I was asked back in August to help design some shadow puppets for Bristol Opera’s next production The Cunning Little Vixen. I was approached by Roxana Haines (Who also puppeteered in the other group at the Puppet Centre Trust’s Puppetry and Opera event and who was in my group during the Directing for Puppetry workshop) to design the character of the Vixen for a dreamy sequence (The rest of the show is performed by actors). She had a clear idea what she wanted; she wanted a 3D puppet that had colour and could run.

 

Challenge accepted!

 

First I tried using wire (which I had seen being used with great effect in the Little Angel Theatre’s The Tempest) which was a complete pain! The wire didn’t behave itself very well and refused to be bent into any shape that resembled a vixen or any animal! So that idea was dumped.

I then went onto to card, which I am more familiar with. I fiddled about and quickly taught myself through Pinterest about using nets and how to make 3D geometrical shapes, something I haven’t thought seriously of since secondary school but has probably the most useful thing I’ve learnt all year.

 

But Alas, she was a tad complicated to be replicated in the short amount of time Roxana had (in which she also had to direct and make several other puppets) so we decided on a 2D puppet design would be easier and better.

 

More in my comfort zone, I quickly made out of a more studier cardboard, a big vixen, with moving leg (I figured having a back leg might be too much and require more puppeteers, besides it’s amazing what you can leave out of a puppet and the audience will happily fill in the details) and orange and red cellophane to provide her with a bit of colour.

… But I was enjoying what I was discovering with the 3D vixen that I desperately tried to make her design easier. Instead of using a net I made two side view cut out of the Vixens head and connected them with another long piece of cardboard along her snout and the top of her head. I then added acetate to the insides to make her colourful

But due to time constraints she decided on using the 2D puppet vixen design but I’m still very proud of the 3D Vixen head and it may feature in my work at some point. I just wish I had the space to put her somewhere!

 

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The Cunning Little Vixen will be performed at the Redgrave Theatre Bristol on the 19th October

http://www.bristolopera.co.uk

Dolls of New Albion – Week 1

This week, I have been mostly been devising and puppeteering at the Oval House Theatre for the one and only Steampunk Opera ‘Dolls of New Albion’

 

 

At the start of this month, I was praised for being apart of a group who created a 30 minute work-in-progress opera piece for the puppetry in two weeks. Many of our audiences members couldn’t belief we had such little time.

 

This week I started work on a 90-minute opera that will be performed in a work-in-progress performance in 1 and a half week.

 

 

The moment I found out about auditions for the project I was incredibly drawn and excited about the whole concept! Even if I had not been successful this was the sort of show I would have jumped at the chance to see (while bringing quite a few friends with me) I was completely sold after hearing the soundtrack on composer Paul Shapera’s blog and found myself humming the tunes.

 

This was a part I really wanted to get!

 

I auditioned for the role of a puppeteer late October while still working on the Empress’s Feet and was told I had the part the next morning! (Not bad for my first ever puppetry audition)

 

My main responsibility is to create the mysterious and fantastical City of New Albion but I will be co-puppeteering the character of Jasper, a dead man brought back to life inside a doll, with Faith Brandon (Who coincidently also performed in the Puppetry in Opera event I took part in earlier this month)

 

The week before, I decided the simplest and quickest way to create New Albion was using the technique of shadow art, which involves creating images using the collective shadow created by different objects. Using objects within the Steampunk world, including a top hat and a pith helmet, I found I was able to create a believable, if a bit quirky, skyline.

 

After flurries on emails with the brilliant director Mark Swetz and a quick meet and greet session, this week we finally started work on what is probably the most ambitious project I have been apart of.

 

On Monday, myself and Faith played around with the objects our brilliant and hard working designer Lily Arnold and stage manager Jennifer Hunting to create a skyline of New Albion (unfortunately sans OHP!), some cool lightening effects and looking more deeply into the score for the whole opera!

 

Tuesday and Wednesday we worked close with the actor/singers we would be working with closely, particularly Lauren Osborn (Who is playing an amazing four characters!) and Mikey Shearer who is the voice of Jasper. We talked through the character of Jasper as a team (We are collectively known by Mark as Team Jasper!) as well as tackling the vague and mysterious words in Jaspers main song Elysian Nights (Is it about an afterlife or the world beyond or a lullaby for his daughter?)

 

On Thursday, Faith and I not only got our first chance to puppeteer Jasper (who was almost completely made in one day by Isabel Lyster) but we were also given invaluable help from Paul Piris, puppetry director for the fantastic Rouge28 Theatre (Whose work I saw at last years Suspense Festival and was incredibly impressed by) We spent almost 4 hours working on two scenes, the Elysian Night song and Act 4 which involves Jasper playing cards with a ‘human’ actor (Somewhat technical but actually rather fun to do!)

 

(Short video of our time with Paul Piris)

 

On Friday we worked through Elysian Nights and Act 4 with the rest of the cast and ran half of Act 3 and all of Act 4. It was good to see the piece slowly but surely coming together and the results of our hard work from the week paying off.

 

Today has been my day off and although we’ve worked pretty hard I’ve somehow avoided having some very sore muscles and haven’t been too exhausted.

 

Tomorrow is when the piece really revs into gear. I’ve been asked develop, block and finalise the first scene of Act 1.

 

Then we will be sticking it all together and running it until it is ready for Wednesday night!

 

It’s pretty daunting and is going to in. But also pretty exciting. I could get used to working this hard and intensely with these incredibly talented people.

 

(And we also have four bakers, including myself, in the company. So far I’ve made banana bread and Mark brought some of his Thanksgiving pumpkin pie!)

 

Basically, what I’m trying to say is, let’s do this!

 

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The 4 workshop showings have sold out, almost all before we even started rehearsals, but you can find out more information here:

http://www.ovalhouse.com/whatson/detail/the-dolls-of-new-albion

 

Also check out the brilliant (and brilliantly up-to-date) blog of composer Paul Shapera : http://steampunkopera.wordpress.com

(Where I stole most of my videos and photos from)

Puppetry in Opera

So after 2 weeks of devising, three days of scattered rehearsals and one long day deep underground the Barbican (Without a dress run!) myself and my fellow performers Anna Crozier, Patricia Brennan, Clara Lisle, Leah Blakelock, Casey-Joe Rumens and Georgi Mottram performed the short opera The Empress’s Feet to great success. We all worked extremely hard to produce the piece and it was a thrill to finally perform it in front of a very appriciative group of puppetry and opera practitioners, theatre makers, directors and producers.  [In fact my group started our performance off standing on the stage waiting while the audience came in and I found myself spotting people from the puppet community, including Ronnie LeDrew, the artistic director of the Little Angel Theatre Peter Glanville and my director for my next project Mark Swetz… no pressure then…)

The next day I had tremendous fun participating in the Puppet Centre Trust’s day of workshops at the Central School of Speech and Drama. I had the pleasure of playing with Phelim McDermot from Improbable Theatre and even briefly created a paper puppet with Mark Down from Blind Summit (This was very VERY exciting for me as I have been fascinated by Blind Summit’s work. In the afternoon I was taught some mind-blowing shadow puppetry effects by Steve Tiplady and was privilaged to hear two songs from the up-and-coming opera The Firework Makers Daughter (http://www.roh.org.uk/productions/the-firework-makers-daughter-by-john-fulljames) I had enormous fun creating scenes for the opera with shadow puppetry! 

Not only did I leave those two days inspired and confident, I also left with some business cards and some offers of potential work in the new year

I’m quite sad to see it go and will miss my fellow performers and my brilliant directors Seonaid Goody and Toria Banks. But there is talk of maybe taking this work-in-progress to be taken further

I’m slowly getting used to seeing myself as a puppeteer and I’m finding myself being welcomed with open arms into the puppet community.

Video of the performance will hopefully be coming soon.

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November is Opera Month!

Apparently November is Opera month for me!
Im puppeteering in two shows in London next month.

For the Empress’s Feet (As apart of the Puppetry in Opera Event) at the Barbican next Friday November 9th email: patricia.brennan@puppetcentre.org.uk  Also includes a showing of King Harold’s Saga
For Dolls of New Albion (A Steampunk Opera) at the Oval House Theatre 29th Nov- 1st Dec visit:http://www.ovalhouse.com/whatson/detail/the-dolls-of-new-albion

Dolls Of New Albion – A Steampunk Opera

Last Saturday (27th October) I went to the Central School of Speech and Drama for my first puppetry audition for a fantastic sounding newly composed Steampunk Opera called ‘Dolls of New Albion’

 

And I am incredibly thrilled to say I was given one of the puppeteer roles! I will be leading the creation of the City of New Albion through the use of object manipulation (And perhaps some other forms of puppetry found through some experimentations) I will also be puppeteering the character of Jasper, a man who is brought back from the dead in the form of a ‘doll’, who will be lead by the second puppeteer found on Saturday.

I’m incredibly happy to be chosen as this is a show I would have grabbed tickets for if my audition had been unsuccessful. And it’s a great boost to my puppet ego to get work from my first audition!

I’ve already received the full opera and I am listening carefully to the epic world I will need to create. I was listening to it on my iPod as I walked my dog this morning and I already feel some ideas brewing.  I’m so excited to start work and I’m already making some sketches inspired by the music.

I’ll be getting my rehearsal schedule soon, meet all the wondrous singers, get more aquainted with the director Mark Swetz and designer Lily Arnold. I will start working soon after I finish the Puppetry In Opera event (I think it really helped to be apart of that!) so it’s going to be a very busy month!

 

We will be performing at the Oval House Theatre in London from 29th November – 1st Dec

 

For more information on the show please visit:

http://www.ovalhouse.com/whatson/detail/the-dolls-of-new-albion

http://steampunkopera.wordpress.com

http://www.y1y.org

 

Puppetry In Opera – The Blog

It’s the second day and and I am slowly falling asleep.

 

Now, this may be considered a pretty bad start in most devising workshops but not in this case. For we are exploring the very dreamy world the Empress’s Feet, one of the two operas chosen for the Puppet Centre Trust’s Puppetry In Opera event (which is in collaboration with Central School of Speech and Drama and in association with Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance and the Barbican) that we will be performing at in November. I am one of three puppeteers working with four opera singers (studying at the Trinity College) with a puppetry and opera director to create a short work-in-progress piece to perform at the Barbican amongst several talks given by some very prestigious puppeteer and opera practitioners.

 

According to the Puppet Centre’s Linda Lewis, this is one of the first, if not the first time that puppetry and opera have been utilised together as equals as the basis of a project, instead of being introduced later on in a pieces progress. So, as a recent university graduate, passionate about puppetry and eager to participate in new projects, I feel very lucky to be apart of this one! It’s an excellent oppourtunity!

 

On the first day I was incredible nervous worrying, as I tend to do, that my skills wouldn’t be up to scratch. I had no idea what the opera was about, how opera was rehearsed or what sort of puppetry we were going to be using. It felt like I was stepping into the unknown (Or more like commuting to it with then desperately trying to find it with Google Maps)

 

But then again, this is what I love about puppetry. Every venture is different; always. From the moment I discovered puppetry, every project has involved a different way to puppeteer, a different type of puppet and a different role for puppet and puppeteer. You have the same key points, key rules to follow when manipulating puppets; 1.Breathe 2. Focus 3. Gravity & 4. Fixed Point (Each of we played with during the initial two weeks we had to play with) And these rules can be applied in multiples of varying ways in different contexts. This project was just one variable.

 

So what is the Empress’s Feet? On the surface, the opera is a tale of an Empress with enormous (yet beautiful) feet, who frequently walks in her sleep. The Emperor’s solution? To bind her feet and she is left with tiny (yet beautiful a singer insist) feet.

 

But then there is a lot more to discover as we found on the first day. We read (we didn’t sing) through the text to get a sense of the story, the rhythm and the character we would be representing; The Empress, the Emperor and the elusive Singer. We had a big discussions on what the play is trying to say.There is a singer who tells us one of her dreams (or is it a memory or merely a story) that contains the tale of the Empress who as she sleepwalks also dreams often terrifying dreams (Or are they things she sees in real life). This is a very shifting tale, where we as performers and audience are not always sure where we are, much like it is when we dream. Essentially, this is Puppetry IN Opera INception

 

The first week was focused mostly on puppetry skills, playing with the four puppet principles, slowly introducing the singing element and discovering what our type of puppets could do. Our puppetry director Seonaid Goody had created a menagerie of puppet heads made of polystyrene balls, each with a simple but individual character. She had also brought several pairs of shoes and gloves of varying colour, size, shape and use. With these items combined, with a little imagination to fill in the spaces, we would be able to make a whole cast of characters. But we also discovered that we could create new and developing versions of the same character. Take for example, the Empress  who in one scene was represented by a head and a white glove could also be seen with a head, long lacy glove body and two large, heavy wooden shoe lasts for feet.

 

 I found this particularly interesting and challenging (But I love a good challenge) In the past, I have used found objects, marionettes, shadow puppets and my favourite type, the table-top puppet. I am used to having a puppet that is a solid object; a puppet an entire entity separated from me and either manipulated from afar or up close. These combinations of items were puppets but they were also apart of me, such as my arm becoming the body of a puppet once it was wear the lacy glove. I’ve never had this integrated experience, to be part of the puppet instead of just a manipulator. I’m usually invisible (and enjoy being so!) but now I’m within the action and keeping the focus on the puppet becomes harder. This was very new but really inspiring and made me think beyond what I had thought puppets were. I’m not even sure whether this style even has a name! It also made a lot of sense in regards to what we were trying to achieve, that to integrate puppet and singer you had to integrate puppeteer physically into the puppet (I’ve only just thought of this, five days after our last day, so it just goes to show this is a project that is still revealing itself to me and is still making me think. Which is fantastic!)

 

 The early days of the week were filled with a lot of exercises and games to get us thinking and creating, but as we started to integrate the singing (As the singers had been also puppeteering up to this point) a lot of questions came up. 

 

How can we link puppeteer and puppet, when the puppeteer is also singing? How do we we link the singer to the puppet? Is the singer singing for the puppet, is the puppet speaking what is being sung or is the singer narrating what is happening to the puppet? Can we link and use the breath of the singer and the breath of the puppet? How does a puppet sing when it has no mouth? How does a puppet breath when it has no mouth? Who has the focus, the puppet, the singer or possibly the puppeteer and how do we jump from one to the other? What can you convey with just the face of the puppet? How does a puppet become one figure when it is made up of different items? What happens when it draws away from each other? How do we use the music of the piece? What does the male voice and female voice represent? How do you stick it all together so that it isn’t just about singers singing and puppeteer puppet-ing but a true collaboration of both forms.

 

(I could go on but then this blog will be too long. But basically, a lot of questions came about!)

 

 Hopefully we have been able to answer these!  

 

The second week was more framed and involved taking what we had discovered during the first week and devising directly with the score. Each song (or is it an aria? Or is it an opera? I didn’t quite pick up the Opera lingo!) we used a new idea and way of creating a puppet. So, while we were using the same style, each song had a different defining image. And this is what I think was particularly amazing with our piece. When we showed the bits and pieces we had devised to the members of the Trinity College, the Puppet Centre Trust and the Central School of Speech and Drama on the penultimate day of our workshop period, it really felt like we are giving them a surprise with every turn. It felt like we were performing magic.

 

So, this is why I spent an afternoon of falling asleep at varying speeds, on the floor and on our feet. This exercise eventually mutated into a sequence of the whole cast puppeteering while falling asleep and the impact this had on our puppets.

 

At this moment in time we have finished the initial workshops stage and have planned to meet again later in October before performing in early November. I had an amazing time. I enjoyed being worked hard, challenged (the big one for me was fixed point, especially when puppeteering the Empress’s heavy wooden feet)! and working with a fantastic group of people with a big range of skills. I just can’t wait to perform this and show what puppets and opera can do when married together.

 

This is the sort of project that really gets my mind ticking over and opens me to new experiences. It has brought out my love for devising and experimenting through playing. It was a lot of fun! It just proves why I want to keep exploring this art form and find its limits. So far, it looks like it’s going to take a long time for me to find them. And that’s okay with me.