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 Well I was originally made by Nick Barnes who hand-sculpted Styrofoam for my head.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.


Thursday, 7 July 2016

July's Puppet of the Month - Cio Cio San

Are you working at the minute Cio Cio San?

My last performance of Madam Butterfly ends tonight (7 July) at the ENO sadly! While it's not the most happy part I've played it's wonderful to bring this beautiful opera back to life. For now I shall be sleeping and dreaming until the next run...

How many people operate you?

Two people operate me: a puppeteer and a dancer. My current puppeteer in the 2016 ENO run is a trained classical dancer but this is not always the case. I am small and light so I am easy to move with. You can see a clip of Blind Summit Artistic Director, Mark Down, and myself in rehearsals here:

How were you made?

I was made by Nick Barnes and I took 5 weeks to be made from beginning to end. My body is partly soft foam rubber covered with stockinet and also partly Styrofoam covered with Jesmonite and fibre glass. 

My head and hands were originally sculpted in clay and my head is made from hollow fibre glass and polyester resin.

My hair? From the ENO wig department. 

In the workshop with Citizen Puppet heads...

We're back in the workshop again, returning to the puppets from Citizen Puppet. Blind Summit Associate Fiona Clift tells us more...

Why was the decision made to work on the Citizen Puppet puppets again?

Spending a month performing with the puppets last year in Edinburgh, we really came across some structural things we wanted to change! The focus at the minute is on their heads and their moving mouths which are controlled from the back of the head. The mechanisms are quite tricky to use, and their necks are also a bit floppy. We want to see if we make them move around the stage more easily.

So what's the first step?

We've been looking at original Bunraku puppets, for example from our 2005 show Low Life, where the neck mechanism is operated from the back and where a sense of the spine is created. This means the puppet has a centre, making it more solid and providing a different kind of movement.

Tell us about the head you are working on right now

I'm re-working a head I designed and made last year, that didn't make it in to the final show.

The new version is modeled on Germaine Greer. A feminist with a very old school look...

From the photos below you'll see I started sanding her first, shaping her head and making sure I have a smooth finish. I then began to add more detail and we have since found a wholly new character from the one we rehearsed last year. Hopefully she'll make it into the next outing of Citizen Puppet!

Friday, 10 June 2016

Meet a puppetry newbie...

Tibu Fortes, a performer and puppeteer in the Globe's A Midsummer Night's Dream, had never worked with puppets before. We chatted with Tibu about his experiences working with Mark on the Changeling Boy in the show...

Can you tell us a little bit about your experience working on the Changeling Boy in the show? 

I have never worked with puppetry before so when we were first introduced to the Changeling Boy puppet it was very exciting. However, before Mark joined us at rehearsals it was quite a struggle - figuring out how his limbs worked, feeling that the stick holding his head was not long enough whilst also trying to make him seem alive - it was difficult. He just wouldn't come to life. After a couple of sessions with Mark, the boy started waking up and we could see the other actors interacting with the boy more - bright smiles on their faces as they worked with him.

What would you say is the hardest thing about puppetry for you?

It can be physically quite difficult. Even though we are doing very physical stuff in the show just as actors, having the puppet and allowing it its space requires you to contort or push your physicality in a more taxing way. I think it's both emotionally and physically draining.

Is there a particular puppetry technique/tip that has stayed in your memory since the rehearsal period?

After a little while in to the rehearsal process, it suddenly hit me to 'act' as if I were the little Changeling Boy - to see the world from his eyes and experience his wants and pleasures - then he immediately came to life!

A Midsummer Night's Dream plays until 11 September. Tickets available here:

Monday, 6 June 2016

June's Puppet of the Month - Ogre

What are you made from?

I'm hand sculpted from Styrofoam and was designed by Nick Barnes. I have a moving mouth and need five puppeteers to bring me to life. I'm fairly high maintenance darling...

What have I seen you in?

I performed in El Gato Con Botas at The New Victory Theatre, New York, a family opera by Xavier Montsalvatge directed by Moises Kaufman. Blind Summit collaborated with Tectonic Theater Project and Gotham Chamber Opera on the production and you can see me in action in the film below:

What are you up to now?

I'm miles away in storage in New York awaiting a possible future production but I did have a life after El Gato Con Botas: the design for my head was used for the head of the Bonze in Le Rossignol in 2014 at Bregenz Festival as you can see below:

Puppeteer Profile: Ivan Thorley...

Ivan is a Blind Summit Associate who has worked with us since 2011 as a puppeteer and puppet maker on shows including The Table, The Magic Flute and the 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony. Since working with Blind Summit Ivan has founded his own company, Puppets with Guts, and is currently touring their outdoor production Citizen Squid

How did you start working with Blind Summit?

I was performing with the Rainbow Collectors, a collective made up of puppeteers and circus performers, at Battersea Arts Centre in mid 2011 where Blind Summit were sharing an initial scratch of The Table. I thought it was great and plucked up the courage to go and speak with Mark Down. After a brief chat I mentioned that I liked puppetry and Mark invited me to come to a rehearsal that following Monday. 

What's your favourite memory working with Blind Summit?

Touring The Table to New York to La Mama Theatre and MOSES giving a lecture to an audience of programmers and producers on the 'state' of puppetry...

Tell us about CITIZEN SQUID

It's an interactive big puppet spectacle that was originally commissioned by the Lyric Hammersmith and Watford Palace Theatre in 2015, and further commissioned by Wandsworth Council and Enable Arts and Leisure in 2016, supported by Arts Council England. 

We have been working with young people in transition over ten weeks on Patmore Estate in Battersea through a community engagement process. Come and see it! Our performance dates are below.

What else are you up to?

As a puppeteer I am also creative producing and puppeteering a secret high profile fashion show for London Fashion Week on 12th June... look out for further details on the Puppets with Guts FB page and Twitter!

You can see CITIZEN SQUID at:
- Greenwich & Docklands International Festival, 25-26 June
- Summer in Southside, Birmingham Hippodrome, 23-24 July
- Great British Carnival, Ramsgate, 28 July