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Report from the Puppet Centre Trust
Jan 05 - Director Beccy Smith

As we begin the New Year, I thought I’d take this opportunity to offer a brief overview of 2004 - a year which has been enormously eventful for the Puppet Centre, as well as for puppetry in general.
2004 opened with puppets in the news: Nicholas Hytner’s inaugural spectacle His Dark Materials at the NT bringing the possibilities of puppetry as a ‘grown-up’ art form arguably to wider audiences than even before. Sadly, the dearth of puppeteers affiliated to the project made it clear there’s still some way to go for a successful integration of the form alongside its more established performing cousins. PCT, honing its role and identity for the New Year, took the up the baton to consider how best to continue its support of an art form perhaps more present but also more multifaceted than ever before.

Throughout the first half of 2004 PCT, alongside ACE, worked to redefine its vision of the our role in the sector, ultimately emerging with agreed aims as a national development agency for the art form to:
∑ Support new work that includes puppet and object animation
∑ Encourage the use of puppetry within a variety of other performance disciplines and contexts
∑ Advocate the art form
So what does this mean in practice? One thing it doesn’t mean is that PCT is fundamentally changing any aspect of the role it has fulfilled for the last 30 years in relation to puppeteers and to other organisations across the sector. What we hope for however is for the organisation to again become a vibrant hub of activity supporting the art form and its artists in a variety of ways.
I must of course mention the phenomenal support of Arts Council England throughout this year. In both encouraging us to redevelop our work at a time when the Centre’s future looked bleak and through giving us one of the largest grants ever offered by its London offices they demonstrated that they too share our vision of an even brighter, more rigorous and far reaching future for puppetry in England.
This year we have embarked on Animating the Animators, an ambitious programme of training and development support for artists using puppetry which comprises masterclasses led by practitioners of international calibre (Joao Paulo Seara Cardoso, Stephen Mottram, Neville Tranter to name just a few); a touring programme of workshops addressing the core skills and needs of puppeteers and the continuation of our bursary programme, offering an exceptional artistic development opportunity to two artists for each of the next two years.

Animations Online continues to offer a voice for contemporary puppet-related practice and a perspective on developments across the sector. Run on a shoestring for the last 12 months, we’re incredibly proud of the way the magazine has been able to evolve and hope to continue to grow in vision and reach in 2005.
In 2005 PCT very much hopes to be able to take the lead on a collaborative project, looking at the ways puppetry integrates with other art forms and analysing the process that can support and encourage this exciting work. We are also planning a research project which will aim to strengthen the integration of puppetry from minority cultures: a sadly notable rarity in contemporary English practice.

We of course remain available to all those interested or committed to puppetry as a resource centre, with our extensive library of books, slides and videos. We hope also to be redeveloping the rehearsal possibilities of our space in BAC. The main part of our Collections is now sadly removed from our Borough to their luxurious new home in Bridgenorth, but we hope to collaborate with other puppetry organisations on future plans for the national collections.

Our work in Wandsworth continues, with closer links to a number of community centres. The collaboration is allowing us to reach young people and adults to demonstrate some of the practical benefits that working with puppetry can offer those from a range of backgrounds.

So the work continues and I’m always mindful that it is very much a testament to the ongoing support and commitment offered by many friends of the Centre that this is able to happen. Last week we celebrated PCT’s thirtieth anniversary and it was a truly emotional one, with many of the invited guests, supporters past and present, well aware that at the beginning of this year it was very uncertain if the organisation would be able to make it past 29. Some specific thanks are due: to Anthony Dean, Penny Francis, Peter Charlton and all on the Board who have given so much energy this year to recharging the Centre’s activities; to John Sharples who led our reorganisational rethink with acumen, charm and humour (always a great combination!), to Phyllida Shaw for her vital business advice and support and Keith Allen for his tireless and patient IT skills; to Mike Dixon and all of his family for their tremendous generosity in helping us move the collections store alongside Jane Eve and Jane Phillips and to ALL those who have given of their time, ideas or support to the Centre during this decisive year.

This isn’t to say that more support isn’t needed! If you’ve read anything here of our current or future plans that interest you – get in touch – it’s always useful to have a new voice to discuss our ideas and we want as many individuals as possible to be able to make use of the opportunities the Centre can offer’.
2004 has been in many ways a critical year for puppetry as a whole, with an increasing range of work to entice the contemporary audience. Establishment institutions, the National Theatre and the RSC have collaborated on projects showcasing the possibilities of puppetry within a decidedly mainstream context. Puppetry’s been in the news, with the runaway success of both Venus and Adonis and Jabberwocky at the Little Angel, and awards granted to A Strange and Unexpected Event and puppetry installation artist and designer Sophia Clist. Puppetry has caused a stir at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, in the BITE programme and on the South Bank. Festivals such as London International Mime Festival, Bath, Edinburgh, Buxton and visions continue to challenge the imagination of audiences through offering access to some of the best international work available. This is a dynamic and exciting time, fuelling the energy of the artform and invigorating the experimentation surrounding puppetry at present.

I was very proud to be able to host the 30th anniversary party for the Puppet Centre; to meet many of those who have supported the organisation in the past, and some of the artists for whom we continue our work in the future. As we move into 2005, I have high hopes and look forward to helping PCT achieve some of its visions for 2005 and beyond.

Beccy Smith

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