Thursday, 29 December 2016

January's Puppet of the Month - Goldstein-becomes-Moses

Moses (photo by Nigel Bewley)

Thanks for joining us Mr Goldstein. Or is it Moses? Which puppet are you exactly?

These days I’m widely recognised as “Moses” from The Table, but I first came to life as “Emmanuel Goldstein”, leader of the underground resistance to the Nazi’s. I was made for Blind Summit’s adaptation of Orwell’s 1984 but I was too cute, apparently.

And that was the end of Goldstein?
Sadly, yes. But just 6 months after 1984 I was pulled back out for The Other Seder - a commission by the Jewish Community Centre for London and Knish Collective playing with the idea of Moses returning to the Passover table (they thought I looked a bit like the Prophet). Lo and behold: I became "Moses".

So what's with the other girl? 
In the very early days of The Table we had me, my 3 puppeteers, and another character. The show focused on the relationship between Moses and the girl, but was dropped around 2012 as we reworked the material. But - we’re bringing her back for the Drak project. 

The Drak project?
I’m about to travel with Mark to the Theatre Drak rehearsal room in Czech Republic for 3 weeks. We're doing R&D on that early idea of Moses and the 4th character. Plus, I went from German revolutionary to Czech puppet in that Goldstein-to-Moses transformation, so I feel like I'm going back to my roots. 

You were a Czech puppet?!

The concept for The Table 1.0 was a Czech group coming to the UK to perform Tabel and divulge the secrets of the famed Czech puppetry. But that got scrapped in rehearsal and we went back to earlier ideas in The Other Seder. So it feels good to pick that up again with our friends in the Czech Republic. 

The Other Seder, 2010

Czech Puppetry: the basics

Mark is off to Theatre Drak - renowned state theatre for puppetry in Hradec Králové, Czech Republic - for 3 weeks of R&D this month. As they rework some early 'Moses' ideas for for a show this autumn, Assistant Producer Alex takes a look at some Czech-puppetry facts you may not have heard of... 

Divadlo Drak ('Dragon Theatre') 
A Quick History

  • In its beginnings (late 1600s) puppets in Czech theatre were used as cheap alternatives to actors, made in large, real-life proportions
  • Made for adult audiences, puppet shows (1700's) were performed in pubs and village town squares
  • With state-run city theatres performing exclusively in German (the official language) it was the provincial  puppetry shows, performed in Czech, that came to represent the indigenous nation 
  • The puppeteer became a cultural hero in the Czech nationalist movement (1800's), with funding flooding into community ‘amateur’ theatre that was created by professionals. The audience shifted from adults to children
  • 1928: UNIMA founded in Prague, where amateur puppetry theatre Rise Loutek still operates
  • 1920's: "Spejbl and Hurvinek" were comic puppet characters critical of the Nazi regime, until their puppeteers were sent to a concentration camp 
  • 2016: Czech puppetry made it onto the UNESCO cultural heritage list 


Delve into Czech mythos and witness the mastery of  Bitva s Lučany (Battle with the Luczans) by Jirí Trnka (1953)

Some Links

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Spilling the beans on Jack & The Beanstalk - the story behind Citizen Puppet

Citizen Puppet is currently undergoing some major reconstruction in the rehearsal room. Those who have already seen it will know that it's built around Jack and the Beanstalk, refashioning the classic story as a puppet docu-drama about the 2008 economic crash.

The day Jack chops down the beanstalk is the fairy tale parallel of the Lehman Brother's collapse - the fall of the financial giants that devastated the western world and continues to reverberate to this day. 

As we enter the panto-season proper, we thought it a fine time to take a look at other interpretations of this classic... 

Need a story recap? 
Jack and his mother are very poor. Forced to flog their only cow when her milk runs dry, Jack meets a stranger en route to market and sells the animal for magic beans. Mum is angry, beats Jack, and throws the beans out the window. Beans grow into a gigantic beanstalk, leading to a bloodthirsty giant’s castle in the sky – complete with gold coins,  a goose that lays golden eggs,  and a singing harp. Jack swags the riches and kills the giant by chopping down the beanstalk with him still on it, in hot pursuit.

So where does it come from?
'The Boy Who Stole Ogre's Treasure' are a collection of stories dating back 5000 years (say Durham academics), and historically the giant may have its roots in the Gogmagog character of Welsh and English folklore. This giant was thrown from a cliff during a wrestling match in the lands we now know as Cornwall. 

What do others make of the beanstalk? 
The tree with incredible properties is a feature of ancient stories from across the world: 
  • The Banyan Tree, the Hindu’s sacred tree, symbolises longevity, fertility, nourishment and the fulfilment of wishes and material gains
  • Buddha finds enlightenment – a spiritual awakening - after meditating for 7 days under the sacred fig (Bodhi) tree with its heart-shaped leaves 
  • Serbian families burn the badnjak (Yule log) on Christmas eve alongside prayers to God for happiness, luck and riches
  • The tree in the Garden of Eden offering its fruit that bestows deeper knowledge (of good and evil)

What research went into Citizen Puppet rehearsals?
The creative team read versions of Jack & The Beanstalk from all over the world and analysis by experts like Marina Warner. 

And what's next for Citizen Puppet?
The script is currently being re-developed and some of the puppets re-designed, in particular the mechanisms used for the mouth movement. Hopefully we'll have some more news for you next year!

December's Puppet of the Month - Fish from Arhat: Taming the Dragon

 So Fish – tell us a bit about yourself
I’m actually Texan.

Oh really? 
Yes. I was part of the Butchers, Dragons, Gods and Skeletons exhibition at the Kimbell Art Gallery – a collection of film installations by American artist Philip Haas (one of the top ten museum shows of 2009, said TIME magazine)

What was your bit about?
We were part of an 8 minute film that responded to an ancient Chinese scroll the Kimbell has in its collection (Yuan Dynasty). Here we are,  06:19 into this video, a mini documentary about the exhibition.

What’s your favourite performance moment? 
Well, it was a lot of improvised puppet special effects and puppeteers tugging us all with fishing wire which was a bit traumatic for me, if I’m honest. 

What have you been up to this month? 
Mark took me on a trip to Wimbeldon College of Art to meet some design students.

Have you got a special Christmas message for our readers?
Y’all go and see an exhibition this Christmas folks. Y’might learn somethin..

Photos from the making of Arhat: Taming the Dragon

A Celebration of 2016

Join us as we look back on our highlights from 2016 - we couldn't have done it without our funders, donors, collaborators, artists and audiences. Thank you all!

Jan - Return to the London International Mime Festival leading a puppetry masterclass

Feb - Culmination of 6 months' puppet development for Little Match Girl in a presentation at The Place, London

Mar - Blind Summit's Canadian premiere with The Table in Montreal

April - Debut at Shakespeare’s Globe, directing puppetry for Emma Rice’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream

May - Revival of puppetry in Madam Butterfly at ENO for 7th time!

June - Premiere of Little Match Girl at Spoleto Festival USA

July - Return to Latitude Festival with Improbable and Animo

Aug - Edinburgh Fringe Festival run of Meet Fred, our collaboration with Hijinx, with 5* reviews

Sept - Broadcast of A Midsummer Night’s Dream live on BBC iplayer

Oct - Script writing intensive with the Citizen Puppet team

Nov - Associate Artists Humanish return with their show Holy Presents

Dec - Welcoming the team from the legendary Theatre Drak (Czech Republic) to Blind Summit HQ to plan our 2017 collaboration starting in January 2017...

Trailer from Meet Fred with Hijinx Theatre

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 ...