Friday, 6 May 2016

May's puppet of the month - 'Space Man' Mark

What are you made out of?

I have a fibreglass head and a soft foam rubber body sculpted on to a wooden and aluminium armature. Plus a shiny spacesuit, naturally.

You're modelled on Mark Down, how did your designer and maker, Nick Barnes, do this?

I was sculpted from photos of Mark and also from sitting sessions with him. Mark was the lead actor in the show I was in, On Emotion, which played at Soho Theatre in 2008. He played an autistic man interested in puppetry. The writer of the piece, Mick Gordon, was interested in Mark's character struggling to read emotion due to his autism and worked in collaboration with neuropsychologist Paul Broks to work on the production. Blind Summit was commissioned by them to create the puppetry and explore this area further.

What are you up to now?

As a beautifully designed puppet I'm often used for demonstration purposes for workshops run by Blind Summit. Later this month I will be working with University of the Arts MA Animation students on skills and techniques needed to bring a puppet and character to life.

How are you going  to enjoy the sun this week?
Take my suit off! 

A newbie at the opera...

Blind Summit Assistant Producer, Melissa, blogs about her visit to the rehearsals of Madam Butterfly...

The only time I've been to see an opera was when I was visiting friends in France and the local ch√Ęteau (I kid you not) hosted a touring company so we went along. I enjoyed it but it was outside and I passed out from sunstroke.

I've not seen an opera since and it's not because I thought it 'wasn't for me'or that I wouldn't understand it; it was simply because I've always seen theatre, I've always read about theatre, my main jobs have been in theatre and because I know who and what I want to see on stage. 

Opera is a whole new world to me but in the two and a bit months I've been working for Blind Summit that world has started unfolding.

This afternoon I headed to an industrial estate in South Wimbledon to watch the rehearsals of Madam Butterfly, opening at the ENO on 16 May. As you will know, Blind Summit created and directed the puppetry in the original Anthony Minghella production in 2005. It's since been remounted at the Metropolitan Opera, New York and the Lithuania National Opera and continues to be a favourite for many people hence it's return this summer.

I've been to many theatre rehearsals but nothing on the scale of an opera. I did and didn't know what to expect and even if everybody was angry about rehearsing on a hot day (NB. they weren't) I still would have loved it because it was new and exciting and it's fascinating to watch something so huge come together.

Here's what I learnt:

THEY MAKE IT LOOK SO EASY! I was sat two metres away from Madam Butterfly and the puppeteers so close enough to detect any nervousness or hesitation in their performances but instead I was immediately transported to the Coliseum and I welled up! I did not expect that. Nobody was in full costume, the set was basic and there wasn't an orchestra, only a pianist, but it was so captivating and beautiful and they were so talented and skilful that it almost felt like it wasn't needed, that it would be an added bonus.  I felt very lucky to see a 'stripped down' version of a scene that I'll later see on stage with all the finishing touches; I know it will be even more stunning. 

·  - The large number of people in the room is why the rehearsal is so smooth and efficient and why none of the cast seem absolutely knackered. There seems to be just about every person there that you need and more: director, assistant director, puppetry director, conductor, pianist, technicians, production managers, choreographer, vocal coach, stage managers, company managers, designers... the list goes on... Physiotherapists?

·  -  Madam Butterfly has had her heart broken, has just sang the highest note I have ever heard a human sing and her lover, Pinkerton, is equally as distraught. The director stops it there. I expected a long hush in the rehearsal room while everybody took this moment in (even if it is the fourth time that day that they've watched the scene). Instead, Butterfly and Pinkerton start joking about the TV series Spaced and their own acting. I've seen theatre actors do this all the time - it's the only way you can cope with an intense script - but I had it in my head that an opera singer after a scene like that would head straight over to the conductor and the pianist and work on the high note over and over. It was a little naive of me to think that, yes, but when they're simultaneously singing opera, acting and performing dead set choreography I was surprised. It was a totally relaxed moment and eye-opening to see.