics involved in the performance and the importance of making things ‘work’ but there is so much more. There is this extraordinary all-consuming combination of music, movement, atmospheres, and feelings that transport you to a place where you are not acting but ‘being’ – being totally present, and responding truthfully in the moment. It’s a very freeing and special place to be as a performer. I think this maybe one of the reasons why the original Skills team have always returned to the show over the last 11 years.

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You are just about to embark on taking the show to LA. How have different audiences responded to the piece and how do you expect it to be received in LA?

Wherever we have performed the show, London, New York and soon to be L.A. audiences, especially those new to opera have loved it. The themes within Satyagraha always seem to resonate with what is going on within the political & societal climate, the Global Economic Crisis of 2008 & 2013, Occupy Wall Street in 2011 and now with Brexit and Trump, and the rise of segregation.

It can be said that some people find Philip Glass’s work a struggle because of the repetitive nature of the music but for others this is where the joy lies. The joy in being able to let go, to release, connect and be carried to where your higher self wants you to go, to be completely present. This is why many thousands of people who have seen the show keep coming back. At first glance it may seem daunting as the opera is 3 hours long, sung in Sanskrit and has no subtitles.  But this allows the audience the time and space to fully connect with what is going on musically and visually.

Many people who have seen the opera compare it to a beautiful meditation. After one of the London performances a friend who was present said she felt it was like “being carried along by a spiritual river”. I think it’s a very personal and moving experience and I’m sure that the L.A. audiences will feel the same.

I can let you know for sure at the end of October.

 

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Satyagraha is at the LA Opera House until 11 November

 

An Inside View on Vivaldi: An Interview with Ben Thompson

Josh Elwell talks to puppeteer Ben Thompson about this exciting new production. We look beneath the surface at the process that brings together a contemporary version of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons by Max Richter, a live sextet of musicians and a team of master puppeteers. The show opens this April and can be seen by candle light at The Globe Theatre.

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Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons at The Globe is an exciting collaboration between Gyre & Gimble, a team of master puppeteers (of which you are one), a sextet of musicians and the prolific contemporary musical artist Max Richter. Can you tell us how the collaboration came about and in particular how you yourself became involved in such an unusual project?

Toby and Finn (of Gyre & Gimble) wanted to create a show that mixed puppetry with music to tell a wordless, but still emotionally engaging, show. They approached the Globe with this idea and set about listening to a lot of classical music. They were introduced to Max Richter’s recomposition of Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’ and knew straight away that it had the epic scope and dynamism they needed.

They held a number of research and development workshops to explore how such a piece could work. I’ve known Toby (Olié) and Finn (Caldwell) since I worked with them on ‘War Horse’ in the West End and have been lucky enough to work with them since on various different projects. They asked me to be a part of one of the workshops and after the last one I was offered a place in the cast.

From your perspective as a puppeteer how has it been working on a show that is a response to a piece of music? In what way has it been different to other projects you have worked on?

It’s actually been quite freeing because there really is no right answer and whenever we got stuck we just went back to the music and explored what it inspired in us. Most of the other projects I’ve worked on have been scripted and mostly fixed before rehearsals start. However, even within those shows, quite often the puppet I’m operating won’t have text (I seem to have done a lot of animal puppets in my time) and so the physical script needs to be discovered. The thoughts and emotional journey of the character mapped out. So in that respect this project is quite similar to others I’ve done.

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I know that you are a very accomplished and experienced puppeteer. You have worked on War Horse as well as with other companies like Blind Summit and with me at The National Theatre of Scotland. In what way has this project enabled you to play to your strengths? It would also be interesting to know in what way you have been challenged? What is it like performing to candlelight in The Wanamaker?

The atmosphere in the Wanamaker is just beautiful, but the candle light means you’re not able to focus an audience’s attention like you might with a lighting change/spotlight. Therefore the precision of the puppets’ movements is very important, so as to allow the audience into what the character is thinking or feeling, as well as having moments of stillness to draw their attention to something in particular. Coupled with this is the fact that the audience is on three sides of the stage, meaning that at any one time there’ll be some action that someone can’t see. So, as well as keeping the staging moving and taking in all sides and not just the front, as a puppeteer you have to be very aware of your own body; making more space than perhaps is usual between yourself and the puppet to allow for sightlines.

I knew and worked with Max Richter back in the early 90’s when we were fresh out of college and he was writing music for fringe theatre shows at Arts Threshold in Paddington under the leadership of the young director Rufus Norris. At that time he was full of inspiration and had a wonderful inventiveness. How does his recomposition of this famous piece of music lend itself to the art of puppetry? Has Max been involved and how have you worked with the music during the rehearsal process?

I’m not sure if Max’s recomposition lends itself specifically to puppetry, but it definitely does to theatre and storytelling. It has an epic scale to it with sweeping moments of passion and sustained levels of tension. Of course this is Vivaldi as well, but somehow Richter steps it up a gear. In that way I suppose it’s linked to puppetry in that puppets, particularly human figures like ours, are a heightened form of performance; they are essential as in they show the essence of something. There is no text in the show and so the music acts as the dialogue.

Max hasn’t been directly involved with rehearsals, but has given his permission to use the piece in a scaled down version with just 6 musicians which has been brilliantly rearranged by Bill Barclay, The Globe’s Director of Music. We’re hoping he approves of what we’ve done and that Vivaldi might also like what’s been done to his original.

The first thing we did at the start of rehearsals was to spread out a huge roll of brown paper, grab a load of marker pens and, with each of us taking a section of paper, we listened to the entire piece and drew/wrote/doodled anything that came to mind. Initially this could be quite abstract and disconnected, but then we repeated the exercise and made an attempt to create a narrative that covered the whole piece. From this process a basic storyline was thrashed out and we then set about creating the physical version of it. We would listen to a movement and then improvise a scene to it, repeating and finessing as we went. If we were ever stuck it always helped to go back to the music and see what it inspired.

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Perhaps you could tell us a little bit about how it has been working with your fellow puppeteers? It would also be interesting to hear about the process led by G&G’s Toby & Finn?

I’ve worked with a few of the other puppeteers before – or knew them at least – and so it was great to jump straight into the process without the awkwardness that comes with the first few days of a project. It’s been great and inspiring to work with people who work at such a high standard within puppetry. Toby and Finn too have gone from strength to strength with their past projects and the two of them bounce off each other so effortlessly in the room. It’s been one of the most fun rehearsal processes I’ve been a part of, with a lot of laughter and silliness but also a great amount of serious focused work that has brought out some beautiful moments in the show.

ST207729 captioned.jpgWhat do you see as being the main purpose or message of the production? What do you hope that the audience may take away with them?

It’s going to be interesting to see how an audience reacts to this piece. Every night there’ll be a different make up of people that have come because it’s Vivaldi, or because they’re huge Richter fans and are intrigued to hear this piece. Or those that have come because of the puppetry or simply those that are fans of The Globe and the atmosphere within the Wanamaker. It’s part concert part theatre piece and the etiquette for how to respond to this medley is, I think, not fully known.

Emma Rice, the Artistic Director at The Globe, described the puppets as being ‘crash test dummies for life’ which is lovely way of putting it. The design of the puppets is such that they are very neutral and so an audience can imprint on them whatever they wish. The piece deals with universal subjects like love, loss and dealing with life. I imagine people might initially see themselves in the puppets, but then as the story develops they are perhaps taken out of themselves and invited to imagine how it might be for someone else. Sympathy and empathy all rolled in to one.

 

Interview with Josh Elwell



‘Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons: A Reimagining’ at The Globe
 is on until the 21st April.  To find out more about Gyre & Gimble and their work, visit their website at: http://www.gyreandgimble.com, or Facebook, Twitter, Vimeo and Instagram feeds.   To book tickets to see the performance at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, visit the Globe’s website.

More than ‘Stuff and Nonsense’: An interview with Niki McCretton

Plym 039_previewNiki McCretton is a theatre maker, performer and Artistic Director of Stuff And Nonsense Theatre Company.  She also runs her own theatre – The Lyric Theatre, Bridport – and is a Puppet Place Associate Artist.  She is an expert in working in early years settings and inspiring the creative energy of all ages. She has been theatre making for over 25 years  (including award-winning National and International tours with Wormhole, Relative, Space 50, Muttnik, Hoof! and Horseplay).

In this interview we talk to Niki about her new production of The Gingerbread Man and about her work with early years children. She talks about her personal creative approach and about her own theatre The Lyric in Bridport.



Your company ‘Stuff And Nonsense’ are about to open a new 
production of ‘The Gingerbread Man’. Please tell us about how you came to choose this story and about your creative approach to putting together the production.

We chose the story for a few reasons. We were looking for something that parents would feel excited to bring their families to see.  This story interested me as I always try to find a connection – a way that children may look differently at things.  I thought if they are going to relate to the Gingerbread Man, what would they enjoy or find challenging.  The idea of being on the run as soon as you are sentient and having to learn from your own experiences and wits feels exciting and tricky. It felt like there was some depth to explore here, as well as some great adventures. I love to adapt stories and we work with children in the process of creation to find what they find fascinating.

 

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Image by Rebecca Pitt Creative

You have a particular expertise in working with early years. What is it about this age group that particularly inspires you?

I do. I work with an action learning organisation called 5x5x5=creativity.  Through that practice I have learned to work with really young children and how to support them in their creative ideas.  It is a process of finding their fascination and then designing provocations to send them on an immersive journey.  What inspires me about them, is to become a collaborator with them and learn alongside them in an equal and honest way.  They are, of course, brilliant creatives with bold ideas and few boundaries.  I often notice when we are performing that they have a much stronger steer than the adults as to what is about to happen.  Much better intuition and reading of the non-verbal.  They are also challenging as they can see immediately if someone is being inauthentic.  They also make me laugh a great deal!  Find out more at https://5x5x5creativity.org.uk/

Stuff And Nonsense has its own particular style of children’s theatre. What is it about making theatre for a family audience that is most important to you?

 

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Image by Louise Froggatt

My main thrust of the work, apart from the previous questions, is to create work that will connect people through a shared experience.  I do not enjoy watching productions that are only for the children and that the adults are bored or disengaged with.  I would say the most important thing for me is that the family are talking about the show afterwards together, sharing the bits they loved and talking about why things happened and how the characters feel.  I really enjoy it that some adults come with a slightly tired energy, maybe they are looking forward to a sit down! And then afterwards they keep saying how much they enjoyed it and are surprised.  I think it is important not to dumb down the work that as a theatre-maker, you want to make – rather check that it will resonate with each age group and keep editing and amending on tour as you learn.  If the parents are bored, the work will never be spoken of again and the shared experience lost.

As well as having connections with other theatres, you have your own theatre base in Bridport. Can you talk a bit about your home at The Lyric.

The Lyric is an old theatre, built in 1742.  Our patron is Chirs Chibnall (writer for Broadchurch and Dr Who) and his company ‘Imaginary Friends’ supports writers.   We have two spaces:  a 150 seat theatre with a stage and little proscenium, full of charm with flocked wallpaper; and a studio space upstairs where we can make puppets and props and hold workshops.  We also have  a veggie/vegan cafe called ‘Bearkat’ that serves food and coffee.  We are community oriented and programme professional work as well as running a series of masterclasses.  We also support artists to create work – this is the main reason for having the space.  We are non-funded and, while the building is under my watch, I am determined to support as many creatives as possible.  It is a tricky time in the arts right now and really important to give artists residency space and a place they can make a mess and feel at home.


 The Gingerbread Man tours the UK from 10th Feb 2018. For tour dates click here.
To find out more about Stuff And Nonsense Theatre Company, visit the website at  http://www.aloadofstuffandnonsense.co.uk and get the latest news on their Facebook and Twitter feeds.  You can also find out more about The Lyric Theatre here.