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Profile by Penny Francis
with additional material by Ian Woods

Norwich 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.

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