Ogre, from El Gato Con Botas The New Victory Theatre, New York
Collaboration with Tectonic Theater Project & Gotham Chamber Opera Puppets designed by Nick Barnes Puppeteers: James Ortiz (head), Teddy Yudain (body), Marta Mozelle Macrostie (right arm), Joe Gallina (left arm), Jessica Scott (legs)
Who were you in the show? I started life as a hippie spiritual guidance counsellor but ended up as a Puppet Reverend, traumatised by my experience in the 'Nam... What are your favourite hobbies? Bingo, watching Poldark, and hosting a bimonthly 'it's a knockout' style assault course on the village green.
What have you been up to recently? I've been growing a variety of moustaches for 'Movember'. See the pictures on Blind Summit's Facebook page.
And since it's nearly Christmas, what do you hope to get from Santa? A box of wine and the Downton Abbey board game...
In 2011, Puppeteer & Theatre Maker Oliver Hymans led our 10 week education programme with young participants at the Roundhouse. He has recently finished working on Little Angel Youth Theatre's Jabberwocky, which was on at Suspense Festival last month.
I caught up with Oliver to find out more about his work with puppetry...
Who are you and what do you do? I'm a freelance theatre maker, puppet director and arts educational practitioner. I'm currently the Youth and Adult Company Director at Little Angel Theatre, Director for Cine Live (an immersive theatre company - think Secret Cinema for teenagers), a Visiting Lecturer in Scenography at Rose Bruford College and I have an ongoing shadow puppetry performance at the Museum of London about prehistory.
How did you get into Puppetry? Quite randomly! I dabbled in puppetry during my MA Scenography at Central Saint Martins but had no formal training. I then went on to use puppets and object manipulation in a performance about my family heritage called Jew(ish).
What inspired you to work in puppetry with young people? I've always been passionate about arts education. I trained to be a secondary school teacher on the Teach First programme and feel quite strongly about exposing and engaging more young people to theatre... especially those from more disadvantaged backgrounds. I feel it's an exciting time to be in puppetry and it's always rewarding working with a new group of young people to demystify the preconceptions of the art form.
Do you only work with young people? Not at all. I have led puppetry projects with over 60s, young offenders, community groups, asylum seekers, teachers, theatre professionals and even circus performers at the National School of Circus in Columbia!
How do you go about making a show with people who have never done puppetry before? I always start any workshop or rehearsal process by introducing the three principles of puppetry - Breath, Focus and Fixed Point. From there you can pretty much animate anything. Is there a particular style of puppet you most like to work with? Since the Roundhouse project with Blind Summit, I have continued to work on projects with giant or large scale puppets - sort of Bunraku in style however all the limbs and body parts are disconnected/held together in space by 5-6 puppeteers. What do you find the most challenging about working with puppets? Every puppet takes an incredibly long time to create, and time is always a limited resource!
What is your most memorable moment from any project you've done? I am particularly proud of the giant puppet opera of Bartok's Bluebeard's Castle which I directed for the Arcola Theatre this summer in the Olympic Park. It was so exciting working on such large scale puppets and training local community performers to become the puppeteers in such beautiful surroundings. Fortunately, we were very lucky with the weather each evening and the wind was kind to us (we had 2 14ft puppets to keep upright!) What's next for you? I have two new shows in March 2016 with the Little Angel Youth and Adult Companies - puppet adaptations of Shelley's Frankenstein and Edgar Allen Poe's A Man Of The Crowd. We're also in talks about getting Bluebeard's Castle performed again next summer at a festival.
And finally, what's your top puppetry tip? When you're working big, make 'em light!
Touretteshero's Backstage In Biscuit Land, one of my theatre highlights of the year, is going to be broadcast live on BBC 4 tonight. One of the co-creators of the show is Jess Mabel Jones, who also happens to be a Blind Summit puppeteer. So at Suspense Festival last week, I caught up with her about it...
What is Backstage in Biscuit Land?
Backstage In Biscuit Land is the brilliant part-scripted, part-improvised show about Jess Thom and the wonderful world Tourettes creates around her. It's extremely funny. Jess' tics are also extremely funny.
How did the broadcast come about? The BBC, Battersea Arts Centre and Arts Council England joined forces to present a night of live theatre for TV broadcasting. It's a celebration, a call to arms and a chance to promote the theatre events that happen every day up and down the country. It's also a farewell to the iconic BBC drama studio we'll be performing in - after Christmas it's being knocked down to make way for luxury flats!
What will we see?
We will be presenting a version of our show as part of the event, alongside other artists; Gecko, Richard DeDomenici, Common Wealth and Islington Community Theatre, so it's going to be an amazing programme!
What is your favourite part of the show?
I love the spontaneity of it. It makes me belly laugh every time.
What is your favourite 'tic' from Jess?
Gosh, I have so many! There's one in the stage show; "Squirrels, you're so lucky the branches have given you white water rafting lessons", that I think is so beautiful. The other day, Jess ticced "You're mum has facial hair in her belongings" which I love because it's so gross.
Where did the idea come from to use puppets in the show?
It seemed like a natural partner to Jess's tics, the perfect way to make her vivid, surreal world come to life. Our set is made up of things from a list that Jess 'ticced' so we've got some weird things like a loaf of Steve and a U-bend. While we made the show, we improvised with what we had in the room. And finally, what's your top puppetry tip?
Be receptive and reactive!
Don't forget to tune in tonight (Sunday 15th Nov) at 9pm on BBC 4!
To find out more about the amazing Touretteshero, click here
Personally I'm 2 foot 6 inches tall, but I also come in various shapes and sizes
What show are you from?
Actually I'm not in a show! I'm used in workshops to help train new puppeteers and in R&D to experiment before Blind Summit build the final puppets.
Does it make you sad you've never been in a show?
Are you jealous of the more detailed puppets?
Of course not! My strength is in my versatility...(Plus I can go in the washing machine)
What have you been up to recently?
Last month, I was in 3 places at once! I trained performing arts students at Fourth Monkey in London, introduced film students to puppetry at UCA Rochester, and have been spending time with the lovely Hijinx Theatre in Cardiff on their new puppet show Meet Fred (which you can read about in our previous blog)
And since it's Bonfire night, do you like fireworks?
I'm not allowed near fireworks - my skin is highly flammable!
Two weeks ago, we went to work with Hijinx Theatre during R&D for their new puppet show Meet Fred. I wanted to find out more about the project from Artistic Director Ben Pettitt-Wade...
Who are Hijinx Theatre? We are a professional theatre company based at the Wales Melliennium Centre in Cardiff, who tour small scale theatre throughout the UK and Europe. What makes us different is that our casts always include actors who have learning disabilities. What is Meet Fred about?Meet Fred is about a regular guy that just happens to be a puppet and the difficulties he faces living as a puppet in the real world.
Where did the idea come from? It all started with a weeklong residency led by Blind Summit in 2013, this experience made me want to create a show with a puppet. Afterwards we asked Blind Summit to make some cloth puppets for our training courses for learning disabled performers. We spent another year exploring puppeteering with our students, before we did 2 days of R&D in April this year. At the R&D the character of Fred started to appear: a very self aware puppet that lives in the real world. We had a lot of fun exploring the various difficulties this might encounter - going on a date, or to the job centre. What made you decide to do a puppet show? The relationship between the puppet and his puppeteers is a really interesting metaphor for issues that are pertinent within the learning disabled community: support, dependence, interdependence and ultimately independence. We're thrilled that one of our cloth training puppets have ended up in the show. What inspired you to use him? I love the simplicity. I love that he is naked and therefore vulnerable in the world. I love that he is literally a blank canvas. What has been the main focus of the R&D last week? In the first 3 days we focused on creating a story arc for Fred. We used big bits of paper, mapping out the potential plot and stuck them up around the room. In the last 2 days when Tom Espiner from Blind Summit joined us, we focused very much on the puppetry. The effect this had was that Fred suddenly seemed to wake up in this room which had his life all mapped out, without him having any prior knowledge of it. This seemed to work rather well. What has been the most challenging aspect of the project so far? Being able to adapt and change as we progress - not being afraid to let go of ideas in favour of others. What is the next stage in development for the project? We now go into rehearsals at the end of January. We then have a short two week tour in South Wales. We hope to take it to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival next year followed by a national tour.
Next week, Mark will be a special guest in Improbable's Animo at Suspense Puppetry Festival. I had a chat to Improbable's Co-Artistic Director, Lee Simpson, to find out what actually goes on...
How would you describe Animo in one sentence? The bastard child of improvisation and puppetry Where did Animo begin and why? It was a way for the different aspects of Improbable to meet onstage: Julian's mask and puppet making, Phelim's experimental theatre, and my cheap impro comedy. How does the show work? The short answer is that it doesn't always. What does happen, is that we meet onstage, meet the audience and take it from there. There's no structure or shape in mind. We find out what kind of show it is as we go along and at the same time as the audience. How do you decide on the range of everyday materials and objects used in each performance? There are some regular things: newspaper, sticky tape, sticks, usually some foam rubber and cardboard. Other than that it's pretty arbitrary. Whatever catches our attention or whatever is lying around the theatre! What is the most challenging aspect of performing the show? Trusting the not knowing.
What else are you looking forward to seeing at Suspense Festival? Rouge28 Theatre's Kwaidan - they are also performing at the New Diorama. Christopher Leith's piece should be very special too.
Supported puppetry company Humanish are rehearsing their new show Holy Presents - a puppet sketch comedy about Christmas Day in the house of the Holy Trinity, at Blind Summit this month. I spoke to Artistic Director Tara Boland to find out more about the show... Where did the idea for Holy Presents come from? It began as my final project at LISPA, using scenes from Les Mis. I had seen Humanette puppets used in other shows and just really loved the image and idea of making big things small. Who are the characters in Holy Presents? Jesus - the prodigal son who is quite righteous and earnest God - is senile and considering other career choices he never had (mainly being an actor) The Holy Ghost - he likes drinking, farting and the female body (as well as his own!) A Humanette puppet is... ...a table top puppet, with a body about the size of a 9 month old baby attached to the head of a performer. What have you been focussing on during your rehearsal time at Blind Summit? We're mainly focussing on the structure and the detailing of the narrative. What's your top puppetry tip that has come out of rehearsals so far? Slow down! Take your time - let the puppet do the talking. And most importantly, when can we see Holy Presents? We are doing a half hour showcase at the Warwick Arts Centre on 7th November, as part of China Plate Theatre's Bite Size Festival. Our London premiere and run is from the 15 - 19 December at Camden People's Theatre.
For updates on Holy Presents, head to Humanish's Facebook page www.facebook.com/humanishcompany
We would just like to say a huge thank you to everyone who donated towards Citizen Puppet in Edinburgh!
By ensuring we could make the puppets and keep them up and running in Edinburgh, you helped us to: - Be seen by 3,880 audience members - Take the puppets onto the streets of Edinburgh to build new audiences - Win a prestigious Scotman's Fringe First Award - Be picked as one of the recommendations for the British Council international showcase - Have the work seen by 150 programmers from around the world Without you, we couldn't have done it. So thank you from Mark, Steph, Brittany, the cast, company and the puppets! We will keep you all up to date with the future of the show. But if you'd like to see more ways you can support the company, please visit http://blindsummit.com/supportus.htm
Now that our time in Edinburgh has come to an end, I take a look back at some of the highs & lows from the festival...
Sunday 2nd August We've arrived! A walk around Edinburgh to get our bearings and we spot our first advert on The Mound! Monday 3rd Tina is found having a cheeky fag break by the fire exit during our tech time... Tuesday 4th 11 hour script writing party to get the show ready for our first preview tomorrow! Saturday 8th We did it! Opening night was a success... DI Clive perches himself at the bar all night to celebrate... Thursday 13th The reviews are in! **** "Fear not their awesome puppet powers"-The Scotsman
Tuesday 18th Tina gets herself into a bit of trouble on The Royal Mile whilst flyering for being a bit too flirtatious... Friday 21st We seem to have gone and won ourselves The Scotsman Fringe First award! Daz accepts it on behalf of the team Later that day... The Citizens are invited onto STV's Edinburgh Festival programme. Suki does a beautiful rendition of 500 miles, whilst Tina asks the presenter out on a date (in front of hubby Howie) Monday 24th Citizen Puppet is featured in the British Council's late recommendations for the festival... Thursday 27th The cast of Familie Floz's Hotel Paradiso and the Citizens join on stage for a photo. We just love those giants... Saturday 29th Suki meets Spillikin the Robot, they fall in love & he proposes... Sunday 30th The last day is here! It's been a busy month and the show has changed in so many different ways. A huge thanks to our team at the Pleasance for all of the support!
If you want to see more from our trip to Edinburgh, check out our Facebook & Twitter pages