The Potential of Puppetry
Matthew Isaac Cohen and Dorothy Max Prior
introduce responses from puppeteers to the Scottish Arts Council’s
report on the sector
Matthew Isaac Cohen writes:
The Scottish Arts Council (SAC) published its report The Potential
of Puppetry: A Review of the Sector in Scotland [http://www.scottisharts.org.uk/1/information/publications/1002574.aspx]
in April 2005. This policy document, which was five years
in the making, represents the first major overview of puppetry
in Scotland. It has been compared to the Gulbenkian report,
On the Brink of Belonging: A National Inquiry into Puppetry
(Gulbenkian Foundation, 1992), which focused largely on England.
Puppetry in Scotland is a relatively small
sector, driven less by powerful institutions than by the commitment
of individual puppeteers and administrators. While major international
puppet companies occasionally appear at the Edinburgh Festivals,
opportunities for international training and professional
development have been limited for most Scottish puppeteers;
puppetry is mostly consigned to the category of children’s
entertainment by arts organisers and the theatre-going public.
Due in part to this history of neglect, the new attention
given by the SAC to puppetry has made the review controversial
since its inception. It has been applauded by some for attending
to a sector of the arts that has been long ignored, with a
promise of increased cash flow to puppet companies and institutions.
Others have questioned the logic behind the makeup of the
review team, the selection of respondents, and the research
Now, more than a year after its publishing,
the SAC report’s results are beginning to be felt by
puppeteers and puppetry organisations….
Dorothy Max Prior writes:
Animations Online surveyed the responses of representative
Scottish puppet organisations, and of puppeteers across the
UK, to the SAC Review. There were many and varied responses!
Some stated that they did not feel that they wanted to express
an opinion; some felt that as representatives of an organisation,
they didn’t wish to pass a personal opinion without
a full consultation with those that they represent; some were
happy to give a comment but preferred it not to be published
here; some were happy to engage publicly in the debate on
the pages of Animations Online.
So we here present a sample of responses,
mostly from Scottish puppeteers or organisations, but with
one voice from England, offering a perspective as a company
funded by ACE rather than SAC.
Animations Online would like to make it clear
that the responses below have been reproduced in full, and
that the respondents have not seen each other’s submissions.
Animations Online takes no editorial stance on the responses,
but presents them in order to inform readers of the variety
of views held on this matter. We feel that this debate is
important for the whole puppetry community throughout the
UK as it raises vital issues around the purpose and practices
of arts funding, and the implementation of arts strategies,
throughout the UK. We are happy to receive further responses,
or comment on the responses below. Send to the editor, Dorothy
Max Prior, on: [mail to] email@example.com
Responses to The Potential of Puppetry:
A Review of the Sector in Scotland
From Dr. Malcolm Knight, The Scottish Mask
and Puppet Centre
you for inviting my professional response to the above Review.
There are so many omissions, distortions and machinations
behind this internal strategic review by the Scottish Arts
Council that I can only draw out a few of the issues. This
is why a full and formal critique will be published by SMPC
later this year (see http://www.scottishmaskandpuppetcentre.co.uk/).
"There will be only one core-funded
organisation in puppetry in Scotland and that is the Puppet
Animation Festival. That's the reality. If you don't like
it you'll just have to learn to live with it." (Angela
Hogg, Drama Officer, Scottish Arts Council). This high-handed
and undemocratic attitude is typical of a certain kind of
arts bureaucrat seeking to control both the theory and practice
of those of us who do the "real" work and whose
"reality" is certainly elsewhere.
The SAC started its Review to examine the
potential of puppetry in Scotland in 2000 and took five years
of public money and time to produce the poorly researched
and highly biased and manipulative document that is now in
the public domain. In 2001 they removed our Centre's annually
renewable project funding of £10,000 towards the Saturday
programme of puppet shows for families and children (employment
for puppeteers), masterclasses and creative in-house puppet
productions. In one fell swoop the 12-year partnership between
the SAC and Glasgow City Council to support our public
programmes was destroyed. The ill will of some and the jealousy
and bad faith of others who were seeking ascendancy and hegemony
over the sector was to blame for this state of affairs.
The SAC strategic review had a clear responsibility
to map and define the sector in a balanced and even-handed
manner. The areas for recognition and recommendation were
and are: dedicated spaces, touring companies, festivals, networking
organisations, and educational institutions. The task was
to raise the stakes, create a level playing field and to integrate
and involve all parts of the sector.
On completion of the Draft Review in June
2004 I discovered that the Review contained no recommendations
for support of the existing building-based puppet theatres/centres
(or "dedicated spaces" as The Gulbenkian Report
termed them) at Biggar Puppet Theatre and at SMPC. Both professional
organisations have been working at local, regional, national
and international levels for the last thirty years. Neither
building currently receives any funding from SAC towards any
aspect of programming, staffing, overheads, maintenance or
development. At this point, after a lengthy and futile correspondence
with the drama department I was informed by David Taylor,
Director of Drama, that the die was cast and that they had
taken advice from the Puppet Centre Trust (Penny Francis)
and The Gulbenkian Foundation! The Scottish Mask & Puppet
Centre withdrew its support from the Review in October 2004
after all protestations fell on deaf ears.
Why is the national arts organisation responsible
for championing the arts in Scotland undermining and refusing
to acknowledge and reward the two longest established, permanent
puppet theatres with year-round public programmes of activity,
unique training/educational facilities, documentation and
archive resources and extensive museum collections? Incidentally,
both dedicated spaces are still run by their original founders
and the potential of both buildings is being gravely constrained
by lack of appropriate funds.
have indeed been some positive developments since the Review:
five companies were supported through the Drama department's
open funds and two awards were made through the National Lottery
Access and participation fund. The Puppet Animation Festival
received core funding of £20,600 p.a. between 2003-05
and a further £61,800 for 2006-07 plus £10,000
for a SAC Series of eight Seminars, £4,000 for a feasibility
study to go from a three week festival to a year round development
agency, and funding for Simon Hart to attend the Titirimundi
Festival in Segovia, Spain. PAF has also received special
funding to administer the Creative Rehearsal Development Fund
(two times £25,000) and a new bursary scheme for puppeteers.
In economic terms the puppetry sector was
receiving a total of approximately £50,000 from SAC
each year up to 2004. In 2005 this was increased to £155,000.
To date in 2006 a further £117,000 has so far been allocated,
of which more than two-thirds has been apportioned to Puppet
Animation Scotland. The SAC is currently in receipt of £60
million of public funds (80% from the Scottish Executive)
and of this grand total approximately 3.87% is spent on puppetry.
Of course, the single-door development agency
model with its ready-made touring circuit festival represented
by Puppet Animation Scotland is a convenient way for SAC to
devolve and control its obligations.
Unfortunately, in so doing, it has violated its own policies
on social inclusion, access and cultural diversity. SAC has
actually widened the gap between those who have and those
who have not. To marginalise those who have been working the
longest and who have the most extensive range of skills, knowledge
and experience is quite frankly neither desirable nor very
In the puppet theatre sustainable growth
and development is the key to everything and not to invest
in the human and physical resources of those dedicated individuals
and their spaces is short-sighted in the extreme. To think
that by excluding issues they will go away is always a mistake.
They don't. Issues remain issues.
SMPC takes the view that the role of a Centre
is to support, encourage and nurture - not to substitute itself
for the voice of the puppeteers and their advocacy organisations.
We seek to promote solidarity and friendship amongst puppeteers
and the wider community and to address the needs of anyone
and everybody interested in the art form. We believe in independence,
self-reliance and the spirit of freedom and refuse any attempt
to impose over-arching new development agencies such as PAF
and Imaginate over the top of what we do. In particular, we
resist all attempts to subsume the artform into children and
young people's theatre and to co-opt the creativity of puppeteers
in the service of non-puppeteers. The know-how, the skills,
the traditions, and the legacy should be protected by ring-fenced
development funding after so many years of enforced deprivation.
Our creed is simple but uncompromising:
- Puppets, Masks and Performing Objects
are an artform in their own
- This field belongs to the art of the people.
It is ancient, popular and
- For the State culture is an obligation
- For the Artist culture is a necessity
- For the People culture is a right
sum up, the SAC Review of Puppetry is mediocre, lacklustre
and lacking in the background and experience to make any meaningful
difference. The author of the Review did not consult the wide-ranging
and authoritative reports and models produced by other countries
(of which 40 were on my table in the SMPC library when she
came to see me). There was no need to consult these documents
because the agenda was pre-set. The decision had already been
signed, sealed and packaged and the deal done with PAF. All
that remained was to dress up the document to legitimise the
strategy and to manage consent from the puppetry community
and the wider sector of children's and young people's theatre.
There is a reason why the Scottish Executive has removed responsibility
from the SAC of running the national companies, and still
more reason why it has been downsized into Creative Scotland
from April 2007. It remains to be seen whether the new organisation
will adopt improved standards of transparency and accountability
along the lines of ACE in England, or whether it will remain
rooted in the old croneyism and elitism that has haunted it
for years. On the face of it, if it handles the question of
cultural entitlements among the populace in the same vein
as it has treated its cultural ambasssadors of puppetry, we
might all be better off just doing the creative work, forging
new partnerships with honest folk and simply marching to the
beat of our own drum.
From Simon Hart, Puppet Animation Festival
When the Puppet Animation Festival was informed
of the Scottish Arts
Council's decision to undertake a review of the artform in
Scotland we quickly realised that this was a good opportunity
to lobby for further resources in order to realise more fully
the two distinct yet related strains of our mission statement.
Firstly, the Festival exists to provide an
annual showcase for the best of Scottish puppetry and complement
it with the work of leading practitioners from the rest of
the UK and abroad.
Secondly, since its inception in 1984, the
organisation has also always seen the development of practical
initiatives tailored to the needs and aspirations of the puppetry
sector in Scotland as fundamental to its success. A strong
and confident sector makes for a strong and confident Festival.
As a result of our representations during
the Review process the Festival now has a secure and valued
position in the arts infrastructure of Scotland along with
significantly increased resources in order to maintain this.
The event provides Scotland's leading companies with significant
amounts of work every year throughout the country, annually
sourcing approximately £100,000 in fees and related
expenses from Scottish local authorities alone for puppeteers.
From 2007 the Festival will also be able to programme two
leading international companies every year, allowing Scottish
audiences and practitioners to enjoy and be inspired by the
creativity and artistry of different puppetry traditions,
styles and techniques from around the world. In addition our
increased funding will allow us to offer much more high quality
work to venues in the further reaches of Scotland, particularly
those on its many islands.
In order to differentiate between its single
most important core activity
- the organisation of the annual Puppet Animation Festival
- and its other activities, we have created an umbrella organisation:
Puppet Animation Scotland. Puppet Animation Scotland will
administer its new Creative Development Through Rehearsal
Fund, which from this year will provide Scottish puppeteers
with £30,000 pa to produce new work. PAS will also be
responsible for its two annual Creative Apprenticeships that
will allow a professionally young puppeteer and animateur
to gain valuable working experience with leading professionals
in Scotland and further afield. In the future there will also
be a range of schemes and initiatives prompted by the interests
and priorities of the professional puppetry sector in Scotland.
We have always aspired to listen with open ears and minds
to the single most important and valuable element of the puppetry
sector in Scotland, its practitioners - the people who actually
generate the work for everyone else's benefit - and respond
positively and practically to their needs.
We have a vital role to play in the further
development of the artform in Scotland. Throughout the Review
process we did what any well run organisation ambitious for
its aims and objectives would do: we promoted robustly our
vision and the benefits that we believed would accrue. As
a result we have for the first time gained a basic level of
annual guaranteed and ongoing funds for Scottish puppeteers.
However we do not see this as the end of the process. There
is much more to be done and we intend to continue our committed
advocacy for puppetry in Scotland and additional resources
commensurate with its developing role and profile. We have
always made our strong support in principal known - both in
public and in private - for other like minded organisations
in Scotland and are ready to work together for the benefit
of the sector. We believe in a rich and diverse puppetry culture
in Scotland where we and other practitioners with their visions,
aims and objectives provide the means, the expertise and the
dedication necessary for the further health and growth of
this rich, exciting and vibrant art form called puppetry.
From Symon Macintyre, The Puppet Lab
puppetry has for a while been dominated by strong personalities
that put personal agendas ahead of a need for a unified and
supportive network of puppeteers. However, with the strong
grass roots backing, and because of the impact of The Puppet
and Animation Festival, there have been allowances for more
funding and professional development, an increase in grants
available and opportunities for workshops and seminars on
puppetry. Now at last, thanks to Angela Hogg and others, The
Scottish Arts Council Report has had an immediate and positive
impact on the Scottish Puppetry scene with an increase of
funding to some of the more established companies and a willingness
to fund some experiments in adult puppetry. This has also
had an impact with smaller awards for new companies and development
opportunities for individuals.
In my opinion the new interest shown in puppetry
is becoming the chance to re-establish networks and to start
to show the rest of the world the work that has been flourishing
From Leigh McCalister, Clydebuilt
The Scottish Puppetry Review has been very
positive for the puppetry community for the following reasons.
Of course, the first one is the feeling we are no longer alone!
After years in the wilderness of the theatre world SAC have
realised that "despite low public profile puppetry is
providing a vast amount of work for a variety of venues".
We are no longer invisible! Funding too has been incredibly
important in two ways - one is the encouragement for puppeteers
to apply to a range of funds that already exist for smaller
organisations. We have applied successfully to these funds
twice this year. Secondly, the more solid creation of a fund
for professional development. The Creative Development Through
Rehearsal Fund is specifically for puppeteers and will be
in place this year and next at least (one can never count
on these funds being there forever). This fund allows us at
Clydebuilt time off the road to create a new show for adults,
A Chance to Dream.
The fund encourages puppeteers to think and
plan ahead more and widen our skills and work with theatre
professionals who can help us improve and develop our work.
A last word, much of the success of these positive developments
would not have happened without the assistance and support
of the Puppet Animation Festival who have brought puppeteers
in Scotland together and provided networking opportunities.
Many thanks to Simon Hart, the director. PAF's plans fit in
with the SAC plan to increase younger audiences and now that
the Scottish Arts Council has a better understanding of how
the puppetry world works we can tap into their plans and make
the most of any opportunities that come our way.
There is lots more I could add but these
are the most important issues for us at Clydebuilt.
From Iklooshar Malara, Garlic Theatre
Thank you very much for sending me the Scottish
Arts Council Report to comment on. From looking at it briefly,
it does look like a balanced and much needed document and
hopefully will lead to much needed funding and professional
development for the professional practitioners in Scotland.
I wish we could see a similar document from the Arts Council
In terms of moving from a Report to implementing
change in the state of funding for puppetry, there are some
concerns that I would have from our experience of applying
for and receiving funding in England from the Arts Council.
I think that each Arts Council region in England seems to
favour different artforms according to the priorities of the
individual arts officers and this obviously affects the implementation
of funding. Any document with good intentions to further the
artform of puppetry is dependent on arts officers who have
a real desire to implement change.
In the Eastern Region of England at present,
the remit to give funding to new companies who have not received
funding before makes it difficult for the more established
companies to find funding for creative projects and to continue
and develop their work. It makes it difficult for these companies
to find funding for the essential research and development
and rehearsal time necessary for devised work which is exploratory
and develops the artform of puppetry.
The size of puppetry companies is also often
a problem as they do not have the personnel to fill in the
funding forms and follow up the detailed analytical work necessary
to make a credible application.