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BLIND SUMMIT

a company profile by Beccy Smith.

Blind Summit identifies itself as a theatre company whose work focuses on puppetry. It's an important distinction that guides both the form and content of their work. Founded by collaborators Nick Barnes and Mark Down in 1997, its work uses puppetry as an integral part of devising theatre at whose 'heart ...is our shared sense of what we think is worth doing in the theatre, not puppets per se'. As a result their work considers puppetry filtered through a theatrical lens: its dramaturgical impact on the meaning of their shows; its relationship to audiences and performers; its potential impact in performance through canny design and writing.
Yet this never undermines Blind Summit's focus on the fundamental art of bringing the puppets to life, how their puppets can play and their performers play with them and the comedy and absurdity of their relationships. With inspiration as diverse as Philippe Genty, The Wooster Group, Eddie Izzard and the Sex Pistols, lightness of touch is as important to the company as sleight of hand, whilst Nick and Mark's different backgrounds ensure a balanced process focusing on both the craft of the making and manipulating the puppet and those performance elements that make up the show.

Originally working as a designer and performer / director respectively their initial experimentation with puppetry grew from the bunraku puppets designed by Nick for Mr. China's Son. These puppets, now a trademark of the company's work, are highly detailed and expressive figurative models. Manipulated by up to three puppeteers, their movements are precisely human, with the odd leap of the superhuman puppet showcasing the skill of their manipulators in completely suspending an audience's disbelief.

Blind Summit's theatrical approach has meant that their body of work has consistently explored a varied range of performance modes using puppetry. Mr. China's Son (2002) showcased the political implications of the form, with its images of the subjugated puppet-state. In Pirate Puppetry the effect of site specific interventionist play with puppets provoked audiences at BAC's OctoberFest 2003 whilst Martin's Wedding (in development) considers the relationship of puppet to puppeteers whilst following the plight of ego-obsessed fashion photographer puppet Martin and his bevy of female manipulators. Their children's show The Spaceman is introducing kids across the country to the magic of object manipulation through the characters of two spirited pieces of chalk and is the first children's show to be toured on the This Way Up circuit run by Your Imagination. This summer they will be making and directing the puppets for the first professional British production of Tchaikovsky's Cerevichki by Garsington Opera.

This dual focus on craft and dramaturgy has meant that relationship of puppet to puppeteer- performer is always in the spotlight. The company's sustained focus on the techniques of manipulation and performance has meant that the art of training their performers has itself become absorbing, with a planned project to create a troupe of actor / puppeteers -Shouting with Puppets -underway for 2004.

At a time when more and more theatre companies are starting to integrate puppetry as one element in their work, Blind Summit are leading the way in shows that explore the theatrical reach of the form. Their approach to puppetry is asking the big questions -what puppets mean, how they interact with performers and audiences -and answering with an array of work that explores the place where craft meets theatre.




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