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!

Friday, 26 August 2016

Meet Fred in Edinburgh

Meet Fred, our collaboration with Hijinx Theatre, has just closed at Summerhall at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2016. Director, Ben Pettitt-Wade, takes us through the journey of the show.

How did Meet Fred come about?  
We were inspired by a week long residency led by Blind Summit in 2014. After this we continued to explore puppetry with our Hijinx Academy students, all of whom are performers with a learning disability. We then had two stages of research & development with various artists involved including Blind Summit Artists Tom Espiner & Giulia Innocenti. It was during this stage that the character of Fred began to emerge as a puppet that wants to live in the everyday.

Why was puppetry such a good artform for you?
The relationship between the puppet and his puppeteers is a really interesting metaphor for issues that are pertinent within the learning disabled community,of support, dependence, interdependence and and ultimately independence.

Can you tell us yours and the company's highlight of Edinburgh this year? 

Many, many highlights, but one of the best was a guy coming in to see the show having never seen a puppetry show before and absolutely howling with delight throughout. 

What's next for Meet Fred?
Next we go to Bristol for a one off on 15th September at Circomedia, then two nights at a festival in Mainz, Germany on the 30th September, and 1st October. We are then touring from January to May next year, around the UK and some international dates too!

"Slick, smart puppetry for adults with a political edge" 
The Stage ****

"You'll believe a puppet can cry"
The List ****

"If you only see one show at the EdFringe this year, make sure it's Meet FredFringe Review

Monday, 1 August 2016

Antonia Weir - my time in Blind Summit's workshop

Arts student, Antonia Weir, joined us for a week's work experience as part of our Talent Development programme. She talks about sculpting her first ever puppet head (Samuel Beckett no less) and the importance of Blind Summit's research and development process...

Arriving on Grenville Road, somewhere between Finsbury Park and Archway, I was feeling a little lost. That is, until I looked up to see a window piled high with small yellow hands and the face of a gnarled puppet dangling from the ceiling. This introduction set the tone for an inspiring week of research and development at Blind Summit HQ.

Their workshop is a hub of creation. Puppet bodies and heads lie on the tables in a state of half completion until they are picked up and brought to life by Mark and Fiona, looking to find the right character and voice. They'll then pick up the sanding paper and start adjusting all over again.

From my position at the workshop table - initially making Samuel Beckett out of Styrofoam - I watched as characters and stories were sculpted from the puppets. I already knew that the process of devising could not afford to be lazy and Blind Summit confirmed this. Mark and Fiona interrogated the importance of the relationship between puppet and puppeteer and I was struck by the complexity of their devising process: not only does a puppeteer and maker have to concoct a story and character, they also have to find the puppet's job and answer the question, 'what can this puppet do that a human can't?'.

It was wonderful to be a part of this exploration and begin to discover the potential of puppetry and look at how it fits into such a competitive industry. At Blind Summit it is immediately clear that puppetry is a field that is always developing through innovation and research. The workshop is an incredibly exciting place to be and a busy week!

Thursday, 28 July 2016

August's Puppet of the Month - Tina Henderson

Hi Tina. How are you feeling post Brexit? 

Ach, what's done is done. I've moved on and I've had a pampering from Fiona Clift, who I believe featured in the last newsletter. She's been workin' on me and some of the other puppets from the show, Citizen Puppet. I'm being prodded and poked but I dinnae mind as long as ma hair is fixed.

It may be rude to ask Tina, but what are you made from?

That is rude, darlin'! But I'll tell ya anyway. Well I was originally made by Nick Barnes who hand-sculpted Styrofoam for my head. I've got a cloth body with an internal skeleton made of doweling.

Any plans to retire?
Ach no! Get away with ya! Blind Summit have asked me to be on stand by for a tour of Citizen Puppet in the spring/summer. That's why they've been working on me and given me a new armchair which you can see on the right. I've also popped up on their Facebook a wee bit - my thoughts on Brexit (watch it below), not that I'm still dwelling on it.