Welcome to the Spring 2011 edition of Animations Online.
In this edition you’ll find much evidence of the ever-increasing influence and importance of puppetry and animation within contemporary theatre. For example, there are reviews from the London International Mime Festival and of Shona Reppe at the Barbican, a reflection on the Manipulate Festival of Visual Theatre in Edinburgh, and a report from the PCT’s Puppetry Snax showcase of new works-in-progress.
The news & noticeboard section flags up many of the shows, training courses, festivals, and events coming up over the coming months. Puppetry, traditional or experimental, as an artform in its own right or mixed with other forms, is thriving. Puppets are everywhere…
Yet also in this edition, you’ll see that we’ve published a special news item on the recent decisions made by Arts Council England (ACE) on which organisations they will fund regularly from 2012 under the new National Portfolio scheme. This ‘portfolio’ has replaced the RFO (Regularly Funded Organisation) scheme, and was an opportunity for ACE to implement the cuts passed onto them by the government, and to redistribute funds to organisations and companies that they felt were the most deserving. ACE decided that rather than implement an across-the-board cut, they would reduce funding to some regular clients by around 15%, but also cut others completely so that they could ‘uplift’ favoured organisations and also make way for new blood. This turns out to be, for the most part, not great news for puppetry…
For although we can see that there are some good news stories for some puppet theatre companies (and visual theatre companies using puppetry) who are receiving regular funding for the first time, or have increased funding, and some OK-ish news of companies receiving the average cuts (see the news item for more details), there are many shocks too, which we at Animations feel really must be commented on and condemned.
One of the biggest shocks was to learn that neither Faulty Optic nor Forkbeard Fantasy (both currently RFOs) would be funded from 2012 under the National Portfolio. As regular readers of Animations will know, these two companies have been at the forefront of the development of innovative ‘grown up’ puppetry and animation.
Filmmaker and animator Terry Gilliam has written an open letter to ACE, and has this to say: ‘As a long-time admirer and supporter of Forkbeard Fantasy, I am absolutely stunned to discover that their Arts Council funding for next year has been completely cut. Not a 15% cut like many other groups but a 100% cut. This is absurd, obscene, incomprehensible….’ And he adds: ‘There is no other theatre group mixing and matching so many different types of media with such inventiveness. Forkbeard Fantasy is a success. So why are they being punished in this way?’ Why indeed?
Also absurd, obscene, and incomprehensible is the decision not to fund The Little Angel Theatre under the National Portfolio. As Penny Francis (founder of the Puppet Centre Trust and Animations Magazine) said on hearing the news: ‘What more can be done?’ By which she means: Little Angel have done everything the right way, having built up and developed the infrastructure of their organisation slowly and steadily over recent years, under the careful nurturing of artistic director Peter Glanville. They fulfil all the criteria for Portfolio funding, and made a very strong application. They are currently riding on a wave of success, with The Tempest, their new collaboration with the Royal Shakespeare Company, opening in London this month (April 2011). They were not an RFO and were making an application to be funded regularly for the first time, and on paper were perfect candidates – ticking all the right boxes on artistic excellence, accessibility, breadth of remit etc etc. What more could they have done? It is hard to make any sense of it, other than a cynical realisation that there are very many London-based theatre companies and venues vying for funding, and perhaps some have more friends in high places than Little Angel. There is word on the streets of some pretty rigorous behind-the-scenes bargaining going on by some applicants before these decisions were announced…
Commenting on this decision, puppeteer Ronnie Le Drew said: ‘Puppetry is pushed as usual to the last rung of the ladder...Wake up Arts Council!’ Norwich Puppet Theatre were also unsuccessful in their bid for NPO status, meaning that neither of England’s only two dedicated puppet theatre venues will be regularly funded. Peter Glanville had this to say: ‘Despite a renaissance in the artform, puppetry has been almost completely neglected by the Arts Council. No NPO status for Little Angel, Norwich Puppet Theatre, or Puppet Centre Trust – and Forkbeard cut. A disgrace!’
No doubt discussion on these and other decisions from ACE will arise at the coming Devoted and Disgruntled satellite event on 19 April at the People Show Studios, London. ‘What are we going to do about puppetry now?’ will be facilitated by Phelim McDermott and hosted by Steve Tiplady and Penny Francis. The event will be reported on in the next Animations Online.
So what indeed should we do about puppetry now? As Terry Gilliam ends his letter saying: ‘We must fight fire with fire.’ Animations exists to celebrate and support the artform of puppetry, and we won’t give up the fight easily. Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more…
Dorothy Max Prior