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PCT Training and Continuing Professional Development
Ronnie Burkett Masterclass at Barbican, London - May 2004
A PCT /BITE Collaboration

In the generally accepted sense of the term, a Masterclass is an opportunity for a practitioner of good professional standing in a particular art form to have a tutorial with a master or mistress of his or her art. Thus, a great violinist might be booked to hear some passages of music played by a small number of carefully selected practitioners, in order to suggest improvements in their technique or interpretation. This would normally be in front of an invited audience also wishing to gain from the tutorials.

Thus Ronnie Burkett, one of the finest practitioners of the art of puppetry in most of its aspects, was asked by the Puppet Centre Trust, in collaboration with the Theatre Department of the Barbican Arts Centre, to give a Masterclass at the Pit Theatre, May 13th, whilst he was in London performing Provenance for the Barbican International Theatre Event (BITE) 2004.

He agreed, and gave his services voluntarily, for which the PCT is enormously grateful.

Three companies using a puppetry in their work agreed to show some of their work to Ronnie and to talk to him about their approach to making a show. The companies were Blind Summit, Mishimou and the Little Angel/ Indefinite Articles in the person of Steve Tiplady.

Ronnie introduced the session - which benefited from an audience of about 80 people with a special interest in the art form, most of them practitioners or future practitioners - with a talk in which they learned that Ronnie's prime considerations at present are technique and exploring a vocabulary of the puppet. After this, the three groups gave a demonstration or description of their style, and then talked with the Master about his reactions to these.

Ronnie is no didact; his style is relaxed, warm and encouraging, and the three sessions were interesting more in what he had to say about his work and puppetry in general than about teaching and improvement of what he was shown. Likewise, the groups asked few questions which might have elicited suggestions for improvement or a change of approach. It was, as more than one spectator remarked, more An Audience With... or a conversazione than a class.

The majority of those attending enjoyed the afternoon. The learning experience resided in Ronnie's talking about his process and the way everyone has a different approach. We discovered some of his pathways to his astonishing shows, and saw him interact with other puppeteers. His personality is extraordinarily warm and he is an excellent communicator.

'I found it constructive' says Steve Tiplady, 'I am sure I will layer the things I heard into my own work'.

The PCT's warm thanks to Ronnie Burkett - and to the staff at the Barbican who could not have been more helpful.

For details of our plans for training and professional development in 2004 - 2005, contact the Puppet Centre Trust. Tel 020 7228 5335.
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