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Report from PCT Director Beccy Smith
Summer 2005

The Puppet Centre has undergone a dramatic transformation over the past two months.
Those of you who have visited us in the past may remember the Centre as a cavernous, rather dark, gallery space with several large cabinets housing a rotating selection of our puppet collections, a heaving library down one wall, puppets on the windowsills, ceiling, rafters and with meetings and workshops held in the remaining space in between it all. You might be surprised by a more recent visit. Thanks to the enormous dedication and generosity of all those volunteers who undertook the rather daunting task of clearing, hefting, stripping, cleaning, painting and re-building the space we are now the proud owners of an entirely new Puppet Centre!
The aim is for this to provide a rehearsal and workshop space specifically for companies using puppetry. We want the Puppet Centre once again to be an active space where people can make work and exchange ideas and would urge any of you who feel you may be able to make use of it to contact me to discuss how we might be able to help. And if you’re a researcher don’t be dismayed: part of the refurb has involved us re-cataloguing and organising our library and archive of journals and slides and this is still available on Wednesday afternoons or at other times by appointment.
Work on the space will continue over the coming weeks as we add the finishing touches and details but in the meantime, I’d like to extend enormous thanks on behalf of everyone at the Puppet Centre to Wandsworth Borough Council for their generous support for the project, to Raphaela Henry and Emma Hayward who designed and build the space and to our volunteers, Steve Novy, Merv Millar, Blake Chetter, Ramon Abad, Sue Dacre, Jonathan Broughton, Jose Navarro, Alex Daltas, David Neat, Jane and Mark Eve, Lou Rowe, Carol Aartsen and Anna Orson who worked tirelessly but certainly not thanklessly in making the transformation happen. There will be an official re-opening soon – but in the meantime do arrange a time and come and take a look.
Whilst it would perhaps have been sensible to take a short break from other projects whilst the space and office were completely out of action, spring has in fact been chock-full of activity. At this year’s National Student Drama Festival (NSDF) we were thrilled to be able to present four introductory workshops from acclaimed puppeteers and educationalists Rene Baker and Rachel Riggs. This was the first year PCT has visited the festival and for most of the FE and HE students involved, their first contact with puppetry. But despite hefty competition from the stellar line up of workshop artists in Scarborough we had a great turn out of students keen to investigate the possibilities of puppetry and some enthused practitioners having engaged with the art-form. The NSDF is unique in its provision for students committed to drama, offering the possibilities of producing and critiquing work whilst undertaking a range of professional development activities in the crucible of a small festival. Getting puppetry into the creative mix of ideas and learning with some of the most exciting emergent practitioners selected from across the country is vital work for the Puppet Centre and a continuing trajectory which we hope to develop at future festivals.
Later in March we held the fourth in our series of masterclasses to develop the practice of experienced artists using puppetry. This was led by Neville Tranter in the Ustinov Studio, Bath to link with his performance of Schiklgruber at Bath’s International festival of puppetry. Neville led an intrepid group of artists, all visiting the festival, in an exploration of his practice using vocal skills to animate and characterise his puppets. A full report from the artist and images of the event will be forming part of our Animating the Animators sub-site on the PCT website which we will be launching over the summer. This is intended to provide an online resource for those interested in capitalising on the CPD opportunities the project offers but who were unable to attend the training sessions. It will feature essays from all of the artists leading sessions as part off the project on the masterclasses, with insight to their perspectives on the art of puppetry.
Indeed, as you may have noticed from the revised intro from our editor at the head of this month’s e-dition, the entire website will be undergoing some radical changes over the next few months which will cause a temporary break in our regular service. Animations has evolved over the eighteen months since we moved online and it’s now time to consolidate those changes. When we relaunch in the autumn we plan to redefine Animations in line with the ways the magazine has grown and changed alongside an organisation which has also redefined itself and matured. In the meantime though, please keep sending us your news, ideas and comments – we need to hear about what you’re doing so as best to support you - and when summer’s over we’re hoping the new look AO will be our best ever with the most informative editorial, most comprehensive news and most provocative comment. If you would like to contribute simply contact me at the Centre to talk further.
At the beginning of April we collaborated with Soho Writers Centre on an investigation into some of the practices of combining puppetry with writing in creating new pieces of performance. In a guerrilla-style storming of the process we put together five teams of puppeteer-writers who devised and wrote together for a morning before rehearsing with actors in the afternoon and showing the work created at the end of the day. The response received to this event, both from the artists involved and the audience who supported the showings and engaged in the subsequent discussion, was enormously encouraging. Exploring the processes by which puppetry can practically engage with other art forms is a key aspect of PCT’s plans over the coming months aiming, we hope, to create through an investigation of process, various support structures which may assist artists, both across and outside of the sector, to engage with puppetry in their work. I’ll be in touch with all of our networks about the next stage of the project in due course (if you’d like to join PCT’s e-networks simply email ‘subscribe’ in the subject line to
One of the most exciting pieces of current news is, of course, the announcements of this year’s ACE / PCT bursary recipients. We’re pleased to be able to name Alison McGowan and Sarah Wright as this year’s recipients – for more information on their plans and projects please click here. This was the second year of the reinstated bursary scheme and we were extremely pleased with the level of response from artists across the sector. As an investment in the artform of puppetry, going directly to artists, the scheme is vitally important for puppetry and it is exciting to see the calibre of applications received and level of interest generated by the scheme. PCT would like to congratulate all of those who applied for the bursaries – the standard of submissions was extremely high and the Panel needed to spend a considerable amount of time reaching their decision. Next year’s scheme will be launched later this year and all details will be available on this site from autumn
This is last of my reports to be posted on the site until autumn 2005. However, you will always be able to receive updates on the work of the Centre by calling, emailing or dropping in, and in the meantime you can be assured we continue to work hard on your behalf. We have the new-look Centre; by autumn expect to see a new-look website and a host of projects to challenge the artform, support artists and continue to raise the profile of puppetry.

Beccy Smith, Director, Puppet Centre Trust

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