Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Puppeteer Oliver Hymans on working with puppetry in local communities...

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.

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!

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Touretteshero's Broadcast In Biscuit Land, live from the BBC...

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

You can also catch Jess in Hardboiled at the New Diorama Theatre in February next year. 

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

November's Puppet of the Month - 'Worker Puppet'

What are you made of?
White muslin or calico, stuffed with wadding! 

How big are you?
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! 

Monday, 2 November 2015

'Meet Fred' - a show about what it's really like to be a puppet...

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.