21 June 2015

A visual theatrical treat on film

In two days, there will be a special cinematic event in the US. Visionary director/ puppeteer Julie Taymor, creator of 'The Lion King' will be screening her 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' in select cinemas across the United States on 22 June. It looks like a visual spectacle, something of a mix between Cirque du Soleil, Phillippe Genty and Julie Taymor. To view the fantastic 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' trailer, click here.
For tickets and more information, click here!

7 June 2015

A Puppet's Essence in the Czech Republic

There's a very exciting summer masterclass woodcarving workshop, A Puppet's Essence, announced from 27 July to 2 August 2015 in the beautiful Czech countryside, near Prague. Over the period of seven days, the participants will complete a table top puppet, from your their own design through to its final form. A maximum 12 participants guarantees a personal approach from both of the tutors — internationally recognised puppet designer Mischa Bartonova and professional carver Jiri Helcel. They will provide the necessary guidance to assist participants with their concept using theory of archetypes, provide tips on hand-carving and most importantly ensure a great time along the way!

Michaela Bartonová is as well director of Tineola Puppet Theatre. Since 1999 she has launched 8 puppet plays for Tineola and has been cooperating with numerous European puppet theatres. Michaela teaches puppet design focusing on the aesthetic properties of puppets.  She has initiated, arranged and lectured in 'Communication through Puppets' and 'Puppet and Imagination'.

There is tons more information and beautiful photos of their work, on their website here and also more info on Misca's magical puppetry work here!

13 May 2015

Copenhagen Festival of Puppetry and Politics

After the recent social-media hype, the Copenhagen 'Puppetry in Politics Festival' finaly opens tomorrow. The festival headlines with 'Outpost' a new production by the renowned British company Green Ginger, which takes a subtle glance at politics, power, manipulation and evil.

Besides some great live theatre productions, there is also a symposium on puppetry in activism, voicing dissent and social commentary on Saturday 16 May, which features presentations by Mohsen Abolhassani from Iran on 'Puppets of Social Commentary'; Cariad Astles from the Central School of Speech and Drama, UK on 'Farting in the face of fear: dummies and dictators'; Claudia Orenstein from Hunter College, USA presenting 'Magic in our Hands' and Matt Smith from University of Portsmouth, UK on 'The Puppet as Witness: Inside and Outside Prison with Transgressive Objects', amongst others.

There is also a Film Festival featuring a few fascinating documentaries like 'Magic in our Hands' which follows a puppetry artist in Hyderabad in South India; 'Neighbourly', a local Danish film which blends documentary with puppet film; a few Scandinavian Animated short films and a few of my own documentaries from my work in Africa, including Puppets for Democracy, Puppets Against Aids in Kenya, Puppets in Prison and an updated version of Puppets Against Apartheid. You can view the full film program here.

All in all, the festival contains some fabulous events and the organisers deserve a great attendance, so if you are in Europe, it's well worth attending this week.  You can view a teaser of the UK production 'Outpost' here!

22 April 2015

The Puppet Centre, London, then and now..

For those who follow 'Puppetry News', you would have read about the terrible fire recently, that almost destroyed the home to Puppetry in the UK for so many years. Well the fascinating history of the Puppet Centre has been documented by founder of the British Puppet Centre, Penny Francis.

It begins a long time ago, in 1974, when some crazy puppet people got together and started the iconic institution. It looks at the very first Puppet Festival in March 1972, when performances were presented by the Little Angel Marionette Theatre (John Wright), Cap and Bells (Violet Philpott), Caricature Theatre of Wales (Jane Phillips), Cannon Hill Puppet Theatre (John Blundall), DaSilva Puppets, Theatre of Puppets (Barry Smith), Hogarth Puppets (Jan and Ann Bussell), Polka Children’s Theatre (Richard Gill) and Stage Three (Christine Glanville).

When I attended my very first International Puppet Festival in London in 1979, many of these companies were still performing. Penny remembers what she calls "The Monster Festival, ‘Puppet Theatre 79’, run by Jan Bussell and me with Helen Gundlach assisting and a committee that included the Guild and British UNIMA, was held in 16 venues across London (Sadler’s Wells was the biggest: they staged the St. Petersburg State Puppet Company). It was designed to increase the public’s appetite for good puppet theatre. Even the National Theatre staged an exhibition in its foyers and presented a show by Christopher Leith which would have been in the Cottesloe theatre had the builders and staff not been on strike."

Penny even goes on to describe another wonderful episode in the history of the Puppet Centre in 1987, when once again, I was privileged to be a student on an international masterclass "Puppet Centre held its second International Masterclass on ‘Text into Performance’ in Norwich Puppet Theatre, again led by Jurkowski and Niculescu, with support from Barry Smith and Ray DaSilva."
So the stories and memories are plentiful, for those interested in the more recent history of British puppetry and the role the Puppet Centre has played.

The posts are written in five chapters, which, if you'd like to read more are listed here: Part OnePart Two; Part Three; Part Four; Part Five; Part Six; and Part Seven.

7 April 2015

It's all starting up again next week, or is it?

'Newzoids' finally set to launch in the UK in a week

Are you old enough to remember the popular UK TV's political puppetry series, 'Spitting Image'? The famous political puppet series ran from 1984 to 1996 and was created by the two cartoonist masterminds, Peter Fluck and Roger Law. When I interviewed Roger Law in London last year, (for my latest documentary film - see below), he denied any personal involvement in the new series and didn't seem to know much about it.

Thirty years later, ITV’s new 'Spitting Image' style puppet satire Newzoids features the royal couple in a scene which has clearly been inspired by the pair, who run a bed and breakfast in Kent.  The Charles puppet is seen holding a remote control in one hand and a glass of white wine in the other while Camilla is cradling a dog while nursing a glass of red.  Of course, Charles and Camilla aren’t the only famous faces who’ve been immortalised.

Newzoids is a six-part series - a UK co-production for ITV between Citrus Television and Factory. The Series was commissioned by Director of Entertainment and Comedy for ITV, Elaine Bedell, and Claire Zolkwer, Commissioning Editor, Comedy Entertainment, ITV.

Featuring the voices of impressionists Jon Culshaw and Debra Stephenson, Newzoids’ groundbreaking mixture of low-tech traditional puppetry and state of the art animation puts a satirical and surreal spin on the stories and celebrities we read about every day.

In the world of Newzoids, anything can happen and no one in the public eye is safe from the Newzoids treatment. Amongst the roster of famous faces on the Newzoids roll call are Ant and Dec, Wayne Rooney, Beyonce, Harry Styles, Prince Harry, David Cameron, Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg, Barack Obama, Russell Brand and Simon Cowell. I shall be following this new series with interest and report back on this soon!

Newzoid begins on ITV on Wednesday 15th April at 9pm.

With this said, I shall shortly be launching a crowd-funding campaign for my latest documentary film, 'The Puppet and The Power' which discusses the puppet as a political weapon in over twenty countries and I'd love you all to be involved. If you are prepared to assist me in publicising this campaign internationally and help get this film out there, kindly give me a shout and let me know by clicking here! It will be most appreciated.

26 March 2015

Ancient art of Bunraku gets a revamp

Bunraku Theatre in Osaka, Japan  (Photo: Britannica)

The ancient Japanese art of Bunraku puppet theatre, 'Ningyō Jōruri', began in Osaka more than three hundred years ago. Bunraku's history goes as far back to the turn of the 18th century when Uemura Bunrakuken came to Osaka from Awaji and began his own theatre.

The National Bunraku Theatre Troupe offers five or more seasons every year, each running for two to three weeks in Osaka before moving to Tokyo for a run at the National Theatre. The troupe also tours within Japan and occasionally abroad. Until the late 1800s there were also hundreds of other professional, semi-professional, and amateur troupes across Japan that performed traditional puppet drama. Nowadays, like many other forms of traditional theatre, it has become a dying art. But let's not give up hope quite yet. Bunraku is going through a rejuvenation program in Japan and is trying to re-invent itself for the younger generation. I discovered this short documentary (here) that shows what is being done to keep the form alive. Of course it has evolved and changed and is used nowadays by puppeteers throughout the world and adapted to different styles and texts, but what about the 'original' theatre of Bunraku?

The increase in interest in Bunraku puppetry contributed to the establishment of the first traditional Japanese puppet troupe in North America. Since 2003, Bunraku Bay Puppet Troupe, currently based at the University of Missouri in Columbia, Missouri, has performed at venues around the United States, including the Kennedy Centre for the Performing Arts and the Smithsonian Institution, as well as in Japan.

Did you ever think you would see traditional Bunraku theatre perform at the 2016 Olympics in Rio De Janeiro?  You can view a wonderful short report on the modernisation of Bunraku theatre here!

23 March 2015

New Website launched on 'World Puppetry Day'

Puppet creator for Les Guignols de L'info, Alain Duverne, in his Paris studio

After a really busy year, I am pleased to announce the launch of our new website, www.garyfriedmanproductions.com for 'World Puppetry Day' on Saturday.
This new site incorporates our previous site 'Puppetry News' and the Puppetry News Blog, which has been out of action for a while, but will finally get moving again with current news, events and interviews.

The new website incorporates much of the old Puppetry News site, but has plenty of new projects and updates and is easier to access information and navigate. You can find out and view short clips from many of the international workshops carried out in the past year in Europe and Asia. There is a short film clip of a Paper Playback Workshop in Oslo, Norway made in November 2014. There is a vast puppet video and audio archive which you can access here. You can also
locate international puppet festivals and events taking place over the upcoming year here.

As many of you know, for the past year, I have been travelling around the globe working on a new documentary film, 'The Puppet and The Power'.

A few of the wonderful puppeteers and activists interviewed for the documentary include names like Ronnie Burkett (Canada); Adrian Kohler & Basil Jones (Handspring Puppet Company, South Africa); Roger Law (Spitting Image, UK); Paul Zaloom (USA); Tony Mboyo (XYZ Show, Kenya); Ariel Doron (Israel); Mohammad Halayka (Palestinian National Theatre, Jerusalem); Penny Francis, (Puppet Centre, UK); Glyn Edwards (Punch & Judy Prof, UK); Toni Rumbau (Puppeteer & author, Spain); Joan Baixas (Puppeteer & theatre director, Spain); Pavla Dombrovska (Director of Divadlo Lisen, Czech Republic); Deepak Chopra (Spiritual guru, USA); Peter Schumann (Bread & Puppet Theatre, USA); John Bell (University of Connecticut, USA); Karim Dakroub (University of Beirut, Lebanon); Dominique Houdart (Cie Houdart-Heuclin, France) and the list goes on. You can view the pilot here!

Do enjoy the new website and you are welcome to send feedback through our comments page here!

Looking back on 'World Puppetry Day' 2015

Czech theatre director and professor, Josef Krofta

This years 'World Puppetry Day' fell on Saturday 21 March. It was a day of mixed emotions, as we had just lost one of our world's true puppet legacies, Josef Krofta and heard the news, last week, of a devastating fire at the Battersea Arts Centre, home to the 'British Puppet Centre' in London.

Krofta was probably best known for his years of innovative work as artistic director of the Drak Theatre in Hradec Králové in the Czech Republic. I personally had the incredible opportunity of studying with him at the Battersea Arts Centre in London in 1987, where together with Penny Francis and Henryk Jurkowski, he lead a course in puppetry and storytelling, which was the great inspirational period of my life. It was there, that I was first exposed to the work of Bruno Bettelheim's 'The Uses of Enchantment - The meaning and importance of fairy tales'. This is life changing literature for any aspiring puppeteer.

Krofta taught us the power of the object and it's role in bring a story to life. We saw the film of his most powerful theatre piece 'The Dragon' by Russian playwright, Evgeny Shvarts in 1944. This remarkable work was first seen as subversive production in the political climate of post-war Russia. Krofta depicted the power as radiating 'follow-spots' the feeling that the performance was taking place in a concentration camp, with even the actors dressed in the typical black uniform of the Gestapo.

Besides this most memorable work, we also remember Krofta for his other work with Drak including Circus Unikum, Petruška, Sleeping Beauty and Pinocchio. May he rest in peace.

8 January 2015

The Right to Freedom of Expression

In the light of the atrocities having taken place at the offices of political cartoon Charlie Hebdo in Paris yesterday, it immediately brought to mind the words of former-producer of the most popular French weekly television series on Canal Plus ‘Les Guignols de L’info’, Bruno Gaccio, whom I interviewed recently in his Paris office:

“Good taste is not legally definable. I can be very bad taste, making terrible jokes, if they are not defamatory, insulting or do not incite racial hatred, I have the right to make them. I have every right. The law authorizes me so I have to use it. And all the subtlety is that. Is that some of our leaders - because we had a lot, we saw in the past twenty-five years said "Negotiate".

"Negotiate what, sir,I replied? "" Well, your freedom! You cannot do everything you want, finally! "" Uh ... yes! We do not do anything we want, sir. There is the law in France. The common law.
"Then we ran into things ... such as ... Benedict XVI is a pope who was in the Hitler Youth. That is a man who said "Heil Hitler" in his lifetime. And was chosen as Pope. When we talked about it, we put his puppet and instead of calling him Benedict XVI we called him Adolf II.

We received a call from our management at Canal Plus, who said  "We can not put on Adolf II, as it is defamatory. Not at all! He was in the Hitler Youth. There were seventy-five cardinals, but you choose the one that said "Heil Hitler". You could have done differently! You chose him!

Redemption is very Christian ... So we, in our role as cartoonists, and in the specific context of a program, we have the right to do so. "" Yes ... but the CSA screamed ... "" But who cares CSA! They will blame you. I do not care. Why do they will blame us? Because Christian lobbies do not stop calling them and this bothers them.

Aaah, but that, sir, doesn’t affect us. A lobby, us, we do not care. "" Yes, but they are pushing, it's hard ... "" Well, you have your work to do -Administration. That is to resist this pressure to leave your creators free. "But I've always recognized my leadership has the right to censor me. I said "You have the right. You are at home. It's your business. So you have the right to censor. But it will be called “censorship”- not negotiation, and I will never agree to that. Now if you censor me once a year.. so good. Because that means that 300 other times, I am free. If you censor me three times a week, we have a big problem! So we will stop doing our work. That's it. "And this negotiation and this balance between freedom, responsibility, good taste, bad taste, held in France since - at least for this puppet show - for twenty-five years, because we won our freedom and we've fought for it. “

For the past twelve months I have been travelling around the globe interviewing political puppeteers, satirists, cartoonists and politicians about their right of freedom of expression to criticise and challenge the power of authority

Having recently returned from a symposium on puppetry and politics in Charleville-Mezieres, France, where I discussed my latest film 'The Puppet and The Power', I am now back in Australia beginning the long process of compiling the footage from the twenty countries where I've  been shooting in recent months.

The Puppet and The Power – plays witness to the world’s most anarchic puppets and their masters, who address puppetry as an art of defiance and socio-political change. With a history spanning centuries, this naïve art has a complex duty: In places where injustice and social controls stifle citizens, puppets reflect what is wrong, often with impunity, but at other times with grave personal danger. The puppet’s power has ongoing relevance, in the face of degraded democracy, corporation control and under regimes with suppressed rights of expression.

As world politics shift again towards the right, we see ‘democracy’ losing it’s true meaning in many OECD countries. The mainstream media in many countries remain silent and are no longer criticising or standing up to the power of the day. It is being left to activists in social media and puppeteers to take local action where they can.

Around the world puppeteers are once again getting their puppets out onto the streets to speak out for their rights and regain their voice. But more and more, this action is being stopped.

A group of Syrian artists Masasit Mati produced a web series from 2011, ‘Top Goon - Diaries of a Little Dictator’ which used puppets and satire to lampoon President Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian regime’s response to the popular uprising in the country. But Assad is not the only target: All aspects of the revolution are examined and satirised, including the political and armed opposition. The group were forced into exile in Lebanon and other neighbouring countries.

The Czech theatre group Divadlo Líšeň was inspired by the work of Russian journalist, Anna Politkovskaya, to bring the events from Putin’s Russia and the injustices and human rights abuses under his rule onto the world stage. ‘Putin is Skiing’ examines how Putin came to power and the methods he uses to control his people. All of Europe depend on Russia for gas and oil - and this affects the behaviour of the countries towards Russia. When terrible things happen around him, Putin simply leaves to go skiing, showing the authority’s indifference and the powerlessness of the Russian people. The show is also a tribute to Politkovskaya, who was shot and killed outside her Moscow apartment in 2006. The show will probably never get performed in Russia, but in the Czech Republic, it’s putting these concerns into the spotlight.

7 July 2014

Bust the Budget Protest in Australia

The 'Abbott Puppet' took to the streets in all the captial cities of Australia yesterday for a 'Bust the Budget' protest against the Prime Minister's new clamp down on the Australian economy. 'Tony Abbott is making life harder for people,' one of the protesters said. 'He's making life a misery for people who are unemployed and searching for work.'

The anti-budget rally in Canberra featured a three-metre Tony Abbott puppet with smoke coming out of his trousers.  Several hundred protesters converged on the lawns in front of Parliament House and chanted 'One term Tony' and 'Liar, Liar, Pants of Fire' at the puppet. The giant 'Abbott' was built by Canberra-based artist, Hilary Talbot and performed by local puppeteer Matt Armstrong.

This comes hot on the heels on my own recent return from a world filming trip for our upcoming documentary film 'The Puppet and The Power'. More information on this will follow shortly, so stay tuned to our website here!