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Training and professional development:

Penny Francis reports on the Polish Festival of Schools of Puppetry
June 2006

aya and seonaidAt this the third festival of schools of puppetry in Bialystok, north east Poland, the Brits were represented by the MA in Advanced Theatre Practice and the BA in Theatre Practice courses that run at the Central School of Speech and Drama, London. Not strictly a puppetry school, but a theatre school that includes puppetry. Other schools came from Berlin, (Ernst Busch), Finland (Arts Academy at Turku), Bialystok itself (Akademia Teatralna) and a second Polish school from Wroclaw, Latvia (Academy of Culture), Slovakia (Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts, Bratislava), Jerusalem (School of Visual Theatre), Budapest (University of Theatre and Film), Cervia (Glove Puppet studio), St. Petersburg (Theatre Arts Academy), Croatia (Strossmayer Art Academy), Ukraine (State University of the Arts), Prague (Academy of Performing Arts) and Lithuania (the Academy of Fine Arts in Vilnius), which produced an intriguing exhibition. Fourteen! There was a fifteenth: the Institute in Charelville-Mezieres fielded four short, original and brilliantly performed solo vignettes, but played, unexpectedly, by ex-students, all now professionals. An extra level had been added to the otherwise level playing field. I’m sure there was a rationale for this, but I couldn’t find out what it was.

Bialystok is a market town of medium size, but the audiences consisted mainly of the students themselves, of whom there were scores, probably 200 or more. Plus of course their tutors. The organisers offered generous hospitality, and we could only admire the smooth running of the event and envy the generous subsidy from the cultural authorities and the sponsors.

Up to eight shows a day were to be seen in a handful of venues scattered over the town and we walked miles – or so it felt, in the tropical heat. I made out few new trends among the future practitioners of the artform: in general, the productions featured a mixture of performers and puppet figures. The schools producing a number of short studies in manipulation, such as Turku, Jerusalem and Budapest, were much appreciated for their skills, humour and polish. Some productions of full-length pieces where the actors carried more weight than the puppets, were less popular. Prague’s jolly version of The Cunning Little Vixen contained little puppetry – perhaps the orchestral instruments counted. The students clapped thunderously.

In spite of Prague, more value appeared to be placed on puppet figures and skills than two years previously, when there seemed to be a determination to avoid them if possible. No one technique featured more than another, and in general the range of themes chosen was wide. Yet I was disappointed at the absence of the ‘wow’ factor and any original trends in the work as a whole. Perhaps next time.

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