HOORAY FOR HOLLYWOOD – PUPPETEER – JULY – SEPTEMBER 22ND 2011
In July 2011 I was spotted by Raven Kaliana of the small-scale puppetry company Puppet (R)Evolution during a course at the Little Angel Theatre. Her company was to take their critically-acclaimed show ‘Hooray For Hollywood’ to the 50th Festival Mondial des Theatres de Marionnettes (World Puppetry Festival) in Charleville-Mezieres, France, a festival which is often described as the ‘Edinburgh Festival of puppetry’. The company was one of three English companies asked to perform at the festival.
Puppet (R)Evolution strives to create partially devised pieces for adult audiences using both puppetry and performers onstage together that explore socially significant subjects. Hooray For Hollywood is a semi-autobiographical account where ‘both puppets and performers communicate a fractured tale for adult audiences, set within the child pornography industry’ written and directed by Raven Kaliana. The puppets represent the children, voiceless, controlled, grubby and objectified, while actors played the adults, their faces hidden by a curtain, to show the facelessness of the perpetrators involved in the industry.
The 40 minute performance featuring table-top and shadow puppetry, live actors and a live violin score. The story follows a young girl called Sylvia, whose parents first allow her to be abused and photographed along with a boy called Martin and then later sell her to a film studio in Hollywood. Both children strive, with difficulty, to escape but are ignored by the people who should have protected them.
I was cast as the lead puppeteer of the boy Martin. I took control of the head, hands and the pelvis, while another puppeteer controlled the legs and the arms when needed. As well as controlling the physical aspects of the puppet, I led the essence of his character, his emotional intensity, his interactions with other characters and – most importantly with puppets – his breath. I would have to puppeteer Martin through very intense emotions and situations. This required a lot of focus, adaptability and the ability to work as a close ensemble with my fellow puppeteers.
The rehearsal period was short, intense and lasted three weeks. Hooray For Hollywood, originally devised at the Central School of Speech and Drama, was already an established but nevertheless evolving show. The show had to be relatively consistent with its previous incarnation, so I was heavily directed in regards of the key moments of the show. However, I had a lot of freedom in developing Martin’s character.
The most rewarding aspect of this process was learning from the other skilled puppeteers, something that I had not encountered before. I learnt that puppeteering isn’t about manipulating and making a puppet do something, but seeing yourself as an outside energy who just supports the puppet in what it wants to do. So although I was not involved in devising the show, I was given the chance to really explore puppetry and pinning down my skills in portraying realistic characters.
I felt that there was a huge responsibility to communicate the messages of the show. It was important to get the autobiographical facts right and as truthful as possible and to show how children caught in this industry need to be heard to let them have a chance of escape.
This was my first professional production as well as my first puppetry performance outside of University. I received some fantastic feedback. I was told I have been the best puppeteer of Martin, which was especially impressive due to my age (being ten years younger than most of the cast) and relatively inexperience. I gained a lot of confidence in my work and it confirmed my ability and passion for puppetry.
This piece has also influenced my own approach to work and what work I want to explore. It has shown me the power of puppetry, its relevance in theatre, its potential for adult audiences and its potential to be used to tackle social issues.