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Blogging In Our Hands

Image from Smoking Apples - In Our Hands - blog
Smoking Apples have given us an insight into the creative process for their latest show In Our Hands by creating a blog detailing how the show is progressing. The new show tells the story of Alf, a trawler fisherman, at a time when the industry is experiencing heavy scrutiny and fishing is under threat. The show will a look at stories, using the dramatic contrast of the individuals who continue the tradition of their craft on a small scale and the global corporations who have attracted media attention, fueling the debate.

My thanks to Molly Freeman, Matthew Lloyd, and Hattie Thomas - who are all Co-Artistic Directors of Smoking Apples who have spoken to PuppeteersUK about their latest show and how their blog is informing their new work.

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PUK - You premiered your show CELL, which explored Motor Neurone Disease, at the Little Angel Firsts Festival.  How important was it for you to premiere your show at a venue like the Little Angel – and in the context of a festival dedicated to premieres?

Molly: When we premiered CELL at the Little Angel, we had no idea what to expect. We had never been part of FIRSTS Festival before but had attended it as audience the year before. There is a huge amount of support that the FIRSTS programme offers, including mentoring in press and marketing, touring and technical. This begins in the three months leading up to the festival and is a brilliant guided lesson in how to premiere shows. There is a real sense of longevity to the programme too, we are still regularly in touch with the staff there and they continue to support our creative endeavors and organisational development.

Matt: As a student I went to the LAT many times to see productions and for me, it was always a personal goal to perform somewhere like the Little Angel. It is the home of British puppetry, it is like doing Shakespeare at the globe. It was so nice to premiere at a venue that knows puppetry, somewhere that understand the brilliant things it can do but also the frustrations it can cause as a medium.

PUK - In Our Hands had a scratch performance at The Little Angel – How did it go?

Matt: It was received very positively and great to head back to the LAT. The festival we were part of, HATCH, is a really good opportunity to put new work in front of really supportive audiences, who, generally speaking, are puppetry fans. This does not mean they let us off easy though, I would say that the LAT audiences are often more precise when it comes to puppetry because they tend to see it a lot. It was really brilliant to be there with such in depth feedback and many of the comments have been our main starting points when continuing to develop the show.

PUK - When/where do you plan to premiere In Our Hands?

Hattie: We are only just in the final stages of our initial phase of Research and Development for In Our Hands so it is still early days. The show has been developed in two locations, in London and in West Cornwall so we are planning to premiere in both place. With our current schedules it is looking as though that will happen in Autumn 2015, although we might consider doing it earlier if we can get the finances and venue support in place that wed need.

PUK - When talking about CELL, you (Molly) said, puppetry allows for new and multiple perspectives to be explored in a relatively fluid manner, for example, reality, dream, imagination, the impossible. Is this why you chose puppetry for In our Hands?

Matt: Using puppetry allows us to convey a whole spectrum of different ideas in one space. It allows us to take the audience to the tiniest spec in the middle of the sear, to a seagull flying in the air, to a shadow boat docking in to land. For us, that has always been one of the biggest draws to puppetry, like Molly said, the possibilities it creates.

Molly: Puppetry also allows us to explore an additional metaphorical level through an object, the puppet. As a job, Trawling is labour intensive, this is reflected in the labour required by the puppeteers in order to operate the puppet and move the set. Our puppets require two people to operate, which reflects the comraderie and team led nature of the trawling trade. For me, puppetry should never be there to replace people or actors, they should exist and have a defined purpose of their own.

PUK - In our Hands examines the dramatic contrast of the individuals who continue the tradition of their craft on a small scale and the global corporations who have attracted media attention. Does this theme have wider parallels?

Matt: For us, there is a really clear parallel with craft, how you live your life by it, how you organise everything around it and how it become something you rely on, not just to pay the bills but also to fire your passion/energy for life. This is something that we, as puppeteers, understand and relate to. It is not necessarily been our attention with In Our Hands to explicitly address how it might cause issues when crafting on a larger scale removes the care, detail, attention and sometimes the likelihood of many but there is a subtle reference to that along the way.

Molly: It is not our intention to boldly smash through global corporations but we definitely wanted to raise the awareness of the fishing industry and tell the audience that the trawler debate is not as simple as it seem. The problems are not easy to resolve and dont require action from one group but many.

PUK - The company have chosen to blog about the R&D process – what led you to make that decision?

Hattie: Our blog for In Our Hands is the hub of our creative process. R&D is really hard because, aside from any showings, you spend so much of the time shut away, concocting new ideas, making material and thinking about narrative. All of that is great but it does not allow for much reflection or objectivity so creating the blog allows for our audiences to provide outside perspectives. Our blog is full of rehearsal photos, video logs and written blogs, giving people an insight into our process. It also allows people to get to know the creative team, each member has their own personality through the blog, some are reflective, some are academic, some are silly and funny and others are thought provoking. We encourage anyone to have a read, see and hear what we are up to and help us with the development of the show. We can not make any theatre without the input of our audience, it just does not work for us.

PUK - How has the blog fed into your creative process thus far?  Have you been able to incorporate ideas/sugggestions etc. made by others as a result of reading your blog into the production?

Matt: Most people do not choose to directly comment on the blog, as in write something underneath but it often comes up in conversation with out audiences. They often mention that it has been interesting reading the different characteristic and writing styles of the bloggers and they have gained an insight into the process. That then tends to lead the conversation and open up to the fact that sometimes, we have conflicting opinions or arent sure or cant make sense of something, I think it make the process more human.

PUK - Also, you mentioned that the blog is a way for people to get to know the puppeteers involved in the project a bit better.   Often it is the objects or puppets that the puppeteer is manipulating that get the glory as it were – with the puppeteer hidden away or dressed in black.  How important do you think it is to highlight the personalities and experiences of puppeteers as a way of, perhaps, giving the wider public further insight into the skill and technique involved in our craft?
 
Molly: I think it is really important for people to be able to access this side of us, which is why we try and do a mixture of written and video blogs accompanied by photos. When seeing a work in progress showing, the audience see the show, which is great but it is the combination of our own, and those we have met along the way, personalities, experiences and thoughts that come together in order to make it, without that, without all the thought, the silly ideas, the stories, the memories, the visions, we would not have been able to make it in the first place. Those are the things that breathe the life and soul into our R&D process and indeed our puppets, that is what we try to capture with the blog. 

PUK - You were able to do some of your R&D in Cornwall – that must have been an important part of the creative process for the show in terms of story – did it also have an impact on the design of the show?

Matt: Our designer Sam Wyer, has been working closely with us on this R&D. This is a new thing for us as we usually build and make our set/puppets ourselves. It has been a collaborative journey and we have still had a heavy hand in the make and design but bringing Sam with us to Cornwall has been invaluable. Myself and Luke (one of cast members) went out on a Trawler boat for a day which was an incredible experience. This gave us a real insight into the craft and materials used on the boats. After spending more and more time in Cornwall, we worked with Sam on creating an industrial set that looks and feel damp and rusting. We have a net that was made for us by a local net knitter and have incorporated harbour scrap into the design where possible.

Both CELL and In Our Hands deal with complex themes that perhaps very young audiences might struggle to identify with. Have you any plans to develop a show for family audiences?

Molly: Both CELL and In Our Hands have the guidance of due to complex themes, this show is more suited to ages 11+. However, most of our audiences to tend to be either late teens or adults. With most of our shows, we just find that the way we tell stories, make theatre and work with puppetry tends to appeal more to an older audiences. There is nothing unsuitable in In Our Hands but the story structure and character development are complex and multi-layered meaning that a younger audience might really enjoy the visuals but may not necessarily be engaged by the story.

Hattie: Commercially, I dont think we have ever felt pressured to make a show specifically for children – but we are accepting the challenge of creating a family show this Christmas. Our style will not change and we do not want the complexity with which we make and create theatre to shift so I think it will be a much subtler change that will happen as part of our process.

To visit In Our Hands blog, click here.

For performances dates confirmed for In Our Hands click here.

In Our Hands Creative Team include Co-Artistic Directors Molly Freeman, Matthew Lloyd, and Hattie Thomas as well as cast members and co-devisors, George Bellamy and Luke Breen, Designer Sam Wyer and Dramaturg Gemma Williams.



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