All posts by whiterabbitanimation

Marionettes, Music & Magic: Aardman's Winning Combination for Coldplay

Aardman’s music video for Coldplay’s title track ‘Daddy’ on their forthcoming album is a poignant tale of a little girl searching for her father that uses puppetry and animation to create its beautiful, dreamlike imagery. We caught up with the Director Åsa Lucander and puppeteer Katie Williams to find out more about the production.

Åsa, it is clear that a handmade aesthetic was important for the production but why traditional puppetry? What did traditional live-action puppetry bring to the production over stop motion puppetry, for example?

[AL] Quite often a decision to create a certain style for a project is something that develops for a variety of different reasons. When you are working on music videos, what you have acting against you is time and budget, even for big bands like Coldplay. I would have loved to build a real physical set for the whole film, but that would have taken months, which we didn’t have. However when you have restrictions you come up with creative ways to execute your vision, and I’m so happy with the outcome for this film. It gave me an opportunity to include different media and they all supported the sense of surrealness and magic that I was after for the film.

I was also fascinated with the artistry of puppeteering. Every performance of a theatre play is slightly different, and the same goes for live action puppetry on screen. There’s something fascinating about that notion; scary but fascinating. Scary, because in order for a take to be successful the whole shot needs to be perfect, you can’t edit a take much in post. All the poses, positions, movements, emotions and timings need to work. Every take is unique and it makes improvisation a much bigger part of the process, whereas in stop motion everything is much more planned, calculated and precise. It took me a while to get used to this, but once you do, you embrace it. It’s a very collaborative and wonderful process and medium to work with.

In puppetry, the question of whether to reveal the mechanics of puppetry (the puppeteers, strings, rods, etc.) is a hot topic! Interestingly, in ‘Daddy’ you mix this up, green screening the puppeteers, yet revealing the strings for other puppets. What was the thinking behind this?

[AL] I think there is something magical and obviously theatrical about the way puppets move. There is a restriction to what you can do with the puppets, yet they have a way of moving that is unique and raw, yet has a sensibility that you wouldn’t be able to achieve in the same way through stop motion. The whole film is about the girl’s fragmented memories about her father and I wanted this to be reflected in the style as well. One line in the song goes, “Daddy won’t you come and play” and I hung on to the notion of perhaps the girl had memories of playing with a puppet theatre with her dad. With that in mind, I left in the strings for there to be a nod to puppet theatre and I had the houses hanging down on strings, almost like a set from a theatre play. Most importantly I didn’t want there to be too many rules about what I could and could not do. Like in dreams and memories, dreams are fragmented, memories only partially clear, a surrealness exists that is only in our minds.

Katie, You worked as a puppet maker and puppeteer on the production. How did you get involved? And what did you work on?

[KW] I was part of the puppetry team led by Brunskill & Grimes. We created the puppets and then puppeteered them for the shoot. I have been working with Brunskill & Grimes on and off for a few years, so when they were asked to work on the project I jumped at the chance to join the team.

The puppet making was very much a team effort. I was working alongside Jimmy Grimes, Jo Lakin and Hugh Purves, and I mostly worked on the little girl puppet. This character was created in two different scales; a large version (roughly 40cm) and a small version (roughly 15cm). I was responsible for sculpting her hands, moulding and casting her hands/head, making aspects of her costume and styling her hair.

During the shoot, I was one of three puppeteers on set. I puppeteered the little girl’s feet, hands and even her hair for some of the underwater shots. I also puppeteered one half of the whale, the rowboat and the kite. When I wasn’t on set, I was busy preparing the puppets for their next shot, which included general maintenance as well as changing the positions of rods or sometimes switching the rods out completely in place of strings.

It looks like there’s quite a range of methods used in the puppet fabrication. Did the team make these fabrication decisions based purely on the required movement or were there other factors to consider?

[KW] There were a range of different methods used to operate each of the puppets. This was explored most thoroughly with the large-scale little girl puppet. This puppet is in essence a table-top puppet operated with rods by three puppeteers. We used this basic principle in lots of variations. Each of the rods could be removed and repositioned in various different locations. For example, the rod in her head could be positioned to come straight out of the back of her head or from either side of her head. The same puppet could also be manipulated with strings. For the underwater and falling shots the movement quality needed to be smooth and fluid. Operating this puppet with strings aided in achieving this slow, subtle movement.

When making these decisions the movement quality was always of paramount importance. However, we also needed to consider the practical aspects. The two key practicalities to consider when puppeteering were shadows and rods/strings. If a puppeteer was casting a shadow across the shot we would need to adjust the performance to avoid this. This could be as simple as moving the rod in the back of the puppet’s head from one side to the other. Or that only two puppeteers would operate the puppet and we would temporarily glue the feet down.

Did you have a favourite puppet?

[KW] My favourite puppet is definitely the large-scale little girl – but I might be a little biased! I also fell in love with the ocean. This was designed and created by our very talented Set Designer Helen Javes. It was essentially layers of large plastic sheet laid over a frame. Each individual wave was painted and scrunched to perfection. This was puppeteered by Jimmy Grimes from underneath the frame. A subtle sweeping movement would create crashing waves.

Jimmy Grimes puppeteering the ocean.

As the production uses 2D animation and composite to create it’s imagery, what was it like to puppeteer to those objects that weren’t there? What was it like wearing those green suits?

[KW] Both the fish and raven are 2D characters that were added in post-production. During the shoot we needed to imagine these characters were there, so just like an actor you have to draw on your own imagination to bring these moments to life. The quality and mood of our performance was definitely enhanced by Asa’s decision to play the track throughout the shoot. Certain beats in the music became key moments of performance. There were also certain technical aspects like eye line that were aided by a simple location marker on the puppeteer’s monitor – a little dot on the screen that represented where the fish or raven would be.


Haha! I secretly quite like the green suits. I did get some strange looks when I wore it into the workshop as I ran in to quickly tweak a puppet.

Behind-The-Scenes video from Aardman

What are the key differences between puppeteering for stage and puppeteering for screen?

[KW] Although the skills of a puppeteer are transferable between screen and stage there are a number of differences and subsequent challenges when working in these two mediums. Focus is a key difference. When puppeteering for stage, the puppeteer looks directly at the puppet and in doing so draws the audiences’ focus away from themselves and onto the puppet. In screen performance, the puppeteer looks directly at a monitor so they can observe their performance first hand and make adjustments to their framing and eye line. The biggest challenge of always looking at a monitor is being aware of your surroundings, including the other puppeteers. What you see on the screen is often a completely different perspective. On screen it might look like the puppet is perfectly positioned to sit down when in reality it is about to fall flat on its face!

Another key difference is the scale of the puppeteer’s performance. Puppetry for stage can (and often needs to be) larger in scale. The puppeteer needs to be able to convey their puppet’s message all the way to the back of the theatre. As a result, puppets for stage are often made at a larger-than-life scale to aid in this communication. Comparatively, screen puppetry is subtle and specific. When puppeteering in this medium every tiny movement of the puppet is picked up by the camera and in turn magnified.

I love both stage and screen puppetry for different reasons but if I had to choose it would have to be screen puppetry. I love the challenge of trying to hit your mark whilst still delivering an authentic performance. And of course the added pressure of trying to nail it in just a few takes!

Aardman’s music video for Coldplay

Interview with Emma Windsor


To find out more about the making of ‘Daddy’, read Åsa Lucander’s article ‘Behind The Craft’ on Aardman’s blog, which details the full creative process, use of 2D animation and crew credits. Watch the official music video ‘Daddy’ on YouTube here.

Keep up-to-date with all the latest news from Aardman:

Twitter: @aardman
Instagram: @aardmananimations
#Aardman #Coldplay #EverdayLife



A Miraculous Kind of Machine: The Incredible Tale of Robot Boy

Award-winning company Theatre-Rites is a field leader in the creation of experimental theatre for children. Their latest co-production with German company Schauspielhaus Bochum aims to bring neuroscience to audiences in entertaining and visual ways. Emma Windsor caught up with Theatre-Rites’ Artistic Director Sue Buckmaster to find out more about how this modern day Pinocchio tale was born.

credit: Birgit Hupfeld

Can you tell us a little about the story of ‘The Incredible Tale of Robot Boy’?

The Incredible Tale of Robot Boy is a large scale show which has been co-produced by Theatre-Rites and Schauspielhaus Bochum in Germany. Initial development support came from Wellcome Trust and Polka Theatre.  It is inspired by the idea that, if Pinocchio was to be created today, he would not be made by an Italian woodcarver, but by a team of Global Scientists. 

We tell the story of how a group of cutting edge Neuroscientists make a brain from scratch and put it in the body of a robot boy. They do this to advance their studies of how neurobiological methodology can be used to help those with prosthetic limbs or with neuro-degenerative disease. However, what they actually learn about is what makes us human and how to face the responsibility of looking after their young creation, who rapidly becomes more sentient and playful.  The show aims to both entertain and introduce the audience to concepts of neuroscience in fun, highly visual ways. It is suitable for anyone over six.

credit: Birgit Hupfeld

‘The Incredible Tale of Robot Boy’ is a project that was developed from the ‘Animating the Brain’ project funded by the Wellcome Trust.  Can you tell us about the aims of that R&D project?

Six years ago I decided I would like to learn a little more about Neuroscience. I collaborated with puppeteer/performers Charlotte Dubery (who is Associate Director to the production in Germany), Mohsen Nouri and Simon Palmer. I personally wanted to understand the language of neuroscience, consider the ethical implications of its advancements and see how it could increase my understanding of the power of the puppet on stage. After all, a puppeteer literally offers their brain to become the brain of another object. 

Wellcome Trust funded the initial stage that allowed us to do research with neurobiologists Matthew Grubb and Laura Andraeae. We learnt about basic neuroscience and its various applications.  As a Theatre-Rites project it was also important to ask: how can we make the study of the Brain interesting to children? With the scientists we had imagined creating a brain from scratch and had discovered how neurobiologists manipulate or investigate neuron activity in their daily practice. Next I wanted to put that imagined brain in a puppet body of a child so that children could relate to it more directly. That enabled us to explore the brain/body connections discovered by understanding neuron activity in the brain regions. This related to the methodology I use as a Puppet Whisperer, slowly bringing a puppet to life. 

We commissioned Stitches and Glue to create the puppet. It became the stunning Robot Boy. As part of our research we visited year 6 children to ask them what interested them about brains and to ask their teachers about what already existed on the curriculum. Polka Theatre allowed us to try out ideas during their Brainwaves Festival where we presented a sharing and Q&A session to children and those interested in science and the arts.

After the sharing we were asked to take Robot Boy in to Great Ormond Street Hospital for a residency to meet families with children who were experiencing neural illness. We also met doctors and play therapists who were making key decisions about offering  brain intervention reparation techniques. This was very different to the clinical world of our earlier scientists who dealt with neuron clusters, sliced and dead brains. We were now embarking upon emotional and ethical issues raised by developments and opportunities offered to children through advancement in our understanding of how the brain works. 

Great Ormond Street Residency

The set/puppet design in the show is particularly eye-catching!  Can you tell us more about the design concept and fabrication?

After 3 years of research we had our beautifully designed central puppet character by Stitches and Glue and we were ready to start turning our research into a visual theatre show.  I shared ideas with writer Jimmy Osborne and we slowly created a script. Joanna Scotcher came on board as Designer and she proposed the stunning laboratory setting with a sci-fi aesthetic which was constructed by the in-house team in Bochum. Within that set she provided a series of pentagon and hexagon surfaces which could be projection mapped to receive imagery created by video artist Dick Straker. This was inspired by the graphics of neuroscience and the images from EEG monitors and MRI scans.  Along with Lighting Designer Wolfgang Macher a stunning visual world has been created on stage inspired by a cutting edge Laboratory and the real things found there, as well as the imaginary world of Robot Boy’s Dreams as his brain becomes more human.

credit: Birgit Hupfeld

‘The Incredible Tale of Robot Boy’ opened at Schauspielhaus Bochum in Germany and will run there over Christmas.  How has it been received so far? Will it tour in the UK?

The show is now part of the Schauspielhaus Bochum’s repertoire and is performed in German by their ensemble of performers. Theatre-Rites also introduced two puppetry skilled guests to join the ensemble: Markus Schabbing and Franziska Dittrich. It will run over Christmas until the end of January, then it is part of the repertoire of shows that the Theatre can present throughout the year. It is not specifically a Christmas show. 

It is performing to an audience of 800 at a time, either schools or families, and it will have reached over 20,000 by Spring. So far it has engaged people with its beauty and braveness. It has been acknowledged for taking a current and not necessarily child-friendly subject and making it accessible, fun, beautiful and inspiring. 

We are now looking into the possibilities of bringing the English version to the UK. 


Space Invaders Bristol: An Exhibition From Another Dimension

We’re in the midst of an invasion! An artist take-over of two shop units at The Arcade in Bristol’s city centre.  It’s a coup, a creative revolution, an innovative initiative to bring art to the public in unusual places (and leave those spaces in a better condition afterwards.)  Resident artists Beki Wills, Max Dorey, Richard Hewis and Cat Rock from Puppet Place have transformed units 12 and 26 into pop up galleries; exhibiting artworks including illustration, fine art, modelmaking and puppetry.  Over the next few weeks until Nov 03, passers-by can see some amazing window installations at unit 26 or drop into unit 12 to view or purchase prints, postcards and even original pieces by the contributing artists.  Entry to all exhibitions and events is FREE.

Artwork: Beki Wills


COMING SOON: SPACE INVADERS HALLOWEEN SPOOKTACULAR
From Oct 24 to Nov 03, the current exhibition will be transformed and a host of additional activities are planned that will turn the space upside down a reveal a spookier side to the exhibition.  The exhibition spaces will feature the following events: 

Disphoria: Mike Stuart    
24 Oct – 03 Nov, FREE 
Mike’s earliest artistic influences were comic art, the Beano, 2000AD and Asterix. He also loved discovering the work of Druillet and Moebius in Metal Hurlant magazine. Childhood visits to National Trust properties and the books on the shelves at home gave him an early taste for classical and neo-classical art, and as a teenager, the iconoclasm of punk rock was a big influence that opened up new ways of looking at the world.

Artwork: Mike Stuart

The Art of Mark Hollis
24 Oct – 03 Nov, FREE
Mark Hollis’ method allows a process of using his own scanned images of earlier prepared paintings, Found, and Digital Photographs. Many of the image structures used are a result from walks in Bristol, Dartford, Thamesmead, Avonmouth and Essex.

Artwork: Mark Hollis

Puppet Place: Uncanny Valley – Bringing The Inanimate To Life
21 – 27 Oct, FREE
Puppet Place is the UK’s hub for puppetry and animation. Our building, Unit 18, is full of brilliant artists and creatives working in puppetry, animation, film, visual arts, theatre, outdoor arts and creative technologies.  This exhibition presents a collection of puppets and other works made onsite by three of our resident companies: Green Ginger, Pickled Image, and Muddy Duck.

Puppets: Green Ginger Theatre

AfterLife Drawing Class
28 Oct – 03 Nov, FREE
Life drawing with a deadly twist. AfterLife Drawing present seasonal horror themed life drawing events in Bristol creating original characters, costumes, make-up and sets to give you a life drawing experience like no other (no nudity.)

Reanimation: Spine-Tingling Shorts
Oct 31 (evening), Nov 02 (day). FREE
Our programme of animated short films, perfect for fans of the freakish.  Featuring works from Puppet Place resident artists, associate artists and local independent filmmakers, this bag of visual tricks and treats will keep you up this Halloween.  With screenings for adults only (15+) on Halloween (31st Oct) and Day of the Dead special (02 Nov) for families (12A – parental guidance), there’s something spectacularly spooky for everyone.

‘MiLK HaRE’, Dir. Emma Windsor

Further events and activities are planned for Halloween, so keep an eye on the Space Invaders Bristol Facebook page and Puppet Place’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for all the latest news.


About The Resident Artists

RICHARD HEWIS
A long time fan of trawling car boot sales, flea markets and charity shops for forlorn, faded and overlooked pieces of artwork, Richard gives these once loved pictures a second lease of life. He is unsure whether his additions enhance the original canvas or not, but what is guaranteed is that the process of reappropriation in his collection ‘Inappropriate Reappropriation’ is incredibly enjoyable for both the artist and the viewer.

Artwork: Richard Hewis

BEKI WILLS
Beki Wills is a multidisciplinary artist whose work focuses on paintings and ink drawings of complex, industrial organic juxtapositions. Her work is always in a state of flux, growing and shaping as she works, and never in a state of completion. Through her work she explores the nature of patterns and randomness within nature and humans desire and natures impulse to bring order to chaos. Her new collection, ‘No, Not Yet’ forms a new body of ongoing work.

Artwork: Beki Wills

CAT ROCK [KAPPA KAPPA ART ]
Cat Rock’s artwork began when her Pappy gave her five hundred unwanted tiles. 

Being a hoarder of many unwanted things she decided to try to give these tiles a new lease of life and began painting them; experimenting with colour and pouring techniques. What started as an experiment quickly became a passion. ‘Vascular Bundle’ is the biggest piece she’s attempted to date, presented on a recycled piece of acetate, displayed in a recycled wooden frame. 

Artwork: Kappa Kappa Art

MAX DOREY
Max Dorey is a multi award nominated theatre designer who works across the UK.  His designs have earned Off West End award nominations for ‘Best Set Design’ nine times, including Finalist for his design for ‘Talk Radio’ in 2018, and most recently for his design for “Chasing Bono” at Soho Theatre.  Max also makes models, sculpture and illustrates.  His working project ‘Dreamy Ox’ uses waste materials which he reassembles in new and surprising ways.

Artwork: Max Dorey

Keep an eye on the Space Invaders Bristol Facebook page and Puppet Place’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for all the latest news and events information. Exhibition runs until 03 Nov 2019 at Units 12 & 26, The Arcade, Broadmead, Bristol.

Relaunching Intronauts: Interview with Chris Pirie, Green Ginger Theatre

Green Ginger’s Intronauts propels audiences into a microscopic journey deep within a human being; an adventure story complete with big screens, tiny buttons and body parts. The show has just been remounted with a brand new cast, before winging its way back on tour. Josh Elwell caught up with Artistic Director, designer, puppeteer and performer, Chris Pirie to chat about the exciting changes to the show and what’s on the horizon for Green Ginger Theatre.


Photo: Jack Offord

Intronauts has been through a reinvention of late. As well as having a new cast you have also made some changes to the show I believe? Can you tell us how the production has evolved?

Yes, the show has enjoyed a complete overhaul and we are very excited by what it has now become. We needed to recast the two lead roles (Intronaut and Host) and this presented an opportunity to invest in an extended remount. We were well aware of some of the show’s weaknesses in story structure; these were largely due to the technical demands of the projected animations taking up precious rehearsal time during the original production period.

Our amazing director Emma Williams presented a new narrative structure that immediately addressed some profound issues in the original version and then we were able to spend three weeks in the rehearsal room, bringing two new performers into the fold, and then working in the new material. It was scary and exhilarating pulling apart something so tightly woven and none of us had any certainty that it would be an improvement. But by week two, we really felt like some of the shifts and tweaks proposed by Emma were really starting to land.

Photo: Jack Offord

I have heard the newer version described as more ‘Monty Python’! Please explain what might be meant by that?

It’s possible that the original version had that absurd Python vibe, but it was buried away. All we did was clarify the essential storytelling and flesh out the two main characters, giving them both a little more substance. The absurdity is now underpinned by tension and threat, and the audience can actually care for the characters.

You have just come back from Charleville (Festival Mondial des Théâtres de Marionnettes.) How was the show received at the festival?

We arrived the day before our first performance to discover that all three of our shows in one of the festival’s larger 300-seater venues, had already sold out. The bigger surprise was that having had grown accustomed to smaller, quieter audiences at our UK preview performances, we hadn’t anticipated such playful and vociferous crowds that seemed to laugh at every moment. It felt like a massive vindication of a month of very hard work.

Photo: Jack Offord

Next stop is Norway. Tell us a little bit about your relationship with Norway and how do you anticipate the show being received there?

Norway will be quite different from Charleville. The audiences will tend to be unnervingly quiet – largely because they are listening intently. Over the years we’ve learned that many performers tend to feel they may have ‘lost’ them because of a lack of discernible feedback during the show. Then at the end – if you’ve earned it – they show their appreciation loudly and enthusiastically!

Intronauts is the third in a series of Norwegian co-productions; Rust (2005) and Outpost (2014) were also made possible through generous support from Nordic theatres and production houses. Cultural budgets are healthy, and they seem to enjoy investing in theatre companies from other parts of the world. We have chosen to collaborate with Nordland Visual Theatre in their Arctic base in the Lofoten Islands. The remote location offers both stunning scenery and a particular focus through isolation.

What plans do you have the show beyond Norway?

We have aspirations to tour extensively throughout Europe but these plans currently hang in the balance until it becomes clearer what impact Brexit will have. A ‘no-deal’ will be catastrophic for any touring industry; bands and performing arts companies will face massive increase in costs due to artists having to pay national insurances to every EU country, plus the costs of buying and preparing carnets for the temporary export of sets, costumes etc.

Photo: Jack Offord

What does Green Ginger have up its sleeve for 2020?

The first two months will see the company in collaboration with Lyric Opera Chicago. We will be revisiting Tchaikovsky’s Queen of Spades; a Welsh National Opera production that we devised and performed the puppetry for back in 2000. It’s totally bonkers – extremely dark, but beautiful music. It’s quite something to be performing with puppets in a 3500-seater opera house, a full orchestra at our feet, whilst behind us a 60-strong chorus is singing at full voice!

We are still shaping up the rest of 2020. We are collaborating with Bath University’s Biomedical Engineering Department on a year-long public engagement project. At the heart of the activity will be Key Stage 2 puppetry-based workshops for primary schools. The aim is to make biology attractive to boys and engineering more enticing to girls.

Green Ginger also has aspirations to further develop some of the important work on puppetry and disability that was started during the Broken Puppet Symposium events in Dublin (2017) and Bath (2018) and Bristol Festival of Puppetry in 2017. We are convinced that there is much more to be done to make our artform more accessible to and representative of disabled practitioners and audiences alike.

Oh, and the very first show that I co-created with Terry Lee (Green Ginger’s founder) back in 1988, will be dusted off for a special one-off appearance in a Somerset cow field sometime in June… Watch this space.

Interview with Josh Elwell


To find out more about Green Ginger Theatre and to read all the latest news and tour information, visit the website: www.greenginger.net , Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

A Life Fantastic: An Interview with Sarah Wright

Sarah Wright has lived a life of puppetry. Daughter of John and Lyndie Wright, who founded the famous Little Angel Theatre in North London, she was raised and trained at the theatre, and has worked extensively within physical and puppetry based theatre ever since. We caught up with her to find out what is was like growing up and what has most inspired her on her long career.

The Tin Drum
Credit: Steve Tanner

You were raised in a puppet theatre environment at North London’s Little Angel Theatre. What was it like growing up? 

Growing up in a puppet theatre was as magical as you can imagine! Watching each show again and again from out-front, backstage, above and below. Learning every move and every line and every bar. The Little Mermaid, Rapunzel, Mak the Sheep Stealer, Hans the Bell Ringer, Sleeping Beauty; string puppet shows operated from high bridges with beautiful carved figures, superb lighting and carefully chosen music.

My first theatre memories include making play bread from sawdust and water on the workshop floor, peeling pearl glue from my fingers, learning how to raise the enormous ‘resistance dimmers’ for lighting and answering the phone, “Hello, Little Angel Theatre!” The box office phone number was also our house phone, so my brother Joe and I learnt how to answer and make bookings in the large red book, anytime from breakfast to bedtime as soon as we could talk (there was no answering machine.)  And of course, operating puppets.  I remember watching my Dad operate the Little Mermaid, her gentle determination, and the furious frenetic witch in Rapunzel, my Mum operating the beautiful hopeful Fisherman in Fisherman and his Soul. They and other company members taught by example, patiently encouraging me.

Lyndie Wright, John Wright and Ronnie Le Drew

Touring: I totally loved it. I had my own passport from 5 months old because, as Lyndie says, she never knew which van I might end up in. Once or twice a year the whole resident company of five to eight adults plus kids would bundle into vans and head to France, Germany, Poland, Greece (and even further by plane) to perform at British Council venues and World Puppet Festivals, bringing back much needed cash to keep the London theatre afloat.

Holiday work: essential pocket money. Particularly winter season when an extra pair of hands would be needed for the larger scale Christmas production. From age 9 getting dressed into black velvet costumes for Amahl and the Night Visitors or Angelo meant staying warm, and being part of the family obsession.  It felt good to earn a place in the team, to work, to be occupied, to learn a skill.

These shows were often strong classical stories, which were both technically challenging and full of character depth. Without knowing it I learnt from the adults around me, not only a technical skill but also a rich sense of storytelling and performance.

Age 13: I may have needed cork platform shoes to reach the play-board to operate Mrs Noah in our medieval rod puppet Noah’s Ark, but I was completely confident in portraying how Mrs Noah felt when her husband asked her to abandon her friends on the drowning Earth!

You decided to step away from Little Angel Theatre (although you remain a Trustee and associate artist.)  What led you in this different direction? 

By late teenage things changed.  I still appreciated the holiday work but became more interested in audiences of my own age. By the time I left school in the mid 1980’s companies like Barry Smith, Eric Bass and later Faulty Optic were producing fantastic eerie work but by then I’d seen Archaos. I wanted BIG theatre. Mind blowing theatre. Theatre as raging as the pubescent anger I still felt.

In 1988 I studied with DRAK in Czechoslovakia.  For 8-months I followed director Joseph Krofta around, absorbing all I could of his brilliance and his flair. The Mill of Kalevala was the first show I’d seen where puppets and actors truly shared a stage. But I still didn’t create my own work. I wanted to be part of a team.

DNTT was an international fire/theatre/circus company that took all my attention for the next 8 years. We travelled Europe in trucks (yes, the love of touring) performing huge exciting shows to thousands of non-theatre going audiences in squats, festivals and town squares. We had no director and I was the stage manager, lighting designer and co-creator within this functioning collective. We built machines, blew up dragons, designed cities and deserts. The Berlin wall came down. We had an absolute blast!

DNTT ran its course and my next passion was abstract, object, figure as object: Silo Theatre and leading artist Milou Veling. I moved to Amsterdam for the summers to work and learn with Milou. She nudged me from lighting design back to puppetry and to standing on stage myself, visible, something I had strongly resisted until now. Our first project was The Tower, a 16 metre high cone of boat sail and pine tree, held together with industrial clamps stripped out of the shipbuilding yard we worked in. The audience lay down in a circle, their heads towards the centre looking up at the abstract world created within tower and cocoon cloth; hoops that turned to hourglass, ladders for counter-weighted human climbers, a bucket of smoke descended as if into a well, the dark disc in the upper distance spun to a flashing mirror showing ourselves.  And then came PlanetariumSilo, a show I totally loved, touring Holland and to Prague and Croatia.  Then home again to Amsterdam to stage manage Robodock Festival.

Silo Theatre

Back at Little Angel another inspirational artist Christopher Leith was now directing.  A precise and generous director, Christopher kept me employed all the months between Silo tours. We explored Faust throughout the LAT building, toured Philemon and Baucis in Austria and Bluebeard with Henk Schut.

And then with Steve Tiplady at LAT (and Lyndie’s extraordinary design/making) came Venus and Adonis. This show really did change things for me. Here was a puppet show with a wider audience brought by Greg Doran and RSC. It got great national paper reviews and the puppeteers were even named in the reviews – for the first time in my life! It’s easy to forget since the brilliant response to War Horse that until Venus and Adonis, in my experience, the press and wider theatre-going public had seen puppets as a niche form (or for young children) and suddenly we were the ‘in thing’.

Importantly for me (and Rachel Leonard, we shared the role) Venus was a character with a real emotional journey, an acting part for a puppet, like the Little Mermaid so many years before, full of rage and fear and love. The horizon seemed wider.

Emma Rice and Mike Shepherd came to see V&A at Little Angel and Lyndie and I have worked with them both ever since. Kneehigh was uplifting and a perfect dream; beautifully told stories, exquisite lighting, music to hold your heart, all made me feel at home. A true sense of company, a Joseph Krofta style of theatre making, a DNTT popular reach, a Milou exploration, an exhilaration and joy in theatre making… and Mike of course.  The horizon became the Cornish sea and Oscar of The Tin Drum heads my list of ‘favourite puppet roles ever.’

Venus (2004)

So, what was it like working on Tao of Glass with Lyndie? 

I have always loved working with Lyndie, the recent Tao of Glass by Improbable at MIF included.  She used to give me instructions and I tried my best to follow.  More often now I propose ideas and she runs with them, taking them up and beyond anything I could imagine. The transition from one role to the other was tricky at times, classic master/student trouble I suppose.  It has settled down now.  She doesn’t want to rush to the meetings or work up budget sheets but her making is still the most expert and the fastest in the UK, I reckon. I often get to teach the operators how to work the beautiful figures she creates; they have life built into them and contain a laughter always ready surface.

The Adventures of Curious Ganz

I have made two shows of my own working with Lyndie as maker; Silent Tide (now the name of my company) and The Adventures of Curious Ganz,which is touring this Autumn.  Yes, I finally got around to making my own shows (inspired by Milou, Bob Rutman, Liz Walker) and would love to do more as Curious School develops.

Silent Tide
Credit: Peter J. Charlton

You are now artistic director at Curious School of Puppetry, a puppetry course led by professionals for professionals.  How did this come about?  Can you tell us more about the aims of the course?

I repeatedly observed these things: Teaching puppetry to actors during show rehearsals can be great fun but it’s not ideal, and as a Puppet Director on an actor’s stage, this is what I am employed to do most of the time. An actor with one show involving puppets under their belt is not necessarily fully qualified to put ‘puppetry’ on their CV but many do simply because they want the chance to work puppets again.  How else can they learn professionally except on a job?  The type of resident companies that used to train up a few extra hands no longer exist (except Puppet Barge!) and evening classes are hard to attend if you are touring. Something else was needed.

I started Curious School of Puppetry in response to the actors, puppeteers and theatre-makers who wanted to get inside puppetry and become really good at it professionally, who wanted to take time to reflect on existing skills and build new approaches to their craft.  Having had the huge advantage of growing up in a puppet theatre, I wanted to offer a similar kind of inspirational training and the industry contacts to go with it.

Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs)
Credit: Steve Tanner

Curious School of Puppetry offers one full-time, 10 or 7-week course per year taught by the best puppeteers, directors, writers, movers and shakers I can find. We teach in-depth operating technique and we teach theatre-making. We aim to find students who will be the next generation of ground-breaking creatives in the field.

I love my work. I love puppetry for its otherness, for containing all our passions but being outside of us. I get so excited by ‘seeing’ into it and by the material nature of it. I adore the challenges of directing, the satisfaction of teaching and the dizzy excitement of performing.  And I look forward immensely to witnessing the brilliant work of future puppeteers.  I want them to rock my puppet world as Lyndie Wright, John Wright, Joseph Krofta, Christopher Leith, Liz Walker and Milou Veling have done.

Here’s to them all!


Interview with Emma Windsor

Curious School of Puppetry

Dates: 27th January-14th March 2020
Venue: ‘The Poly’, Falmouth, Cornwall
Application Packs are available now from sarah@curiouspuppetry.com
Website: http://curiouspuppetry.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CuriousSchool/

The Adventures of Curious Ganz

Tour dates October 2019:
The Boo, Rossendale: 2nd October
Skipton Puppet Festival: 6th October
Tunbridge Wells Puppet Festival: 11th and 12th October
Assembly Roxy Edinburgh: 18th and 19th October
La Tartan Teatro, Madrid: 1st – 3rd November
Website: www.silent-tide.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Silent-Tide/

Better By Design: An Interview with Max Dorey

Max Dorey is a multi award nominated theatre designer who works across the UK. His designs have earned Off West End award nominations for ‘Best Set Design’ nine times, including Finalist for his design for ‘Talk Radio’ in 2018, and most recently for his design for “Chasing Bono” at Soho Theatre. In 2016 he was nominated for ‘Best Set Design’ in the Prestigious UK Theatre Awards for his design for ‘And Then Come The Nightjars’, alongside Lez Brotherston and Robert Jones.

He is also a resident artist at Puppet Place. In this video interview, Puppet Place’s Martha King caught up with him to find out more about his practice, background and current projects.


About Max Dorey: maxdorey.com
About Puppet Place: puppetplace.org

The Paper Cinema: An Interview with Nic Rawling

The Paper Cinema is an illustrated song, a shadow, a smoke, a mirror, a puppet show, a cinema show, side show, magic show, a show and tale, a show off. It exists in the meeting of live music and moving drawings.

In this interview podcast, Artistic Director, Nic Rawling talks with Puppet Place’s Martha King about their work, processes, challenges and what’s next for the eclectic theatre come animation company.


About The Paper Cinema: thepapercinema.com
About Puppet Place: puppetplace.org