Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Taking a closer look at ... the Humanette

Our Associate company, Humanish, have been reworking their Humanette Christmas show - Holy Presents - for a new tour. We thought we'd take the opportunity to ask God (one of the lead characters) a little bit more about the show and this puppet form ...

'Humanette Puppet' doesn't exist in Wikipedia. Are you for real?

A lesser known species, we'll admit, but one that features recurrently in comedy and cabaret. The Humanette (sometimes called a Human Marionette) is a head-body-hybrid of humans and puppets. 

Aha. So - how do you work?

Blind Summit associates Humanish rehearsing for Holy Presents
This is a table top puppet and the puppeteer body is disguised by dressing in black and performing against a black background, controlling the puppet's arms with dark rods and its feet with discreet grips. 

The big exception is the puppeteer's head - proudly revealed in all its expressive glory - with the puppet body (roughly the size of a 9 month old baby) hanging from the neck. Like me, here, warming up for my annual family Shakespeare recital.

What notable Humanettes have gone before you?

Ernest Elliot - early Humanette performerAs the God Humanette I'm obviously the Original and the Creator, but there have been a few notable followers. 

One was Ernest Elliot (1894 - 1974), one of the first entertainers to appear on television in the early days of the BBC. He performed his Humanette material in front of Princess Margaret, don't you know? 

Then there was the incorrigible Dario Fo used us regularly as part of his satirical armour.  

And here's an example of Humanetting with a flamenco edge, courtesy of Philippe Genty - 

What about Blind Summit? Have they ever used Humanettes before?

El Gato Con Botas at the New Victory Theatre in New York
I'm glad you asked. They've actually used Humanettes on a couple of occasions.

The first was Kyle Pfortmiller as the King in our Gotham Chamber Opera, El Gato Con Botas at the New Victory Theatre in New York. Another was Kommilitonen at the Juilliard School of Music in New York and the Royal Academy of Music in London. 

So there you go. Blind Summit bringing the Humanette form back into contemporary puppet use for our friends across the pond.

So God - where can we see your rendition of the Bard in Holy Presents

We will be taking our show to the lucky souls of the Theatre Royal Margate, the Lincoln Drill Hall, the Firestation in Windsor and the fine people of Camden and their people's theatre.

Monday, 31 October 2016

November's Puppet of the Month - the Golden Monkey from 'His Dark Materials'

Hey Monkey, thanks for coming in. Can you tell us a bit more about yourself? 

That's Golden Monkey to you, if you please. I'm the dæmon of Lyra's mother, Marisa Coulter - a lady who knows what she wants and isn't afraid to stub a few toes along the way. So as the physical manifestation of her soul, I play to win. And I don't take any crap, pal. 

So how was it performing at the National Theatre back in 2004?

Everyone gets that wrong. I wasn't at the National. I was made for a production at Birmingham Rep and West Yorkshire Playhouse.

Right. So - how are you made and who operated you? 

Me and Mark
I'm made from Plastazote, which is a lightweight foam. Nick Barnes designed me and Ben Thompson operated me in the show. He also worked the Stupid Bear - but I, being exceptionally clever, was obviously his favourite. 

What are you up to these days?

I hang tight in Birmingham Rep's storage unit, but I've had a few outings with student productions. The York Theatre Royal youth theatre mounted a Dark Materials production, as did the University of Bristol 

What did you get up to on Halloween?

I attempted to break out and play a few pranks on the people of Birmingham, but there was no one to help me do it. You can't make mischief if you're on your own as a puppet. But don't worry, I'm collecting recruits. Next year we're going to wreak havoc ... 

Puppeteer Profile: Laura Caldow ...

Laura has been a regular performer with Blind Summit since 2008 in productions including Madam Butterfly, Citizen Puppet, Le Rossignol and even took on one of our toughest roles - the feet of Moses in The Table. We caught up with her during rehearsals for the world's first immersive ballet with Will Tuckett...

Laura & Frippery
How did you start working with Blind Summit? 
I first worked with Blind Summit on Faeries at the Royal Opera House in 2008. I was cast as a dancer but ended up doing 2 of the puppet characters - Mrs Sands and Frippery. I loved it and found it very hard to put Frip back in his box at the end of the tour.

What's your most vivid puppet memory? 
There are so many! Highlights include Moses sitting on my head in a show in Florida, proposing to a lady in Switzerland, & romping with one of the actors at Second City in Chicago. Sorrow's leg falling off at the end of a Madam Butterfly show also springs to mind!

We hear you've recently been dancing in churches with a world class cellist. How was that? 
It was a project called Choreographing Bach with cellist Orlando Jopling and Director Fiona Clift, another Blind Summit associate. We wanted to make something where the cellist and dancer really interacted, and so we worked together throughout the devising period, which is really rare. We performed it in London & Colchester. I loved duetting with Orlando who is amazing, and playing with the audience who weren't accustomed to experiencing classical music in that way. We're hoping to tour the piece next year.

If you want any more information on Laura's work, check out:

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Application for the Artistic Director of The Globe

Dear Globe,

I understand that there will be an opening for Artistic Director at your theatre in 2018 and I am writing to ask if you would consider appointing a puppet?

Puppets are really trendy these days and in that spirit I am putting myself forward for consideration.

Do not be shocked by my appearance, I come with a range of different hands and heads that can easily be changed. As you can see I can be made in the likeness of William Shakespeare. But I could also be the Earl of Oxford. Or Burbage. Or whatever. I could be made into a woman, or a person of colour. Or I can be made to have two faces. 

As an actual puppet I have never knowingly had an opinion about anything. I will do whatever you make me do, and say whatever you make me say. These are not even my own words so if this application does not address your needs, simply rewrite it according to what you want.

On the subject of original practise, who knows what Mark Rylance would really want, but I am more than happy to wear a doublet and hose 24/7 around the office if that helps.

I come with puppeteers or you can learn to puppet me yourself.

A word of warning though. People don’t hold puppeteers in very high regard and a lot of people find puppetry a bit creepy. Some people positively recoil. But I am sure you can handle a bit of controversy.

I hope to hear from you soon and look forward to having your hands up my arse.


A. Puppet

Monday, 3 October 2016

October's Puppet of the Month - Mrs Sands from Faeries

Hello Mrs Sands, can you tell us who you are?

I was in the Royal Opera House's 2008 production, Faeries, dear! Directed by Will Tuckett, the story is set in wartime London where Johnny and his sister, Beattie, orphaned in the Blitz, are to be evacuated to different farms in the country. Johnny, however, runs away and spends the night in Kensington Gardens where he meets faeries (Blind Summit puppetry of course) and has wonderful adventures.

I was in charge of the evacuee programme so I wasn't entirely pleased...

Who designed you and how many people operated you?
I was designed by the hugely talented Nick Barnes and three people operated me including Laura Caldow (pictured above) who had worked with the Director, Will, previously. Faeries was her first time on a puppet and she has since worked with Blind Summit on many productions including The Table and Madam Butterfly. I believe she also worked with Will earlier this year on the Royal Opera House's production, Elizabeth.

Have you now retired from running the evacuee programme?

Oh yes, what a silly question. I'm at the Royal Opera House waiting to see if they'll need me again but for now I'm enjoying peace time and life in storage! Why don't you watch the trailer below to get a better idea of the production... 

Friday, 30 September 2016

Puppeteer Profile: Tom Espiner...

Tom is a Blind Summit Associate who has worked with the company since 2008. He has operated Sorrow in Madam Butterfly in four revivals and worked with us most recently on the development of The Little Match Girl which premiered at Spoleto Festival in June 2016. Tom is Co-Artistic Director of Sound&Fury, a collaborative theatre company that specialises in exploring sound and aural sense in theatre.

How did you start working with Blind Summit?

I was familiar with Blind Summit as early as 2000 but it wasn't until the Edinburgh Festival in 2005 when I was up with my company Sound&Fury that I met them.

I noticed all these interesting chalk drawings of astronauts on the streets and so I followed their trail which eventually led me to the artist - Mark Down. The drawings were promoting the Blind Summit show The Spaceman. I was then invited to take part in a workshop with Blind Summit and a dance group specialising in improvisation in Eastleigh. I had done very little puppetry but I really enjoyed it.

Shortly after that they needed some new people to take over the puppet of the little boy, Sorrow, in the ENO production of Madam Butterfly in 2008 directed by Anthony Minghella and Carolyn Choa. It was hard work but very rewarding!

What's your most memorable experience working with Blind Summit?

I have to say it was pretty unforgettable being part of the enormous staging of the 2012 London Olympics Opening ceremony - kitted out like ninjas we stormed the stage and climbed into the NHS beds housing these huge puppet villains (I was puppet captain for Captain Hook!). Rehearsals always seemed to be thwarted by the weather or technical difficulties but I think it was only on the actual event itself that everything went smoothly including Voldemort's wand which had never sparked off until that evening. As one off, ephemeral theatrical performances go it was a pretty special one to be part of!

What are you working on with your company Sound&Fury?

We are currently in the process of remounting our short piece Charlie Ward which was first staged at the Cinema Museum in Kennington in August 2014 (an amazing building - a real London gem and for some time was where the young Charlie Chaplin lived with his mother). 

Taking its inspiration from the fact that bed-bound, wounded soldiers in the First World War were shown Charlie Chaplin films on the hospital ceiling we have created a piece in which audience members lie on beds and see a Charlie Chaplin film through the eyes of a soldier - using our familiar armoury of moments of total darkness and surround sound, the audience are taken on a strange hypnotic reverie and witness Chaplin as he's never been seen before. 

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

September's Puppet of the Month - Bud from Low Life

Bud, can you tell us a little about yourself?

Sure, I'm an action hero plumber that featured in the 2005 production, Low Life. The show started at the BAC and went on to tour to Edinburgh, Colombia, Sri Lanka and China. The show explored the poems and short stories of Charles Bukowski - in the end I tragically drowned in gin underneath a bar...

What's so interesting about you?

Well, I'm the smallest puppet Blind Summit have made measuring at just over 35cm. The advantage is that it means I am ideal to go out with the team on the many workshops they deliver as a display puppet. The most exciting workshop I've been a part of was in Kuwait. It's hot there.

What are you up to now?

I'm still living in my little red tool box that you can see in the clip below. Largely I watch the comings and goings in the Blind Summit workshop (the machinery is very loud) but you never know... I may have another outing yet. Blind Summit like to revisit past shows!