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Placing Puppetry at the Heart of our Adventures

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The Puppet Centre Trust outlines its current position and hopes for the future

In August 2009 the Puppet Centre Trust will, for the first time, move out of dedicated space in Battersea Arts Centre into an office shared with some of the select partner organisations of the venue. The move represents the end of an era and outlines the beginning of a new one, coinciding with new staffing at PCT and a new business strategy.  Perhaps it also begs the question, how can we act as a Centre without a ‘centre’? 

Of course this is not the first time PCT has moved: in 2007 to accommodate Punchdrunk’s colonisation of BAC with The Masque of the Red Death and to support BAC’s bold bid to buy the lease of the building from the local council, PCT moved out of its resource centre and rehearsal studio into a smaller office and library space. What did those changes mean then, and what do they mean for PCT now? 

Any uncertainty then hovered over the value of what PCT was giving up: a space for visitors to research puppetry, a centre for workshops and meetings, a room dedicated to resources – library, archive, videos  – a focal point. 

During 2008, the first full year since this move, PCT's activity grew and evolved. A new graduate residency scheme (in partnership with CETT at the Central School of Speech and Drama) supported emerging companies to creatively and entrepreneurially strategise their fledgling practices. The organisation was heavily involved in supporting the company and constituents of Norwich Puppet Theatre when their RFO status was cancelled in last year’s Arts Council cuts; PCT supported the move of one of our graduate residents to the North East and a detailed period of business planning; researched successful Scottish models for art form developments, with the help of the consultancy of Simon Hart and later, Roger McCann (ex arts Council South East). A strengthened partnership with BAC supported the evolution of a commission and showcasing project stimulating cross artform practice, Adventures in Dance and Puppetry. Broadly speaking, the move supported PCT’s ambitions to be more outward looking, creative in forging partnerships and fostering new connections.

Now the organisation faces a further move, finalising the shift from resource centre to desk-based agency and coinciding with new faces and new plans at the organisation. The new business plan, completed as part of organisational review project Gathering the Strings, will commence in September 2009 (subject to Arts Council funding), both based in the new office space.  The plan continues the ambitious re-visions of PCT’s work and remit, as is appropriate to a development agency supporting such a rapidly evolving artform, and the coming changes to PCT’s base are central to the organisation’s vision going forward.

As British puppetry continues to flourish – surprising audiences, challenging artists – and continues to broaden its relevance and appeal, it is our sense that the requirements of the ‘centre’ also change. In the new business plan, which will form the basis of our activity over the next three years, PCT recognises the vital need for greater connection across the country between regions and organizations, and the importance of the agency coming out to the artists and enlivening the national network with support and activity.  Projects are planned across every region, with partnerships to be built across the spectrum of arts organizations, reflecting puppetry’s own spread across contemporary and traditional practice. Getting physically ‘out there’ isn’t the only way PCT will be bursting out of its new office. In the past year, readership of our online puppetry magazine, Animations (www.puppetcentre.org.uk/animationsonline), effectively an online ‘space’ for new meetings and discussions about puppetry, has more than trebled. We intend to grow and develop this resource, our voice for puppetry and related arts, investigating new opportunities for a wealth of artist-focused analysis and reportage, for interaction and debate. We also want to continue our Animations In Print annual as a vital and attractive advocating voice for the present state of the arts of puppetry.

The centre point for the artform that PCT as a national development agency represents will effectively become more focused by losing its physical space – focused on new projects, on new relationships. Not least the relationship with BAC itself as a national champion of new performance practices of which puppetry is often at the vanguard; and, vitally, with other puppetry organizations; and on the strategic and individual needs of the growing community of artists engaging with puppetry. 

So what are we giving up? The reality is that a genuine need exists for a home for the growing national collection of puppets and related material, where they can be properly exhibited and accessed by artists and audiences alike and be understood in their fullest context with one another. This is not a function PCT has been able or intended to perform for many years and the need for a bespoke space is increasingly recognised by the puppetry community and beyond.
Much of the material, archives and puppets, currently reside in our archive and puppet collection base in Bridgnorth, West Midlands where work is being undertaken to allow them to become readily accessible to researchers and students and the remainder of our figures and archives will be joining this collection in July. Bridgnorth is rapidly becoming the centre of momentum for such a development, spearheaded by Michael Dixon who has so generously housed this mountain of ‘stuff’ and by all the puppetry organisations represented by PUK. We continue to support this goal. Plans are underway to move PCT’s other principal resource – the library - a defined collection on indefinite loan to the public library of the Central School of Speech and Drama, where the books will benefit from greater accessibility (the library is open six days per week for most of the year) and professional care, cataloguing and storage facilities.

Given today’s presence of puppetry in so many of the performing arts, it is fitting that a library dedicated to puppetry should be housed– though separately listed – within a wide collection of works on all aspects of performance.

In a cultural and economic context which can feel very uncertain PCT has been working hard over the past two years to clearly refine its mission and activity. In part this will be facilitated by a move away from its role as a London-based physical resource to one that is more virtual and national.  The organisation looks to the future with the firm intention to continue to stimulate and serve puppetry, artists and audiences from a ‘centre’ that will continue to refocus itself to a sector undergoing constant reinvention.

Beccy Smith
Interim Director PCT June 2009
pct@puppetcentre.org.uk 

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