Thursday, 29 June 2017

July's Puppet of the Month - 'Husky' from Call of Wild

Hello Husky. 

We hear you've been on a recent trip.
Yes. Mark just got back from a research trip in Alaska, re-tracing the steps of Jack London who wrote 'Call of the Wild'. He took me with him. 

How was that?
Absolutely loved it. I saw the midnight sun on the top of the midnight dome in Dawson City. And I had a nap on Jack London's bunk in his cabin.

Did you see any bears on your trip? 
I saw a grizzly and its cubs. Were I not on a boat at some distance, I would have been nervous. I have yet to outrun a bear.

What are you made from?
I've got a styrofoam head, plastazote trimmings, a wooden skeleton held together with webbing strips, and a jesmonite finish. 

Can you tell us about the Blind Summit show you were originally created for?
'Call of the Wild' in 2010 at Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. They wanted a show for their 3rd year students, and Mark had always wanted to put the Jack London story on stage. The original idea stemmed from shadow puppetry, and that the arctic setting of the story would make the perfect backdrop.

Are you sure? I don't remember seeing you in that...
Well. The company had just done '1984' and were getting into the creative possibilities of folding cardboard. So I got junked and they went with a different style to create their 'cardboard arctic puppet ballet'. So no, I wasn't in it - but I was created for it. 

Well, we're glad you finally got to follow the call.

The start of our 8 hour bus ride

Sailing to Port Rupert

Friday, 9 June 2017

Lighting Designer in Profile: Ed Elbourne

Ed Elbourne is a freelance lighting designer and currently on tour with Blind Summit as Technical Manager for The Table at Spoleto Festival USA, 2017.

Ed & Mark in technical rehearsals
for The Table
How did you start working with Blind Summit? 

Steph (Executive Producer) asked me to cover a few shows of The Table which was touring in Erfurt. I think that's where Martin Luther was from? It was when Germany beat Brazil in the World Cup. The Germans were quite excitable as a result! 

How has The Table changed from when you last worked on it? 

The show is actually very different. Which is important because it still feels like a fresh, improvised stand up. So structurally and metaphorically, it’s a different show to the one I lit 3 years ago. 

Are there particular considerations to be made when lighting puppets? 

I recently went to a conference called ‘Showlight’ where David Duffy (Little Angel) gave an excellent talk about the technicalities of lighting the puppet and not the puppeteer. This is imperative where the puppetry is taking an audience into a visual illusion - to maintain the theatre magic. It's very different with the Table, though - there’s no concealing that there are 3 operators of the puppet! We aren’t trying to hide the puppeteers, but we’re trying to light the puppet itself in a certain way, for effect. 

What are the key elements of the lighting design for The Table

Waiting for Stanley
Waiting for Stanley
Lighting by Ed Elbourne
Defining space. Because it’s such a focused piece of theatre, we need to define the space so that the audience don’t feel distant and stay engaged, and that the puppet owns the space. And then getting the angles right on Moses' face. He's a brilliant puppet, the slightest change in angle of light on his face gives him a whole new expression.

What about other shows you’ve lit with puppets? 

I've lit a few where a puppet is included amongst non-puppet performers. It can be difficult because the puppet moves around a much larger area than a puppet-only show, and you just can't be as precise. You fall back on larger washes of asymmetric side light and top light to sculpt the face and give a puppet expressions. The human brain is so good at ‘filling in’ faces on things that aren’t faces - we see faces in clouds, for example. So creating contrasts of light across a puppet's face with shadows and colours and audiences helps project expressions onto them.

What’s your proudest moment?

I'm very proud of The Table, because the audience love it so much. And ultimately that’s why we do what we do. Isn’t it? 

For more on Ed’s work, check out -  

June's Puppet of the Month - Gudrun Esslin from 'Little Match Girl'

What’s your name and where do you come from? 

I’m Gudrun Ensslin, and I come from Germany.  

Oh. I thought the 'Little Match Girl' came from Hans Christian Anderson.  Aren’t you Dutch? 

Gudrun Ensslin
Well - the fairy tale of the poor, young matchstick seller who freezes to death is only one part of Helmut Lachenmann’s opera. Onto this he layered the story of me and the Baader-Meinhof gang in 1970’s Germany. Our guerrilla group battled the capitalism of western Germany, and I died by hanging myself in prison. Lachenmann weaves some of my suicide texts into the opera, as well as radio recordings of the gang.

That doesn’t sound like a happy story. 

No, it is all quite dark, quite challenging…. Lachenmann’s music has been compared to artwork by Francis Bacon. But we are dealing with themes of protest, and isolation, and sacrifice. Helmut actually knew the real Gudrun when she was a child. 

So you are a shadow puppet version of Gudrun? 

There is a puppeteer - Fiona Clift - who wears plastazote shapes and costume to give the silhouette of me, and I am a cardboard cut out of that silhouette. 

There’s two of you?

Yes. So I could appear in different scenes in different places in very quick succession. This is the good thing about shadow puppetry - it can be lighting fast. An effect you can’t have with real-life puppets and puppeteers. You could also say that the lights were puppets in this production too. They were manipulated and moved around, and ‘puppeted’ to create our effects.  

When did we last see you? 

A year ago at Spoleto Festival USA, in 2016. I understand that Blind Summit is back at Spoleto this year, performing The TableI’m currently enjoying my Big Yellow storage unit in Reading. 

Little Match Girl at Spoleto Festival USA, 2016