All posts by marika

Puppetry In… Puppet Animation in Poland and the Czech Republic

The link between puppetry and puppet animation in undeniable – none more so than in Central Europe, where a rich tradition in stage and screen puppetry exists.  In this, the first in a series of articles in which we’ll be looking at the puppetry scene around the world, Puppet Place’s Marika Aakala sat down with Tereza Porybná, director of the Czech Centre in London, and Adriana Prodeus, author and curator of the ’70th year anniversary of Polish animation’  festival, to find out why puppetry and puppet animation are so deeply rooted in Czech and Polish cultural heritage.

 

What cultural significance do puppetry and puppet animation have in your respective countries and how would you explain its popularity?

Tereza Porybná – Czech Republic 
Puppetry and puppet animation are one of the key pillars of Czech cultural heritage. From popular mainstream children’s shows such as ‘Hurvínek’, to elaborate artistic endeavors in films of Jan Švankmajer or Jiří Trnka, there is no way you can avoid this phenomenon while living in the Czech Republic. The ongoing quality work in this genre has been also recognized in 2016 by UNESCO who added Czech and Slovak puppetry to its list of world cultural heritage.

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Kulička (Ball), 1963. Directed by: Hermína Týrlová, Czech Republic, 1963.

The variety of Czech puppetry is as immense as the collection of actual puppets stored in multiple museums around the country. The wonderful wood carving skills of Czech puppeteers are complemented by a unique artistic vision, combining humor, beauty and often a certain type of poetic melancholy typical for the modern work.

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Pat A Mat. Director: Marek Beneš, Czech Republic, 2014.

The tradition of puppetry has two main lines – folk art or amateur performance and professional performances taking place in the theatre and alternative art spaces. The puppet performances, as we can still know them today, were on the rise during medieval times when they were part of public amusement at fairs and markets. During the 19th century, Czech puppetry also had socio-political importance because it played an important part of the Czech national and cultural regeneration. The bohemian Kingdom was for many centuries part of the Austrian Monarchy and theatre performances were held predominantly in German. However, since the latter part of the 18th century, Czech puppeteers began using the Czech language while wandering with their marionettes through towns and villages of the Czech countryside. The most famous puppeteer, and a symbolic representative of the travelling Czech puppeteer family tradition, was Matěj Kopecky, whose ancestors still continue the tradition through the famous Prague based Cirk La Putyka.

In the first half of the 20th century, the puppetry scene had its established institutions all over the country including its own department at the Prague art school. Visiting puppet shows were, and still are, a common family pastime. Puppet animation films have drawn on this existing popularity and moved it to another level.   To compound this further, during the socialist regime, there were limited opportunities to see “Western” films, therefore domestic production became an even stronger part of our culture and entertainment media.

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O skleničku víc ( A Drop Too Much ), 1953, Directed by Břetislav Pojar (with art direction by Jiří Trnka), Czechoslovakia. Photo credit: Kratky film.

 

Adriana Prodeus – Poland
As for the pioneer of puppet animation, the puppetry of Władysław Starewicz is one of the oldest animation techniques and still holds a place of high importance in Poland. Of course, Lodz in Poland is home to Se-Ma-For Studio, where the famous Oscar and BAFTA-winning stop-motion animation ‘Peter and the Wolf’ (2006), directed by Suzie Templeton, was skillfully crafted and animated by local artists.  This was later followed by the Quay Brothers’ beautiful animation ‘Maska’ (2010), based on a short story by Stanisław Lem and with music by the composer Krzysztof Penderecki.

Puppetry is enduring in Poland.  Is this because of the surrealism that puppets bring? Or because of frame-by-frame photography that releases illusory movements and powerful transformations? Not an easy answer. Nevertheless, stop-motion embraces the whole spectrum of cinematic imaginary.   From the very beginning of Polish animation, there have been puppets.   Puppetry was first used in 1912 by Starewicz and post WWII by Zenon Wasilewski in 1947.   And in the last seventy years of Polish animation, several dozen animated shorts were produced. Both popular children’s shows with characters such as Bolek, Lolek, and Reksio and also dark, grotesque shorts de auteur, like Marek Skrobecki’s ‘DIM’ (1992), ‘Ichtys’ (2005) and ‘Danny Boy’ (2010).

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‘DIM’ directed by Marek Skrobecki (1992)

Shortly after WWII, there was the whole movement to open as many theatre venues for children as possible all around Poland.  This was a therapeutic initiative to address the traumas that children had faced and any malpractice toward them.  For example, performances designed for orphans aimed to tell stories that would communicate artistically with the young audiences to remind them what joy and play mean. Theatre experimented with puppetry engaging children and actors who animated marionettes while being visible on stage.  One visionary director, Jan Dorman, made the puppet a symbol instead of simply a character and started to use ordinary objects animated in highly musical rhythm.

There are no ‘typical’ puppets in Poland – no Punch, no Petushka nor Guignol.  Many Polish puppets are a simple doll with a geometrical shape.  Polish puppet artists have been mostly interested in folklore.   Notably, the legendary puppeteer, costume and stage designer Adam Kilian considered Polish Christmas Cribs (Nativities) to be a symbol of Polish theatre as a whole – its monumental ambition, the tradition of mysticism, mixture of genres, combination of reality with imagination and ordinary with miraculous.  It is fascinating how much of folk tradition was incorporated into Polish contemporary art via puppetry, for example in the works of Tadeusz Kantor, Józef Szajna, and Jan Berdyszak.

 

We live in a digital world, which provides us several technical and visual advantages for puppetry and puppet animation. Should we be worried about the survival of these incredibly beautiful and tactile art forms? How strong are puppetry and puppet animation scenes in your country these days?

 

Teresa
Several of the older theatres are still active – the famous Spejbl and Hurvínek Theatre often has sold out shows, as does the Alfa theatre in Pilsner or the Naive Theatre in Liberec. Drak Theatre in Hradec Králové has created some beautiful contemporary work critically acclaimed abroad. While tourists wait in line for the world famous Don Giovanni at the Prague National Marionette Theatre, the independent scene is also alive and well with companies like Forman Brothers or Theatre Continuo combining puppetry with live performance and fantastic stage design. Buchty a Loutky (Cakes and Puppets) work more in the tradition of humoristic short plays often using hand puppets.

Puppet film aren’t so numerous, but there are some extraordinary examples, such as ‘Fimfarum’ inspired by Jan Werich´s storytelling or the award-winning ‘Kooky Comes Home’ by Jan Svěrák whose main character is a musty old stuffed bear puppet named Kooky who is struggling to find his way back after being thrown in the dump.

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The Christmas Ballad, 2016.  Directed by Michal Zabka, Czech Republic.

 

Adriana
The popularity of puppetry is probably due to a state-sponsored system of puppet theatre institutions for children, which were common across the whole post-soviet region, and was the means by which many artists got secure living conditions.  However, as a result there is no tradition of  solo puppetry in Poland and only a few independent puppet companies in the whole country today, notably: Grupa Coincidentia, Teatr Wiczy, Teatr Wierszalin, Nieformalna Grupa Avis and Teatr Malabar Hotel. The latter recently produced performances for adults based on classic literature as e.g. Madame Tutli Putli by Witkacy and The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann (cooperation with Białystok-based Teatr Banialuka) as now there is a trend toward reaching adult audiences via adaptations of Polish literature.   Poland definitely lacks puppet theatre and animation for adults at the moment – children’s puppetry still dominates almost all production. In fact, we are trying to find a new term for it as puppet theatre (‘teatr lalek’ in Polish) still means ‘made for children’ and we need to encourage the adult audience to be open to more difficult content brought on stage and on screen by puppetry.

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Ucieczki (The Escape), 2017. Directed by Jarosław Konopka, Poland.

I would not worry about puppetry fighting digital tools but rather using them wisely in an artistic aim as for example, the Quay Brothers do. In young Polish puppet animation, we have highly talented artists and they prove that puppetry art can be done manually with only a little help from digital techniques.

A very interesting emerging Polish puppetry artist is Bristol-based Magdalena Osinska; a director, designer and animator, whose films have won numerous awards.  Her short films include: Joyets (2008), Zbigniev’s Cupboard (2010) and Spirits of the Piano (2012) in which she used a unique combination of traditional puppet animation shot in 3D stereoscopic technique with Chopin’s Etudes.  In addition to her work for Aardman Animations, Osinska is independently developing two feature puppet animations: ‘Jasia’ about a Jewish girl orphan surviving the war with her imagination and ‘A Pelican’, a family movie about an unusual friendship between a bird and a boy.

The experimental animated docu-dramas by Anca Damian; ‘Crulic’ (2011) and ‘Magic Mountain’ (2015) encouraged other artists in Poland to think about long-feature animation and to do it in co-production.  This year has seen the release of the highly successful ‘Loving Vincent’ by Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welshman, but there is a need for a feature puppet animation to be produced for the adult audience in Poland.

Further, the female tradition of Polish puppetry is still largely undiscovered.  It wasn’t until the 1940’s that women became involved with puppetry by founding puppet theatres for children in Poland, for example, Zofia Jarema in Cracov (Teatr Groteska), Irena Sowicka in Warsaw (Teatr Guliwer), and Halina Lubicz in Poznan (Teatr „Marcinek”, which exists today as Teatr Animacji). These practitioners and their successors, notably; Leokadia Serafinowicz, Natalia Golebska, Monika Snarska and many others, created their original artistic voices in puppetry. Nowadays we have several younger artists, such as Agata Biziuk, but there is room for more.

Puppet animation by female artists is often highly acclaimed.  For example, Berlin-based and graduate from Lodz Film School Izabela Plucinska has won many awards already for her clay-animation shorts (including the ‘Silver Bear for Jam Session 2005’ at the Berlinale).  Thanks to Izabela and women artists like her, the female stories are brought to life in film. Sadly for us, some of our most talented female puppet artists live and work abroad, but that does mean that the Polish tradition of puppet animation is spreading all over Europe.   However, Polish puppet animation is always recognisable as it engages the audience emotionally and creates exceptional realities.

 

Interview by Marika Aakala

 


 

 

 

 

 

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Review: Women in Puppetry & Puppet Animation

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‘Don’t Think of a Pink Elephant’: Directed by Suraya Raja

This year the Bristol Festival of Puppetry is honoring women who are working in key production roles within live action puppetry and in stop motion animation. By raising the profile of all the talented women who are already working with puppets, we can encourage other women to follow their dreams and expect equality in wages and opportunities.

The ‘Women in Puppetry and Puppet Animation’ screening during Bristol Festival of Puppetry was curated by Emma Windsor and the selection was a colourful mixture of wonderful short films. There was no limitation to technique or genre and the films were assembled around the themes: women and puppets.

The viewing theatre is full at Watershed Cultural cinema in Bristol and Emma Windsor introduces the films, the theme, and gives an overview about the challenges that still exist within the puppetry and animation industries. When the first film starts, there is a sense of concentration and enthusiasm in the audience that follows through the whole screening.

What happens when puppets, women and storytelling meet?

While watching the films, I find myself looking out for similarities in the techniques, materials, and topics. I am writing little notes in the dark theatre while trying to make sure that I will not miss anything. After the screening, I believe that I might have identified some common themes that might be specific to the way women use puppetry and animation in storytelling. The most popular theme turned out to be relationships between couples and families. Films such as ‘Belle and Bamber’ (live action) directed by Alex Forbes, ‘Don’t Think Of A Pink Elephant‘ (stop motion animation) by director Surya Raja and ‘Punch’s Letters To His Son’ (live action puppetry) by director Jenny Dee were addressing mother-daughter and father-son relationship, mental well-being, compulsions, anxiety and alcoholism, as seen from the point of view of a child or young adults.

The chosen techniques complemented the stories and it was fascinating to see how stop motion animation and live-action puppetry can be used in telling cohesive and captivating stories. In ‘Punch’s Letters To His Son’, the live action sections carried the story forward, while hand puppets in a traditional booth were performing suppressed memories of abuse and violence. What an excellent way to show flashbacks and difficult experiences while also carrying the story forward.

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Belle and Bamber. Directed by Alex Forbes.
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Belle and Bamber. Behind the scenes. Directed by Alex Forbes.

I was especially touched by stop motion animation called ‘A Love Story’, the winner of British short animation Bafta in 2017, directed by Anushka Kashani Naanayakkara. This beautiful stop motion animation tells a story about relationships between two people, and how people share emotions and deal with loss. All this is visualised with heads made out of wool, yarn, and textiles. The soft, yet strong textures fitted perfectly to the story and emphasized the complicated nature of relationships between humans.

 

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‘A Love Story’. Directed by Anushka Kashani Naanayakkara

Other common topics included the cycle of life and sensuality. I have to mention the one film that got the biggest laughs, the stop motion animation ‘Boris Noris’ directed by Laura-Beth Cowley was clever, funny and its rubber-hose style of animating did not leave anyone feeling cold or puzzled.

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Cosmos. Directed by Daria Copiek.
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Cosmos. Directed by Daria Copiek.

Towards the end of the screening, I became more and more convinced that there might be a difference between men and women in the way women choose to tell stories through puppetry and animation. Women are not afraid to openly address the more dark and sensitive subjects, such as violence, sexuality and mental health issues, and for this, puppetry and animation are an excellent tool!

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Boris Noris. Directed by Laura-Beth Cowley

I would like to think that not only the choices of topics but also the brave and innovative use of materials will bring the strengths and talent forward. Hand puppetry, rod puppetry, shadow puppetry, multi plane clay animation and stop motion animation were just some of the techniques used within these films. Especially in the stop motion animation films, the use of textiles and clay in puppets and sets was standing out.  To me, these materials symbolize femininity, warmth, and softness. But should women be channeling more masculine values in order to achieve equality? I think that being unique, resilient and aware of one’s own strengths are much more likely to be the right ingredients towards equal opportunities.

Seeing how other women use puppetry and puppet animation to tell stories will be our fuel for change.

by Marika Aakala


 

The BFP17 Film Programme continues this weekend with two feature-length films for adults and families.  An accessible screening of ‘My Life As A Courgette‘ at 6pm, Saturday 09 Sept and the European premiere of the all-star Hollywood puppet film ‘Yamasong: March of the Hollows‘ at 6pm, Sunday 10 Sept.  Visit our website for further information and to book tickets: https://www.bristolfestivalofpuppetry.org

Traces in Clay: An interview with Izabela Plucinska

Iza Studio 1 Autor. Andre Eckerdt

Izabela Plucinska is a producer, director and animator living in Germany. She creates award winning short films working with a clay-motion technique. She runs a production company and an animation studio in Berlin called ClayTraces.  We caught up with her to find out how she uses clay to explore human relationships and to find out more about her latest short film ‘Evening’ that will screen as part of the Bristol Festival of Puppetry Film Programme this September.

 

This year’s Bristol Festival of Puppetry features a short film showcase ‘Women in Puppetry & Puppet Animation’  which is dedicated to all the brilliant women who are working in these industries. We are excited to have your short film ‘Evening’ as part of this screening. Could you tell us more about your film?

‘Evening’ is the third part of a series of short movies, all using the same technique, but different colour theme. The first part was called ‘Breakfast’ and it won a price in Hiroshima in 2006. The second film is called ‘Afternoon’ and it was finished in 2012.


These short films portrait a couple, lonely in their relationship, seeking a connection with each other. The way you use symbolism to tell the stories and the expressiveness of the line made with modeling clay paints a subtle and beautiful view on the underlying human need to be loved.

Modeling clay gives a very tactile, warm and organic feel to your films and you have used it in many different ways, which demonstrates your mastery over the medium. Your techniques move fluidly between two-dimensional drawing or clay-painting, relief sculpture with free-forming the clay as you animate, or animating three-dimensional clay puppets, props, and sets.

Could you tell us more about what made you choose modeling clay and clay-motion as your main medium?

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Seven More Minutes. Photo: Izabela Plucinska

I have been working, playing and dancing with clay for 18 years, wow, so long! (I just counted). I love the technique and it feels very comfortable to me. There are always opportunities to discover something new with clay.

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Evening‘ – Photo: Izabela Plucinska


You are both director and animator in your own production company ‘ClayTraces’. Do you have any words of encouragement or advice for other people who are hoping to start their own production studio and create their own short films?

Running a company is like traveling in a train. Sometimes the train is moving very fast and at a comfortable pace. Sometimes the train moves slowly and you have no place to sit. But even then the train keeps moving forward. Because we make short films, each four months you need to generate a new idea for the next project.

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Multiplane setting. Photo: Izabela Plucinska.

That sounds both exciting and challenging, but it must be very rewarding to realise the stories you have created. What are your thoughts on the role of women working in puppetry and puppet animation?

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Sexy Laundry short film. Photo: Izabela Plucinska.

‘I live in two countries, Germany and Poland. The situation with women in animation and puppetry has changed and is much better now than what it was 10 years ago. I have a feeling that in Poland there are more women working in the animation industry, than in Germany. For example, I would like to name two wonderful Polish film makers Marta Pajek, and Wiolletta Sowa. In Germany, there are also a few great female artists. My good friend, Spela Cadez, whom I have collaborated with before, works in animation.’

Thank you so much Izabela for taking the time to chat with us. We are looking forward to see ‘Evening’ during the festival and excited to see more of your work in the future.

 

Interview by Marika Aakala

 


Visit the Bristol Festival of Puppetry website to find out more and to book tickets to see ‘Evening’ and other puppet animation and live action shorts in the ‘Women in Puppetry & Puppet Animation‘ showcase at 6:30pm on Mon 04 Sept .  You can also see all our screenings for adults and children at Watershed throughout the Festival (01 – 10 Sept) and browse our full Festival programme.

Stay up-to-date with all the latest BFP17 news and announcements via our  Newsletter, FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

 

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Puppetry, Film & Women in Filmmaking: Interview with Mallory O’Meara

 

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Mallory O’Meara is an author, screenwriter and producer for Dark Dunes ProductionsHer latest film is Dark Dunes Productions’ feature-length puppetry film ‘Yamasong: March of the Hollows’.   We sat down with her to find out more about her passion for the puppetry, horror and monsters; the challenges of producing a live-action puppetry feature film and the role of women working in the puppetry and animation filmmaking industry.

 

We are incredibly excited to have the European premiere of the feature-length film ‘Yamasong: March of the Hollows’ as part of our programme at the Bristol Festival of Puppetry in September 2017. Where did the inspiration come from for choosing live-action puppetry to create a feature length film?

Dark Dunes Productions, the company I produce and develop for, is dedicated to showcasing the wonder of practical special effects. Every film we produce features some aspect of practical special effects, whether it is real make-ups, actors in monster suits, or puppetry. It’s our biggest passion. When we met Sam Koji Hale through his fundraising efforts for his film ‘Monster Of The Sky’ and he told us about his ideas to expand his award-winning short ‘Yamasong’ into a feature, we wanted to get involved. We were incredibly excited about Sam’s vision and the world of ‘Yamasong’ and the opportunity to collaborate. Everyone on the Dark Dunes team is a lifelong puppet fan. It was a great fit.

 

You have mentioned in an earlier interview that you used green screen work and it appears that some of the mouth movements are digitally composited in post-production. Does it affect the puppeteering and production processes when traditional puppetry techniques are combined with the latest digital technologies?

It absolutely does. One of the challenges of creating ‘Yamasong’ was integrating traditional puppeteering and digital and CG technology. The entire film was a fantastic learning experience. There’s never been a feature film like ‘Yamasong’ and the excitement of that trailblazing carried us through a lot of the frustration. Sam had a lot of experience with this integration process on his previous films. Combined with our incredible team of puppeteers, we were able to create something special.

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Photo by: Dark Dunes Production

 

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As a producer of ‘Yamasong: March of the Hollows’, what were your main tasks and roles during the production? Do you have any tips to other people who are hoping to go into producing for puppetry and animation?

As the producer that helped to creatively guide the project, I was not as deeply involved in the actual production phases of ‘Yamasong’. Adamo Paulo Cultraro, one of the other producers, guided the day-to-day tasks and decisions of the production, and my job was assist him in any way. Adam is a project management genius. I work more on the creative side of things, so I was busy with tasks such as editing the script, helping write new dialogue and voice overs, and collaborating with Sam and Sultan Saeed al Darmaki (our third Dark Dunes producer and CEO) on casting choices. My biggest and best tip for those looking to get into this world is to be friendly and get involved. Find your local filmmakers, find other people passionate about puppetry and animation, see what’s happening in your town or city. And don’t shy away from something you have no experience in. A big part of filmmaking is problem solving and thinking on your feet.

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Photo by: Dark Dunes Production

 

The key thread for Bristol Festival of Puppetry 2017 film programme is women in puppetry and animation filmmaking. As a Producer, Communications Director, Screenwriter and Author for Dark Dunes Productions, what are your thoughts on the role of women working in the puppetry and animation film industries?

Some of the greatest puppet filmmakers I know are women. It’s not that women need to learn to get good at animating and creating puppet films, it’s that they need to get the job opportunities and funding. I’m very excited by the recent push to give more women opportunities to get on set and get hired in film. I’m incredibly proud that ‘Yamasong’ is involved in that movement – nearly half of our cast and crew were women.  Animation and puppetry are just like any other types of filmmaking – they are desperately in need of more women telling stories and making movies.

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Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts with us. Finally, from your personal experiences, could you name some of the strengths that women working both in front of and behind the camera can bring into the world of puppets and storytelling for stage and screen?

The greatest things, among many, that women bring to a production is their experience and their vision. Women experience the world in a fundamentally different way than men. By having a production that is gender balanced, you get to look at things from many types of eyes. If you are telling a fantasy or science fiction story, the best way to imagine new worlds is with a diversity of input.

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Photo by: Mallory O’Meara

 

Interview by Marika Aakala


 

Visit the Bristol Festival of Puppetry website to find out more and to book tickets to see the European Premiere of ‘Yamasong: March of the Hollows‘ at 6pm on 10 Sept, followed by a Q&A with Mallory O’Meara and ‘Yamasong: March of the Hollows’ Director, Sam Koji Hale.

You can also see all our screenings for adults and children at Watershed throughout the Festival (01 – 10 Sept) and browse our full Festival programmeStay up-to-date with all the latest BFP17 news and announcements via our  NewsletterFacebookTwitter and Instagram.

SUPPORT OUR CROWDFUNDER!  Puppet Place are looking for your support.
The crowdfunder has some fabulous rewards – including festival passes for individuals & families, a personal tour of Puppet Place and a puppet tailor-made in your image!

Click here to show your support and claim your reward.

Marlborough Puppetry Festival: An Interview with Event Director David Leech

David Leech is an event director, performer and puppet-maker of the famous Pelham Puppets. For 15 years he had a puppet theatre in Dorset.  Now he continues to design and make puppets for children and for professional puppeteers.  To Mark the 70th Anniversary of Pelham Puppets, David produced the Marlborough Puppetry Festival in partnership with the British Puppet & Model Theatre Guild and with the support of Marlborough Town Council. 

 

The first Marlborough Puppetry Festival will be held on July 8th and 9th in 2017. How did it come about?

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A year ago, it occurred to me that 2017 would mark 70 years since Bob Pelham started his company and I had twice, on the 50th and 60th anniversaries, tried unsuccessfully to mark the occasions with some sort of public celebration. However back then, I was met with indifference and apathy, but one evening last year, I thought, ‘let’s try again!’

My first action was to email one of the Town Councillors with my idea for a puppet festival – maybe Marlborough would be ready to embrace the idea? Despite the lack of funding and the failed funding bid from the Arts Council, I’m happy to say that the Town Council have been very supportive, both with providing the venues and making a £1,000 donation.

The Town Clerk especially has done far more than I ever expected in helping to bring it all together. There is a great team of volunteers working hard locally, so they are helping with local fundraising and event management. It’s strange how things change with time.  There’s now a great appetite for nostalgia and the retrospective, once people realise that what they once had has gone forever.

For over thirty-three years Bob Pelham spent almost every working day designing and supervising the manufacture of his award-winning puppets. Bob Pelham once said, “the puppet world is more appealing and lovable than anything I know. A world of fantasy and mystery in which live a host of intriguing little people with their own characters and temperaments, a law unto themselves, neither animals nor humans, yet always ready to please.” Bob Pelham’s unique puppets came to be loved by children all over the world. Pelham puppets are special and it required a special person whose aim was not to create a ‘big business’ but to produce something new, creative and imaginative for people to enjoy.


You have had a long career as a puppeteer, producer and a puppet maker. What made you want to work within the puppetry world? Could you also share your favourite memory regarding your experiences at Pelham Puppets?

I asked my parents for a dog when I was seven years old and what they got me was a wooden dog on strings, which was a Pelham puppet. And I still have the same one. Then I got more Pelham puppets from the local toy shop and me and my friend started to do shows together when we were eleven years old. I wrote to Bob Pelham and told him about our shows and he wrote back and eventually I met him.

I have many memories from my time at the factory and Bob Pelham’s home. I knew Bob Pelham from age 11 and used to visit once or twice a year every year and stay at his home for a week during school holidays and work in the factory. He never paid me. I was “paid” in puppets! He would say, “Go into the stock room and help yourself.” I would select about four puppets and make my way to his car for the return journey to the train station, but he’d say, “That’s not enough!” – and load me up with several more puppets. I could hardly manage them on the return journey, struggling on and off trains with several carrier bags full of puppets. In that way, Christmas always came early.

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Bob Pelham in 1947

A few years after leaving school I eventually moved to Marlborough and I worked in almost every department in the factory, except for the Sewing Room and the Moulding Room. I couldn’t get used to those industrial sewing machines, they were like machine guns going off, they just went too fast for little old me and I avoided the Moulding Room, mainly because of the smell! However, I look back now with great affection for those years, I reckon with rose coloured glasses to some extent.  Imagine working in a factory with over one hundred ladies, when you’re just a young lad.  I quickly learned not to get involved with “work-room gossip!”

Today, there is no sign that the puppet factory ever existed, apart from the fact that the area is known as Pelham Court. However, during the summer months the ducks still paddle and quack along with the stretch of the River Kennett that ran through the factory site, but the sounds of drills humming and hammers tapping and the aroma of sawdust and coffee have long since gone.

I started to research and writing about the history and development of Pelham Puppets (with Bob Pelham’s help) sitting in his favourite armchair in his living room at his home one November evening in 1973. It took 35 years to finally get the book published in 2008 and then, lo and behold – a Marlborough publisher did it! Crowood Press in Ramsbury.

 

What are you most excited to see during the festival?

For me one of the highlights will be to see the old Pelham Puppets from 1947 and to meet the people I used to work with for 40 years ago. In the Town Hall, we will have the “Bob Pelham World of Puppets” exhibition. This will include over 150 puppets beautifully displayed and set into scenes and depicting the various ranges and characters produced from 1947 to 1986.

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David Leech (left) at the Opening Parade in Stone Staffs in 2015 with the local Mayor and giant puppets by Clive Chandler.

Another exhibition in St Peter’s Church – “A Walk Down Memory Lane” – featuring puppets and other items from the Pelham Puppet factory and photographs of the people who worked there and how the puppets were produced. Visitors will be able to meet with former employees who will share their personal memories about their time working at the factory and about the work they did. Entrance is free and this presents a lovely opportunity to learn about Pelham Puppets first-hand from some of the people that made them.

Thirdly, with the help from Michael Dixon, we will have a special exhibition in Marlborough’s newly opened museum within the Merchant’s House, which will include the Hogarth Collection.  Jan Bussell and Ann Hogarth were a great help to Bob when he first started his business in the post-war years and we will have some of the first puppets produced from 1947-1949 including the very first Scotsman puppet, “Sandy MacBoozle”, which Bob Pelham made on June 22nd, 1947.

I noticed that in addition to the wonderful exhibitions, the Marlborough Puppetry Festival will offer several indoor puppetry performances, outdoor shows and workshops, aimed to enable you to reach new audiences and many who might not have seen a puppet performance before. 

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Promotional flyer for Marlborough Puppetry Festival

Bob Pelham (1919-1980) always encouraged people to get involved with the world of puppetry and now, many of the professional puppeteers appearing at the festival started with Pelham Puppets.  So I hope this event will also serve as a showcase for British puppetry too.  It is not a ‘dying art-form’ as many seem to think. It is very much alive! And Bob Pelham’s legacy and influence have a great deal to do with that.

I agree with you, David, it sounds like this festival will be a remarkable celebration of Pelham Puppets and British puppet theatre and the great impact that Pelham Puppets had on the young puppeteers, now part of the professional puppet theatre culture in the United Kingdom.

Interview by Marika Aakala

 


The Marlborough Puppetry Festival will run on the weekend of 8th and 9th July 2017. To find out more about the festival, visit the British Puppet & Model Theatre Guild’s website and keep an eye on the Festival Facebook page for all the latest news and announcements.  Find out more about David Leech and Bob Pelham at the Pelham Puppet website here.

Yana and the Yeti: An Interview with Dik Downey, Pickled Image

Dik Downey is co-director, performer and puppet-maker of award-winning puppet theatre company, Pickled Image.  Their latest production, ‘Yana and the Yeti’ is a dark fairytale in the vein of previous works, which tells the story of a lonely little girl and the monster who befriends her.  We caught up with Dik on his way back from Norway, where the team have been developing the show. 

Hi Dik, so what’s new..?

Well, I just got back from Norway.  Tomorrow they’re doing a try-out dik_downeyrun though for a school of ten year olds in Norway (our target audience is 5+).  ‘Yana and the Yeti’ is a very beautiful, sad, funny and thought-provoking show about a young girl who comes from somewhere else, arriving in a small, remote, snow-bound village in the middle of nowhere.  Nobody understands anything she says, and she doesn’t understand them either.  The story is about her trying to be accepted and come to terms with her life as it is.

In the process, she gets lost in the forest and meets a very unexpected character… Well maybe not that unexpected as it is in the title, ‘Yana and the Yeti’ (laughs).  It is a tale about how isolated you can be until you actually start being understood and making friends.

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You took a team out to Norway to produce the show…?

Yes.  It started off in Bristol with a team of puppet-makers, which was myself (Dik Downey), Emma Powell, Lizzie Johnson, Katie Hood and two volunteers, James and Harry.  So we made the majority of the puppets and tiny village houses for the set here.  We then shipped the puppets and set pieces out to Norway in three flight cases.  Emma Powell and I then flew out to Norway with Dean Sudron, who is the lighting designer. There we were met by Linda Anneveld, who came over from Holland.  Linda, who used to work with a company called ‘The Lunatics’ made the costumes for ‘Coulrophobia’, so we were familiar with her work.  Her role was to make the costumes for the puppets in ‘Yana’, which was something that she’d never done before.  She loved it and made some exquisite costumes.

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After the first fortnight, the rest of the crew joined us:  Vicky Andrews (performer and co-director of Pickled Image), Emma Lloyd (Director), Nicky Warwick (performer), Adam Fuller (performer), Adam D J Laity (filmmaker/photographer), Simon Preston (composer) and Hattie Naylor, (writer) came also.  Adam Laity came with us to shoot images for stage projection on location.  Part of the show has a mountain and this image changes throughout the show depending on the time of day and weather conditions.  It was quite magical.

What was the development process of the production..?

Vicky and I came up with the original concept, then had meeting with Hattie Naylor and Adam Fuller (who knows our works very well, as he has performed in and written quite a few of our shows.)  Between the four of us we came up with a rough idea of the storyboard, which Vicky and I drew out.  That gave us a template to work from.  We then made the puppets and took them out to Norway.

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With hindsight, we could have done a bit more R&D in the UK to work out the story further because the team have had to do a lot of that whilst in Norway.  If we’d spent a bit more time in preparation here it might have been a bit smoother over there.  When we got there, we needed to make changes.  For example, we were going to use a lot more film footage such as scenes from point-of-view perspective using this miniature set that we’d built.  However, when we were there we decided that we didn’t want to do that as it would take away from the majesty of the mountain that was being projected throughout.  To project other images on top of it would have diminished this.

Another aspect that we didn’t fully understand was the complexity of timelapse photography.  When you see it used on ‘Plant Earth’, for example, it has taken months and hundreds of thousands of pounds worth if kit to achieve!  Adam has done a fantastic job making a beautiful final image, so that was good.

Being there, in Norway, and being surrounded by snow all the time did give you that ‘feel’.  It probably influenced Simon more than anyone else as he spent a lot of time outdoors doing field recordings of sound, such as the wind, which we used in the show.


The photos of the performance that I’ve seen look really cinematic…

Yes.  We’ve got these tiny puppets, which we were worried might be too small in the theatre but we think it will work in the sense that it is very cinematic.  Dean’s lighting is just so brilliant also; it really pinpoints this tiny little village and gives a wonderful look.  All the houses have lights inside; there are tiny little streets lights and a mountainscape behind it the lights up beautifully.  I think in a proper theatre with a blacked-out environment you’ll see all those tiny details because it is so focused.

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We use split images as well.  So in the village you will see a tiny Yana puppet standing underneath a street light, which ‘cuts’ to a table where you see a bigger Yana under a larger street light.

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So yes, it does have quite a cinematic feel and is aesthetically beautiful.  But the story is also very engaging.  Hattie has gone out of her way to make sure people cry… And then laugh!  It is quite emotionally heart tugging, as well as warming.

Interview by Emma Windsor


Yana and the Yeti’ will tour the UK throughout the summer.   For further information about the show and Pickled Image Theatre Company, keep an eye on their Facebook page or visit the Pickled Image website: http://pickledimage.co.uk  

Don’t Think of a Pink Elephant: An Interview with Suraya Raja

 Suraya Raja is an a director, animator and writer.  Her latest film, ‘Don’t Think Of A Pink Elephant’ enters the world of a teenage girl, Layla, who fights daily against compulsive thoughts and urges.  We sat down with Suraya to find out why puppet stop-motion appeals and what it can lend to this kind of filmmaking. 


suraya_rajaWhat is your background?  How did you come to be involved in stop-motion animation?  What is the appeal for you?

When I was a kid I used to write a lot. My Mum was a librarian and I really wanted to be an author. At the same time I was really influenced by my Gran. She was awarded a scholarship to go to art school, but she had to leave because of the war, and a lot of my family had been stonemasons, carpenters, and various types of crafts people. She had a lot of their old tools, and whenever I saw her we used to spend all our time making things.

Later on I took a degree course in Visual Communications at Leeds College of Art & Design, where I started to make documentaries, in which I used puppetry and object manipulation to tell stories. After this I went on to work as an artist on residencies and commissions, including a residency at Atlantic Center for the Arts in the USA, where I met a lot of filmmakers and puppeteers.

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Still from: “Don’t Think of a Pink Elephant”

 

It was whilst I was working with the Art House and English Nature that I discovered Czech and Eastern European puppet animation, which really inspired me. I realised that puppet animation is something that incorporates all of the things I love – story telling, film, characters and making things. I started to teach myself puppet making and took the 3 month animation course at UWE in Bristol. Living in Bristol, I was in a really interesting place in terms of exposure to puppetry and animation, and I supported Puppet Place during one of the festivals as a press writer. It was great and meant I got to see several shows. I also started to work in the animation industry, primarily in puppet making and model making for TV, commercials and film.

During my degree course and alongside my freelance work I had worked in homelessness, psychology, offending and substance use. I am really interested in how we think and behave.  I have an interest in stories, which inhabit the internal, of mental health, perception and the comedy of human behaviour and interaction. Often my ideas come from social interactions in the mundanity of every-day life, and sometimes from my background in this type of work.

It was my desire to tell stories that led me to going back into education and take the
Directing Animation course at the National Film & Television School.

 

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Still from: “Don’t Think of a Pink Elephant”

 

You recently directed the animated short film “Don’t Think of a Pink Elephant“, which is currently on the international film festival circuit.  What is the film about? Why did you choose puppet stop-motion to tell the story?

‘Don’t Think of a Pink Elephant’ is about a teenage girl learning to cope with intrusive thoughts; the kind of thoughts we all experience, like the thought of stabbing someone with a fork, or the urge to jump from a high place. The main character, Layla, fights daily against these thoughts, terrified by her potential to do harm.

The film is actually about her experience of puro OCD, a form of OCD that is less known about, whilst not being explicit that this is a film about a mental health issue. Generally unspoken of, intrusive thoughts like these are something we all experience. My intention was to present these thoughts, often bizarre, taboo and funny, in a way that we can relate to, and to then reveal the more serious and distressing nature of the problem for Layla. I also wanted to really get across the internal thoughts as they might be experienced, through the use of mixing animation with live action, and through the use of physical textures and sound.

I chose puppet stop-motion, partly because this is the technique I really enjoy working in, but also because it seemed a really good way to make an environment of multiple textures. The puppets are made to have a ‘skin-look’, whilst everything about the puppets and in the set is very textured. Apart from the sharp metal objects, everything else is soft, the idea being that this contrast will make the sharp objects more noticeably sharp. Hopefully the textures make the audience sense the feel, or the tactility of everything, so that the live action parts have a greater impact.

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Still from: “Don’t Think of a Pink Elephant”

 

I chose to use live action as the language for the internal thoughts. I wanted to give screen time to the internal thoughts without leaving the audience confused or tricked. It was also a sharp contrast to the puppet world and felt unpleasantly explicit.

 

Was it important to you that the central character, Layla, was female? Do you think that women have different stories to tell through stop motion?

I have a tendency to write more of my stories with a female as the main character and perhaps that’s because I’m female. I do think it’s important that we see more women on the screen, and as lead characters, as currently this ratio in film does not reflect society – by far.  I really do think that what we see on screen has a strong influence on our perceptions of people and what they can be, whether it’s gender or race, etc.  I think women may have different stories to tell, or that more stories could be told from a female perspective, and I’m always really interested in watching films that appear to be doing that.

 

What’s next in the pipeline?

I am really interested in working in story development and in animating.  However, at the same time I intend to continue working on my own ideas. I am currently developing a new project, which is a stop-motion adult series and am also pitching some ideas for children.

 

Interview by Emma Windsor

 


For more information about Suraya Raja and her work, visit her website: https://www.surayaraja.com/ and Vimeo Channel: https://vimeo.com/suraya