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.


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: