All posts by whiterabbitanimation

Provocative Ramblings on Puppets – Stop Motion Or Otherwise by Barry JC Purves [Part Two]

Barry JC Purves is an OSCAR and BAFTA nominated animator and director, who also directs and designs for theatre and teaches the art of animation.  In this, the second of a series of insights, he considers the appeal of puppetry on stage and screen, and the special relationship between puppeteer and puppet.  [Read part one here.]

 


462977_10151088927322388_31257347_oIn the theatre puppets are now being allowed to be puppets, and are revelling in their very artifice – and they are everywhere. This is not just due to the respect given to the ‘War Horse’ characters but also because digital technology is becoming so extreme that we are not sure what we are watching, and many of us are tending to enjoy more obviously handmade arts.

It’s telling that the Royal Exchange’s production of ‘Little Shop of Horrors’, from two years ago, finally gave Audrey II the ability to race round the theatre’s stage by putting the puppeteers outside the plant, and having their performance very much part of the show. Before the puppeteers were hidden inside Audrey, giving her a very stolid presence.

We know special effects are an effect but a naïve thought crosses out brain, muttering ‘ah, computers’, and whilst computers can do anything, that lazy thinking denies the craft and skill of the computer artists. Some of the wonder has gone now there are no limits. But that is part of the point, computers can do anything and thus not everything is surprising or interesting. Increasingly digital projections are used as scenic elements on stage, and whilst our collective jaws are on the floor and we are dazzled, part of us, part of me certainly, feels disappointed that these effects were not achieved through good old scenic design skills. This is the same disappointment that we feel when seeing our favourite model’s before and after Photoshop’ images, not to mention the feeling of being cheated. The camera never lies – like heck it doesn’t!

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Puppeteers at work for Pickled Image’s show ‘Yana And The Yeti‘ are clearly seen as part of the performance [Photo: Adam DJ Laity]
This is not being resistant to technology, but it is about enjoying and being part of the trick, and a trick must have a limit to work. You have to show the top hat is empty before you can produce the rabbit. To some extent, you have to show the mechanics and limits of a puppet. Many a child had their life changed by a magical transformation scene at their first pantomime. A digital scene transformation is impressive but it is cold. On stage we are presented with an empty box but within those limits we see luscious visions transforming before our eyes. We know the limits and yet we are astonished. Take those limits away, and we are all a bit ‘meh!’ Watching the overdose of digital scenic effects at this years’ Eurovision was like having a head full of exploding candy and equally as unsatisfying. If only there was an element of physical stagecraft. The hand, the human…

With a puppet, we are always aware of it being a puppet, and yet aware something else is happening. We are moved, shocked, outraged or whatever.   It matters not that we see the cast of ‘Avenue Q’ holding their puppets or that we see Nina Conti’s hand clearly manipulating her Monkey puppet, in fact it would be a lesser act if the Monkey was presented as a complete, separate character.  The puppet is the device, and the whole point actually, that allows her to be many things that perhaps she may not be off stage, and seeing a physical connection emphasises the essential point that you can’t really have one without the other, as they are both sides of the same coin. There are dozens of photos of animators, puppeteers, and sculptors staring lovingly at their creations – we could almost be looking at Hamlet and Yorick again. Perhaps they are all looking at themselves. Alter egos, conscience, therapy, cathartic devices – we are bound to our puppets, and they are unforgiving reflections of ourselves. They are our true voices.

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Myself and the puppet from ‘Tchaikovsky – An Elegy‘ (2011, studio M.I.R.)

And we are back with Shakespeare and his fools. Their role in the world of the play, through their folly, is to be able to say the truth, totally unhindered. They have a license to be true. Lear’s fool is almost an invisible friend, as he has so little direct involvement with the other characters.

jack pointRichard Haynes’ illustration from my book, of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Jack Point.

He tells Lear the absolute truth, and only when Lear accepts this, does the Fool fade from the play, his work done. Lear’s fool is Pinocchio’s Jiminy Cricket, and Harvey, or even our own teddy or pet.  We confide in them and make sense of our days. I love that fools, too, usually have a folly stick, a puppet, so they can comment further, and who can blame their provocative speeches on an innocent puppet?

My favourite example of this has to be the film of Mary Poppins. The poor Banks family are very damaged, and the more earthly nannies incapable of healing, but upon the children’s request, there arrives the enigmatic Mary from nowhere. Over the course of the film, she heals the family, and then, when the wind changes, she is ready for the next family.  The Banks are too wrapped up to say goodbye, and this hurts Mary, even though she is practically perfect and this is as it should be. It takes her parrot umbrella, a puppet no less, to voice her true feeling. He is quickly silenced for being too honest.

 

mary poppins02Illustration of Mary Poppins by Richard Haynes
for my book ‘Stop Motion – Passion Process Performance.’

Everywhere, we storytellers have to find this external device to constantly reveal our characters inner voices. The film is called ‘Mary Poppins’, not ‘The Banks’, and what little we know of her comes from the umbrella or the equally odd chameleon like Bert. The umbrella serves much the same purpose as Yorick’s skull. Though the skull is a seemingly inanimate object replete with resonances, Hamlets often act out a scenario with it – a performance, and that is what suddenly makes this a puppet. Without the element of performance, the puppet is just a doll or a prop.

It seems the more basic the puppet, the more we can read into it, and the more potent it becomes. Simple Kermit, with the hand barely hidden, is still the most rich and complex of muppets. A glorious live action /animation short, ‘Little Face’, has Adam Buxton come face to face with his childhood invisible friend, who is little more than a floating yellow balloon with spindly legs. Through this balloon, which no one else acknowledges, we learn how all Buxton’s aspirations have come to naught.

 


In the last article in this series of insights, Barry will discuss the art of artifice and stop motion animation as a puppetry form.  Read further insights and information on the art of stop motion animation in his excellent publications.  Find out more about his film and theatre work at his website: www.barrypurves.com

Provocative Ramblings on Puppets – Stop Motion Or Otherwise by Barry JC Purves

Barry JC Purves is an OSCAR and BAFTA nominated Animator and Director, who is passionate about the art of film-making. As well as his film work, he directs and designs for theatre and writes about, teaches and promotes the art of animation. In this, his first in a series of reflections, he considers how puppetry in its broadest sense serves as a means to express inner-most worlds and connect with audiences in visceral, tangible ways. 

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So, here I am, and I want to talk about myself.

I want to share my opinions, my loves, and my experiences with the world, or with anyone who will listen or read. I want to shout, before I go, that I was here. I want to question the world as I have seen it. I want to pass on what has excited me, or what I have learnt, and I want to warn others. I want to show, that however small I may be, that I have mattered.

This has been the familiar cry since we all sheltered in fire lit caves contemplating the day just gone, and wanting to celebrate our hunt or a birth or a death. A cave wall was a blank canvas, and became suitably adorned with stickmen figures, showing various sequential events, almost as a storyboard. There was even a suggestion of movement with the various buffalo sporting eight smudged legs in various positions. Maybe in the flickering firelight, these drawings gave an illusion of life.

But most interestingly, next to the drawings were several handprints, in dried blood or mud, screaming ‘I was here and this was our story’. The hand; the humanity so much in evidence. We’ll keep coming back to that. These paintings, showing the progression of the events, have already broken the fourth wall, editing and shaping events, cutting out the dull bits, to make an interesting, and personal story. Every story is just the best bits of an event, told with much construction, and with just the bits that are significant or contribute to the tale. No story is simply a record. Artifice is rampant, and was even back then.

Flash forward a good few centuries to 1434, with Johannes/Jan van Eyck and his world-changing surprisingly intimate and domestic portrait of ‘The Arnolfini Betrothal’. This is a picture crammed with potential symbolism that has had the art world arguing for centuries. Claiming to be the first oil painting, it could be also seen as the first business card. Yes, there is a documentation of the wedding, but there is also the undoubtedly amazing display of skills – he can paint oranges, he can paint wood, he can paint fur, he can paint perspective, glass, brass, and so on.

It is an outrageous display of talent, and Van Eyck even has the understandable audacity to place himself in the mirror at the back and very prominently add his signature ‘Johannes Van Eyck fuit hic’. If there had been Facebook back then he would have had his own page and many likes. Yes, this is recording a real event, but it is doing so in a wonderfully artificial and theatrical display. There is a real, even if unnatural, sense of presentation. Something is so gloriously fake but it is also telling the truth, and in probably a more interesting way; the celebration of artifice that will come to define art.

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‘The Arnolfini Betrothal’, Johannes/Jan van Eyck

Jumping back a bit, the ancient Greeks, for example, were happy to take away the individual personalities of the Chorus performers by putting them in masks, and this way, not only could they be heard in the huge amphitheatres thanks to the acoustic properties of those mouths, but their artificial and usually neutral faces allowed them to become whatever Aristophanes or Euripides wanted – anything from clouds, wasps to weeping women, or even a public conscience. The artifice allowed a more directly honed and honest presentation. The structure of the plays, alternating consciously between scenes with two actors and then with the chorus, and all the while using deliciously heightened language and singing, cannot ever be said to be realistic but there were certainly realistic issues being discussed. Even the very nature of theatre, with Aristophanes, were discussed – the Meta the better.

And glancing forward once again by the great medieval Mystery plays with the moral dilemmas facing Everyman personified, and ‘The Castle of Perseverance’ with its human representations of abstract ideas of virtues and vices, we race to Shakespeare. For all his psychological observation that still holds oh so very true today, he was one of the most consciously artificial writers. His plays, simply, are not realistic in the slightest, no play is or can be, but we can recognise the joys and torments of the characters. His Chorus striding boldly onto the stage in invariably overcast daylight to ask for some hush and a use of imagination leads to a shared experience. A game, a partnership, a play. Play.

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Shakespeare, and the Globe, from my film, NEXT, Aardman Animation 1989

Hamlet is probably one of the most theatrical plays ever written, but that does not stop it becoming one of the most astute. It’s possible to think that the barrage of tricks Shakespeare uses to reveal the characters’ thoughts, might get in the way of the narrative and the characters, but no. With the right approach and integrity, none of the audience would question that a plainly artificial character such as a ghost can kick start and carry the weight of the great tragedy. Along the four hour heavy traffic of that stage, Shakespeare throws in many theatrical moments of fakery that allow the characters to reveal their thoughts or further the plot. There is madness, song, platitudes, soliloquies, fools spouting the truth, as well as the magnificent play within a play of The Mousetrap – a wonderful device to echo the situation in the play and to sum up the journeys of all the characters so far in a condensed and highly enjoyable scene, all the while setting up the exposure of Claudius.

Best of all, is Yorick’s skull. This simple, resonant prop becomes a device that allows Hamlet to be profound in a way normal conversation would prohibit. This is some external and knowingly artificial, or theatrical, trick to allow the audience to understand the internal workings of the characters. These devices, the external expression of internal thoughts, are at the very core of all drama and storytelling in whatever medium. We just have to find that device that allows us to interestingly spill forth our ideas.

The mask can be physical or otherwise, essentially a liberating device, such as a red nose, a wig, a piece of costume, white face on a clown, or Charlie Chaplin’s tramp persona, or Bart Simpson’s yellow skin, a gloriously witty epigram, a piece of music that allows us to dance, a clever rhyme, or a funny walk, or a song, or a slash of unexpected colour or a change of perspective, or a striking composition or an angle of the camera. In our own lives, we often talk through a third person to address a partner, or through Facebook, or we talk to our cat or teddy; a change of perspective that makes sense of our days. This device, this change of perspective could even be a simple cup of tea offered as an invitation to open up – it’s seldom about the actual tea.

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My own very stylised and artificial set for a stage production of Sherlock Holmes, its’ fluid artificial space allowing for many locations and tricks.

This device can also be a musical number – remember Laurie in ‘Oklahoma!’ worrying about which suitor to take to the dance that evening? She doesn’t know who to choose so she dances a dream ballet in which the different scenarios are played out. A moment of great artifice making sense and clarity of a dilemma. With these safe, distancing devices we touch on myths and fables, and even religion – heightened stories to guide us and to warn us and to instruct us and to entertain us. Time and time again, artificial devices speak the truth, a mask that reveals. It’s safer, and more imaginative to use metaphors than mere didactic narrative.

This ‘mask’ can also be the theatre space or the camera itself, or a technique, such as animation or, yes, a puppet. It is something that distances the real us, but allows us to speak unhindered. We need an audience, or witnesses to our lives that won’t judge, and speaking through a ‘mask’ is more comfortable, and dramatically interesting.  Puppets, whether animated on screen through stop motion, or manipulated live in front of us, are most joyfully fake, and work best when we see the technique, and yet something else rises above the technique and communicates to us.

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Illustration from my book by Saemi Takahashi, showing the Kuroko operating a Bunraku puppet in full view.

Gone, essentially, are the days when puppets were used, as a last resort, pretending to be live action. King Kong, for example, was animated only after other methods did not deliver, and I suspect a stop motion puppet, today, devoid of the stylistically beautiful and distancing black and white photography, placed in a live action background would fail to be credible, though there are still, happily, some studios producing amazingly convincing animatronic creatures. Today computer graphics can happily and seamlessly put convincing fantasy characters amongst live actors, though secretly we still prefer those animatronic characters, as we know they have been built and that there is a human hand involved somewhere, and that this produces some random element to their performance. This is of course irrational as there are still human hands involved with computers.

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‘King Kong’ (1933)

Maybe it is the element of spontaneity and slight erraticism we respond to, and more importantly, the fact that they exist and could be touched – we will never lose the need to touch things. Puppets, animatronic creations, stop motion figures all are clearly tangible, dead inanimate objects, but they are given an appearance of life. Again, it about confounding the norm or the rational. We know a puppet is wood or clay or fabric, but through the performance, we are moved and engaged and willingly believe. It takes some contribution from ourselves. Enjoying the performance is one thing, but enjoying the performance in spite of or because of the technique is far more satisfying.

 


In the next article in this series, Barry will examine the appeal of puppetry on stage and on screen, in particular against the backdrop of computer generated imagery in our digital age. [Read part two here.]  Read further insights and information on the art of stop motion animation in his excellent publications.  Find out more about his film and theatre work at his website: www.barrypurves.com

The Model Artist: An Interview with Max Dorey

Max Dorey is a set designer, modelmaker and resident artist at Puppet Place.  His work has earned Off West End award nominations for ‘Best Set Design’ and ‘Best Design’ in the UK Theatre Awards.  We caught up with him to talk about his passion for modelmaking, why it is important in his artistic practice and how models can tell their own stories.

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Picture: Max Dorey

What interests you about modelmaking?
I never did any ‘proper’ modelmaking per se until I started doing theatre design at university, though I had had a go at bits and pieces, and have always made things. I think as I’ve started to use modelmaking as a tool in design rather than an end in itself it means it’s always been something that serves to tell a story and to be something which needs to engage the viewer, either as a theatre tool or as an art object.

I’m always learning new skills, and it’s great to discover a new technique to help you try new things, but it also means that you can quite quickly put together something that feels ‘real’ or begins to tell a story, without worrying when it’s ‘finished’ or ‘perfect’. As I’ve done more modelmaking, I’ve discovered that it’s interesting to play with these ideas at a scale and let people start to tell their own stories from the model without the need for the play at all. It’s something which can be practical, a hobby, or artistic, and so far it’s been the easiest way I’ve found to express ideas.

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Picture: Max Dorey


What aesthetics, materials and subject matter do you tend toward?

Generally, I’ve always had an interest in broken down, grimy and used materials – there’s something so engaging about the ‘reality’ of a space or object when you start to break it down and notice the little chips and dents that start to tell the story of a design or prop. It’s the part when the model will really start to come to life. I’ve started to move into cleaner and more stripped back designs in theatre work, but I’ve also just started working on a series of art objects that really take the broken down, rusted aesthetic to it’s full, and hopefully give the impression that we are looking at something with a real history and life to it.

Some of the themes I’m really interested in are the relationship between design and nature, separation and a need for a space of ones own, climate change and our relationship with each other in dealing with it. I like isolating these moments to really examine them, I’ve started to get a lot of interest in scaffolding and supporting structures. I like retro design, too, I love anything with graphic design from the Victorians right through the 60’s and 70’s. We have a bunch of packaging from the GDR at home that we got in a flea market in Berlin. It has a lovely simple and lively quality to it. Basically the trash around a product, boxes, bottles, etc, all are interesting, artistically, and in setting a scene in place and time.

 

What commercial works and exhibitions have you been involved in?
I’ve done a few bits and pieces over the last few years – I started making puppets. I’ve sold stencil paintings, props, illustrations, and other bits. I’ve displayed my theatre work and models as a finalist for the Linbury Prize for stage design at the National Theatre, as well as the Society of British Theatre Designers exhibition in Nottingham, and exhibited some of my illustration work alongside the stories they were drawn for.

When I was at the RSC as an assistant designer we also did various bits of front of house exhibitions, and helped design the foyer for the new incarnation of ‘the other place’ when they first reopened for the Midsummer Mischief Festival. Currently, a book I’m a co-author for is on sale in UK bookshops, published by Penguin. It’s a book of odd and silly haiku written under the guise of pen name Gordon Gordon, called “Is that all you people think about? A modern Haiku collection”. It’s great! everyone should buy it in triplicate. I also have been selling ‘treecups’, model scenes in tea cups and coffee cups.

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Picture: Max Dorey

What projects do you have in the pipeline?
I’m currently designing a directors festival for the Orange Tree theatre, another show at Central School of Speech and Drama, and have a schools tour of Julius Caesar in the works for The RSC. I’m hoping while we’re there to be able to push through a personal theatre project we’ve been looking to RnD for a while, and the next step for my own work is to get some of the various projects which are pure modelmaking to completion.

I’ve been working on a set of trash spaceships to display at the Tobacco Factory during the The Bristol Festival of Puppetry, made entirely from junk and scraps rescued from the bin. Another project that I’m hoping to get pushed forward this year is a huts project.  I’m aiming to make a shanty town of huts, one for every country on earth, and a set of robots whiling away their days aimlessly, as well as illuminated shadowboxes. It’s great to push through a project add see where it takes you, but it always takes the initial push before you start seeing where it will go – Instagram is great for that. I can put out my latest work and get an immediate reaction. I’ve set up a secondary account to @maxdoreydesign called @dreamyoxdesigns where I’m hoping to put out anything which is purely for sale for it’s own sake, to differentiate between my theatre and making work.

 

Interview by Emma Windsor

 


To find out more about Max Dorey and to view his portfolio of work visit his website, twitter or Instagram.  For a full list of productions Max has worked on, see his CV.  Read an interview with Max about his theatre design work on our News Blog here.

Prototype at BFP17: Experiments In Puppetry, Tobacco Factory Theatres

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The Depraved Appetite of Tarrare the Freak by Wattle & Daub, photo by Fluxx Films’



We are looking for work with a focus on Puppetry, Mask, Object Manipulation and Physical Theatre.

Bristol Festival of Puppetry and Tobacco Factory Theatres are looking for companies and artists based in the South West to present new work as part of Prototype. It’s a chance to share new performance ideas with a supportive audience, gain useful feedback and build relationships.

This Prototype has a focus on work including puppetry, mask performance, object manipulation and physical theatre.

Prototype is Tobacco Factory Theatres’ regular scratch night. At each event up to 5 artists/companies working across a wide range of disciplines try out brand new ideas in front of an engaged and supportive audience. Prototype’s been doing its thing for seven years now and is a well-established part of how the city supports its artists to develop the shows of tomorrow.

Deadline: Monday 31st July
Event: Tuesday 5th September, 19:30 at Factory Theatre, Tobacco Factory Theatres

If you have an idea for a show burning to get out, please contact vic@tobaccofactorytheatres.com for an application form.

NB:  Prototype is an unpaid opportunity.

A Life in Puppetry: An Interview with Ronnie Le Drew

As a member of The British Puppet & Model Theatre Guild myself, it is indeed an honour to have been asked by our editor Emma Windsor to interview our new President, Ronnie Le Drew, for the Puppet Place Newsletter.  His record of achievement and successes in the world of puppets, gained over a lifetime in the business, is inspirational. As a performer, theatre maker, director and teacher, he has performed at festivals, theatres, in film and on television from where he is probably best know for being Zippy from Rainbow. His new, crowd-funded book, ‘Zippy & Me’ is a delightful and fascinating peek behind the scenes of a much loved iconic puppet show.

Interview by Stephen B Watters

You have had a hand in, if you’ll pardon the pun, a great many of the abiding memories of my childhood through your work with puppets. It appears puppetry has a timeless, magical appeal for audiences of all ages. Why do you think that is?

dsc_1442Puppets, like dolls, have a link to everybody’s childhood. We probably spoke our most private thoughts to our dolls or teddy bears even before telling our parents. That makes them a very important part of our early lives.  When we grow up we are reminded of this fact when we see a puppet show. The strong characters and stories take us back to that time, which in most cases is a positive experience. As adults watching puppets perform we are reminded subconsciously of those childhood memories.

We live in a very nostalgic age where television and film has prolonged the puppet influence in our lives. The repeats of puppet programmes, the building of puppet theatres, the many puppetry organisations such as your own at Puppet Place, as well as puppets being used in mainstream theatre, keeps the magical appeal of the puppet alive. Long may it last.

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You have recently been elected to President of BPMTG and are a recipient of their prestigious Harlequin Award.  What are your plans and ambitions for the Guild as president?

I was delighted to be unanimously voted the new President of BPMTG. As a 14 year old child, I first became a member and to be asked to be President of the oldest puppet organisation in the world, is indeed an honour. I would like to see BPMTG expand its membership, (I think all presidents would say this.)  We now have a Facebook page, which has helped membership enlarge and our new website has lots of links of interest plus video clips of recent happenings. Well worth a look !

I am very pleased that the Guild’s meetings are not London-centric, but are spread all over the country which gives opportunities for all members to meet. Our membership has both young and older members and it’s always a pleasure to see the older more experienced sharing their knowledge with the youngest.

We are celebrating 92 years of the Guild this year and have a number of events planned to celebrate this significant event. You can find out more about them by looking at the website or becoming a member and receiving our bi-monthly newsletter and wonderful magazine, ‘The Puppet Master’.

I am also delighted our archivist Michael Dixon was able to show some of the Guild’s collection in a room given to us by the Bantock House Museum in Wolverhampton. Starting off with the wonderful Lanchester marionettes then an exhibition called ‘Puppets and the World of Mr Punch’. Performances were given and the collaboration continues. News will be published in the Guild’s newsletter.

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Your association with the Little Angel Theatre has been as long, if not longer, than your association with the BPMTG. May I ask about your work with this theatre, especially the work you do with disadvantaged communities and artist development?

1235379_303147893159676_425096219_nActually, I was a Guild member before I discovered the Little Angel Theatre. Way back in June 1963 I had my first visit to the theatre. After seeing the show and meeting the puppeteers, I knew this was not only what I wanted to do as a hobby, but as a full time job.

In July 1963 I started my professional career as a puppeteer. 53 years later, I share the role of Honorary Associate with Lyndie Wright. My main work in the theatre, when I’m not performing in shows, is teaching on the many adult classes, particularly the foundation course, as well as specific courses on operating puppets which is my forte.  The foundation course is for adults, but under the Little Angel banner, I have visited schools and colleges around the country so cover all age groups.

The theatre holds a regular Summer party open to the local community. I am often to be found there having a fantastic time demonstrating puppets.  The theatre provides disability concessions and companion tickets, wheel chair space and has relaxed and captioned performances. I’m not full time at the Little Angel, as the policy of the theatre regarding puppeteers is we work on a freelance basis.

One of the new ideas we are trying this year is an evening for people to come to London’s Hidden Gem, where I am on hand to show clips of the theatre’s archive from its start to the present day. Visitors get to meet the puppets and a tour of the theatre, finishing off with a glass of wine. The 20th February and 14th March are the dates planned so far.

What advice would you offer to new and emerging puppet artists?

dsc_1441I had an advantage as a young puppeteer living in London because of the existence of the Guild and The Educational Puppetry Association, which later became The Puppet Centre.  It enabled me to visit these organisations to find out more about puppetry.

Today we have the internet for artists to find who and where their nearest puppet organisation is. Go see them, get involved. Puppeteers UK is a also great place to find like minded puppeteers and performers.   See as many shows as you can. If you are brave enough, go backstage and talk to the puppeteers, but try not to get in their way if they are packing up.

Visit libraries and museums. Most have puppets in their collections. Search social media for groups  you can join. The internet is a wonderful tool for today’s up and coming puppeteers. But don’t forget see live puppet performances to really ignite your passion.


For more information about Ronnie, visit his website, Facebook and Twitter.  Keep up-to-date with news about his forthcoming book ‘Zippy & Me’ at unbound.com and find out more about his own and other forthcoming puppet performances and events at the Little Angel Theatre’s website.  You can also find out more and join the British Puppet & Model Theatre Guild via their website.

Micro-Puppet Man of the Moment: An Interview with Barney Dixon

Barney Dixon has recently taken the internet by storm with his highly innovative and astonishing micro-puppetry.  His videos, which have reached millions of viewers worldwide, are charming vignettes that feature his characters Dabchick, Raptor and MANU.  He also joined us for our Generator 16 fundraiser event last year, where he and his dinosaur entertained our enchanted audience.  We caught with him to find out where his fascination with puppetry stems from, how he comes up with his designs and what might be next for him and his extraordinary creations.

 

b-dixon_croppedWhat is your background?  Where does the fascination with puppetry come from?

My professional background is in stop-motion animation, my shift to puppetry has been relatively recent. My interest in both comes from a similar place, which is (in part) a fascination with movement. However puppetry can be created in real time, which is a new and exciting concept for me.

 

 

You create smaller puppets with unconventional mechanisms, often involving your hands.  How did this come about?  How do you come up with these ideas?

People use their hands a lot and practice regularly with them in their day to day tasks. Designing puppets that fit (or partially consist of) our own hands, capitalizes on our skill with them. The scale of the puppets is a result of that approach. The unconventional mechanisms I use might be partially a result of lack of knowledge regarding conventional puppetry mechanics, this forces me to be creative. Also my understanding of stop-motion armature construction (although not entirely the same) does help.

In terms of coming up with ideas and concepts, it usually starts with my hands.  What shapes and actions they can make with relative comfort and is there a particular form this could lend itself to. Ideas can also come in the construction process. The aim is always to make the puppet as dynamic as possible, in its articulation and movement possibilities.

 

 

You had some stellar success online recently when a video of one of your creations went viral.  How did that feel?  What plans do you have in the pipeline ?

I was certainly surprised, although there are many controllable factors that make a video go viral, the final (and most important) one is luck. The experience was overwhelmingly positive in every way you might expect. However it’s not an easy thing to go through, especially as suddenly as it all happened. People were trying to contact me constantly, and the motives weren’t always that clear. My inbox and brain space was full to bursting for about two weeks and sleeping for that time was also a challenge. I don’t generally focus on the negatives but it’s a side of the experience that was really unexpected, so perhaps worth mentioning for that fact.

This set the ball rolling for a lot of opportunities that seem to be coming my way, many of which are still confidential. However I can now tell you that I took part in a televised international puppetry competition called ‘Die Puppenstars’, that was aired on the German RTL network in late January.

Interview by Emma Windsor

 

 


You can keep up with Barney’s work via his YouTube Channel and support him via his Patreon page.  He’s also to be found on Facebook and Twitter.   

Moving Parts: An Interview with Kerrin Tatman

At the end of March a brand new puppetry festival will be held in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.  Spanning six days across five venues, the ‘Moving Parts’ Newcastle Puppetry Festival is geared at providing inspiring visual theatre experiences for adults, teens, children and families, as well as emerging artists and experienced practitioners.  We chatted with Co-Festival Artistic Director, Kerrin Tatman about how this ambitious project came about, what’s in store and what he is most looking forward to in this brand new line up. 

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Moving Parts is a brand new festival.  What is the background to getting this project off the ground?  How did it come about?

3eaf8c_61cc801c0b83446db45374bf63dc5047mv2‘Moving Parts: Newcastle Puppetry Festival’ was founded by William Steele and I through frustration of the lack of opportunities within puppetry and visual theatre in the North East, both through professional training and programming choices for the public. Will is a puppeteer, trance mask expert and maker, and co-runs Space Six in the city centre that gives performing artists space to work and develop. My background in puppetry comes from being Anna Ingleby’s assistant during the 2014 and 2016 Beverley Puppet Festivals. Outside the art form, I am a freelance creative producer, musician, and work for Circus Central as their Funding and Project Development Manager.

The festival aims to change the face of the North East visual theatre scene in artistic experience, training and through education to produce a new generation of puppeteers and artists. Through programming a diverse line up of contemporary puppetry with a focus on adults, we want to showcase the art form as progressive, enjoyable for all, transportive, and accessible.

We were lucky enough to be awarded a small grant from the Arts Council to get the project off the ground and since receiving the funds the festival has grown and grown thanks to further funding and support. We have big plans for the annual event, and want to incorporate more outdoor performances, international artists and really large-scale work. I am working with my partner Matt Wood to set up a permanent puppetry and visual theatre space near the city centre, which will become the core of the festival and secure Newcastle as a puppetry city.

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What do you think this festival will bring that is innovative or unique?
Who’s it aimed at?

The festival is predominantly aimed at adults, teenagers, emerging artists and professional practitioners, but also has a children’s puppetry strand and strong community engagement programme. We have tried to make the debut event as diverse as possible to reach different target groups, filled important gaps in the North East and UK puppetry scene, but also to enable us to experiment with what works best so we can strategically develop for the next installment in 2018.

Our talks programme includes Q+A sessions with our training practitioners, but also a Puppeteers UK Networking Meeting and a Puppetry/Visual Theatre Research Conference: “Giving Puppets A Voice”. The conference aims to explore puppetry in contexts such as mental health, anthropology within combined and applied arts, and history.  We will welcome papers from academics and non-academics, and performative disseminations as well as the more traditional.

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We have a number of competitions open to help artists develop and get further involved with the festival. These include a puppetry & stop-motion animation short film competition and an automata building competition, which also look to support under-represented art forms. At Cobalt Studios we are holding a puppetry & object manipulation open mic night, where artists at all stages in their career can take to the stage to demonstrate their skills. To give a festival feel, and to reach new audiences, we are programming live music and social events into the schedule, and are also pairing contemporary classical band Aether with Lori Hopkins to explore the relationship between music and puppetry – the results of which will be performed at the festival.

 

What’s on and what are you most excited to see?

As well as an exciting show programme at Northern Stage and Cobalt Studios that includes: Mirth & Misery, Stephen Mottram’s Animata, Flabbergast Theatre and Theatre Temoin, we are offering professional level training at Space Six in performance and making with Nick Barnes, Blind Summit Theatre, Steve Jarand, Stephen Mottram and Gavin Glover. We are also running a children’s strand including Sokobauno Theatre’s ‘The Little Fawn Caravan’, Lori Hopkin’s and the Scottish Mask & Puppet Centre.

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I am most excited to see what our Community Engagement project brings to the table, which includes a partnership with Crisis giving members masterclasses in stop-motion animation and mask making. The outputs of these workshops will be displayed at our festival hub Cobalt Studios, as well as a mask exhibition of 60 pieces through collaboration with Newcastle College. Our Education Project is also with the college and will partner puppeteer Alison McGowan with design and performance students, to produce a piece to be showcased at the festival following a week-long residency.

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Our ‘Moving Parts Blowout Party’ features Newcastle’s home-grown talent ‘Holy Moly & the Crackers’, whose gigs always get the whole room dancing. The audience is encouraged to come dressed as their favourite puppet or wearing elaborate masks and the best costume will be judged by the band’s accordionist and circus costume/stage designer, Rosie Bristow of Bristow & Sister.

Please help us make the first Moving Parts a success and spread the word about the festival! It depends on the support of the puppetry industry to recognise its importance geographically and through offering opportunities to artists and the community.

Hope to see you there!

 

Interview: Emma Windsor


 

Join ‘Moving Parts’ Festival on Facebook and Twitter for the latest information as it unfolds and visit the website for the full line up and to book tickets and passes.