Puppet Theatre was founded in 1979 by Ray
and Joan DaSilva as a permanent base for their touring company,
DaSilva Puppets, and was first opened as a public venue
in 1980, following the conversion of the medieval church
of St James in the heart of Norwich. Barry Smith took over
as artistic director for a short period after the DaSilvas
left in 1986, and since 1991 the resident artistic director
has been Lu's Zornoza Boy.
It is a nationally unique venue dedicated to puppetry, and
currently houses a 197-seat raked auditorium, the 50-seat
Octagon Studio, workshops, an exhibition gallery, shop and
licensed bar. It is the only theatre in the eastern region,
which has a year-round programme of family-centred theatre,
as well as providing a variety of Saturday morning activities.
The theatre is the base for a professional company which
creates and presents its own productions at the theatre
and on tour to schools and venues throughout the UK and
internationally. In the last two years the company has performed
in Spain, Mexico, and Slovenia. The theatre plays host to
a variety of other touring companies from Britain and overseas,
and provides training opportunities for professional practitioners.
The company's work is informed by concepts and techniques
from a range of cultures, and encourages the exchange of
ideas by hosting companies and individuals of differing
nationalities and by presenting its own work abroad.
Since his appointment in October 1991, artistic director
Luis Boy has consistently developed the profile of Norwich
Puppet Theatre regionally, nationally and internationally,
with a diverse programme of new productions and collaborations
that has strengthened Norwich Puppet Theatre's reputation
for excellence. The theatre aims to develop a public taste
for the artform of puppetry, maintaining a dialogue with
and breaking down barriers between different artforms, particularly
in relation to live music. The theatre works with a wide
range of techniques including rod, glove, shadow, objects,
toys and masks, developing and exploring each technique
individually and in combination with each other.
Initially Lu's, a sculptor and puppet designer whose unique
artistry is instantly recognisable, reworked the existing
repertoire; but in the last 13 years he has built a reputation
for challenging the preconceptions and boundaries of puppetry
and children's theatre in particular. The chronology of
productions, co-productions and international touring give
an indication of the development of the company in this
time period, but to continue to exist the organisation has
had to make some radical changes.
The company that we see today has a small administration
team of Lu's Boy - artistic director; Ian Woods - general
manager; Rachael Smith - marketing and education officer
and Peter Butler — technical manager; all ably supported
by Darren Taylor - box office and Denise Hargrave — workshop
leader. For many years NPT has not been able to afford the
luxury of a permanent company of performers so contracts-in
puppeteers and musicians for its ever growing repertoire
of productions - the use of live music being one of the
important aspects of Lu's' work.
A major development to support the artistic activity of
the theatre in the last five years has been to secure long
term funding agreements with all three core funders of the
theatre — Arts Council England, East; Norfolk County Council
and Norwich City Council. With the knowledge of this 'assured'
funding the theatre has been able to plan further ahead
than was the case in the past. From this base the company
has made successful applications for project funding to
support the development and touring of recent productions
of Hansel & Gretel and The Selfish Giant.
As well as developing and touring their own shows, NPT provides
both a rehearsal resource for local and national puppetry
companies and as a performance venue for these and other
shows. This year through ACE Grant for Arts support NPT
was able to bring Theater Taptoe over from Ghent, Belgium,
with their startling production of Scrooge which was directed
by Lu's Boy during a sabbatical period in 2002. Working
with other European companies is not a new experience for
NPT and it is hoped that the work with Taptoe will lead
to a similar working relationship as that with the Green
Apple theatre, Helsinki. Following on from co-productions
etc. for the first time an NPT play is touring with a different
company's performers. George’s Marvellous Medicine by Roald
Dahl is currently touring Finland and the Nordic Countries
with a Finnish cast from Green Apple.
Another aspect of NPTs work is the City & Guilds basic and
advanced courses in puppet making that the Theatre hosts
for Norfolk Adult Education Services. The basic course is
now in its fifth intake and, along with the advanced course,
is tutored by Joy Haynes. The course explores the different
styles of puppet and is assessed on a portfolio of the student's
work. In 2003 the students marked the end of their course
with an open day of performances and exhibitions which has
in turn led to the current course being oversubscribed.
What of present and future projects? To name but a few:
Pinocchio, created and last toured in 1999, is being re-rehearsed
for a Winter 2004 tour; a course in puppet video animation
is being devised with Norfolk Youth Services and MediaProjectsEast;
plans are afoot for the 2005 celebrations to include theatre
refurbishment; revival of some classic NPT shows and visiting
international companies, and discussions are being held
with Chamber Orchestra Anglia to collaborate on a production
of Stravinsky's Soldiers Tale.
Although its history pre-dates the opening on 1st December
1980, that is the date which will define Norwich Puppet
Theatre's celebrations of the 25th anniversary in 2005.