A personal perspective from Alexander Winfield, a participant in the Puppet Centre Trust’s platform for new works-in-progress
Everyone keeps on telling me I need more light. A jealous God, I disagree. The air is filled with nervous energy, and around me I hear the whispers of lithe figures, as eager as children before Christmas. At the ends of my hands a feline devil whispers a few lines in a high falsetto before interrupting himself to ask for a sound cue from our tech. Like many techs, she has an alchemical ability to transmute an atmosphere of blind panic into the figurative bronze gears of fine clockwork. Or at least sound confident while claiming as such.
I have an hour for my tech rehearsal, and it is the day of the Puppetry Snax. Most of the companies here are fairly young, and all of the works being presented are ‘in progress’. Some may be seen in their current form for the first and only time this night. It is an experimental proposition, hence perhaps the thick atmosphere of yearning tempered with anxiety. In the ritual we prepare for, so very much can go wrong. Best practice. No need to spill more blood than absolutely necessary.
There is much to do, and we tumble down the narrow corridors of Tara Arts, the walls gloriously covered with Bollywood posters. (The South London venue is run by the company of the same name founded in 1977 by young Asians and dedicated to ‘East meets West’ cross-cultural theatre. It was the first Asian-led theatre company to be formed in the UK.)
Bare-chested and ironing my shirt, I am received with very polite giggles by puppeteers of the female persuasion who claim to be looking for props. Because there is no space, costuming takes place in the foyer. Run, jump, hide.
And suddenly we are performing. There is the mourning skull of Wattle and Daub, who explores a world of snow crafted from cloth and lights in miniature. Clegg and Cameron are fused into a bi-beast by Pangolin’s Teatime. Yukiko Kato raises the dead of Hiroshima from a pile of garbage bags. Amidst a family of bowler hats a faceless and romantic man of white stitched fabric is cradled and cared for by Smoking Apples. And my Devils banter and weep in the final flicker of the world’s light. It is an illuminated carnival.
We each in our turn reach for and fall short of the divine. Shows have been given their first taste of an audience’s fire, and emerged steaming but unharmed. In the chill night air, puppets in boxes and props under arm, the performers exchange numbers and handshakes. Then we saunter off, slightly stunned by minor miracles, to the dragons that pass themselves off as public transport.
The Puppet Centre Trust’s Puppetry Snax took place at Tara, South London, on Friday 28 January and Saturday 29 January 2011.
For more on Tara see http://www.tara-arts.com/
The Puppetry Snax programme on Friday comprised work aimed at general and/or adult theatre audiences.
More on the artists taking part:
Alexander Winfield is a full-time puppeteer and puppet-builder with international performance experience. He presented work-in-progress from his surreal and twisted dystopian play The Lords of Nowhere.
Wattle & Daub Figure Theatre is a Bristol-based puppetry and visual theatre company that plays with strange structures, striking visual imagery and the interconnections between puppet and puppeteer. They presented excerpts from Endless Winter and the Accidental Survivalist.
Pangolin's Teatime is a New Writing puppet company that presents work primarily for adult audiences. The company uses a variety of puppet styles and creates a diverse range of work. They presented excerpts from a sequel to The Great Puppet Horn – a brand new line-up of satirical stories and sketches providing cultural critique.
Smoking Apples Theatre Company creates physical, visual, puppetry based theatre that specifically aims to engage the adult imagination. They presented Seemingly Invisible, a twenty-minute piece where notions of hope and change are touched upon.
Yukiko Kato worked with Shiki Theatre Company in Japan from 2004-2009, before coming to the UK and developing work as a solo artist. She presented Something Black, a five-minute piece that explores the first five minutes after the dropping of the Hiroshima atomic bomb, in which over 10 million people instantly became ‘something black’.
On Saturday 29 January a programme of work aimed specifically at young people and families was presented at Puppetry Snax.
Artists taking part were:
Filiz Ozcan / Culturepot Global, founded by Runi Khan, who presented Bonbibi: A Bengali Tale.
Abalino Theatre, founded and directed by Alice Cade, who presented unnamed work.
Ofelia Agkamalian / TIK-NIK Puppet Theatre, who presented Granny and Baby.