21 March 2014

The Puppets and The Power and World Puppetry Day


As you now already know, today is World Puppetry Day! What does that mean for puppeteers in the world today?

It really gives us a chance to take our art onto the streets, into the theatres and onto the screens of television sets and social media screens to tell people about the profound power of the puppet and its ability to touch people all over the world, as they have done for thousands of years.

Many years ago, growing up in Apartheid South Africa, during the seventies, I realised to my great frustration, that my personal voice of self-expression had been removed by the power of fear instilled into me by the government’s propaganda and fear campaign. The people who protested, were being severely beaten or sprayed with purple dye through large water canons by the police and being arrested. Like so many of my contemporaries, fleeing the country at the time, I felt powerless. 

Only after being exposed to university life, did I realise that there could be another, possibly safer way to express myself. I had already been a puppeteer for most of my life, but living in such isolation, I was not exposed much to the outside world. In the early nineteen-eighties, after having travelled for the first time to festivals abroad, I decided to create my own South African version of the infamous Punch and Judy Show and take that into the streets of Cape Town to test the waters of socio-political expression through the use of the puppet. 

Even though I got beaten up several times during the eighties for my street performances, I realised that the power of the puppet to discuss issues that normal people could not, was immense and it had the ability to make people laugh at themselves and their situation. This ‘humour’ became the key in opening up the minds and hearts of the audience and thus the ‘interactive communication’ began.

Nowadays, many decades later, things have not changed that much. In many countries governments still try to suppress people’s freedom to express their political outrage at corruption and atrocities being perpetuated by the power of the day. My recent feelings, living in “first-world” Australia have been to get the puppet back onto the streets to ‘speak out’, but alas speaking out has officially been banned where I now live in Australia (see articles here and here). 

And it’s now a very different, more sophisticated world of social media, filling the void and providing on-the-ground information where the national press won’t dare to tread. This was the inspiration to make a documentary film and look at the ‘puppet’ in its naivety and look at the role its played throughout the world as court jester, while at the same time information provider about what’s really going on in our world.

Last year, while travelling around Europe conducting workshops, I met up with two special ladies in France, who are coordinating a rather unique conference on 'PUPPETRY AND POWER:  CENSORSHIP, PROPAGANDA AND RESISTANCE', which will take place in Charleville-Mézières, France, from 20 to 22 November 2014. I was invited to be part of the Scientific Commission in coordinating this rather unique conference. My idea was also to make a documentary film to illustrate, in the best way possible, how puppeteers in many oppressed regimes, can once again speak out against The Power!

Stay tuned for updates as I embark on an international film shoot through Africa, the Middle East, Europe and the United States.

UNIMA Message for World Puppetry Day 2014

Afghan company / Foto: DP.













Today 21 March 2014 is World Puppetry Day. Tomorrow is the opening of the UNIMA Councilors meeting and festival which will take place in Varadero, Cuba.

As you probably know, each year, UNIMA invites a different guest puppeteer, director , someone important to our art to deliver a message to the world's puppetry community. This year we feature Argentine Master Eduardo Di Mauro, currently living in Venezuela. His company, TEMPO, and the Latin-American Institute of the Puppet, now directed by Maritza Peña, are based in Guanare and may well serve as models for the world of puppetry.

"The puppet draws its origins from one of the most primitive and original forms of art: the play, not the representation of the sacred, as it was sometimes understood. Puppetry is born from a genre of performance that is objective, spontaneous, transparent, naturally becoming increasingly complex as it has adopted various forms and contents.

Due to its transgressive nature, the puppet has been feared and persecuted by kings, emperors, emirates, czars and every other kind of abusive power, since this character of wood and cloth, however lovable and picturesque, is at the same time the carrier of a keen talent for condemnation and criticism, able to use sarcasm, irony and humour with talent, rhythm and biting effect.

Perhaps the period in life when we best identify with this age-old art is adolescence, because that is when young people are carriers of this same energy embroidered with a certain passionate irresponsibility, reacting with the same ardour to whatever they admire, judge or criticize. Perhaps that explains why it’s the young who take a stand and aim their darts at the worldwide media who turn the essential into the banal and make excuses for the worthless.

For many decades our theatre has dedicated a good part of its efforts to the teenagers, promulgating themes that interest them, encouraging them to use puppets to express what moves and concerns them. So of course they themselves bring up taboo subjects like violence, the Mafia, alcoholism, corruption, child pregnancy, loneliness and others which they confront with candour and irreverence.

Puppetry is able, and should be able, to inspire their creativity, through reading, study, research and experiment with new forms, in a search for beauty and harmony in their productions, never forgetting that their relationship with puppet theatre must involve compromise.

Speaking of compromise, a word of many meanings and definitions, I am reminded of our responsibility to understand our real place in the world, what is our position when faced with the multiple examples of the abuse of power in the heart of today’s society – who are today’s kings, where the emperors, the sheikhs. Today they are not to be found seated on a throne adorned with finely wrought precious stones, they prefer to be where nobody can see them distinctly. They possess means of communication which they can reveal or conceal at their pleasure. This kind of king is a thing of a thousand heads, it is neo-liberalism corrupted and savage; these czars, they are the multi-national corporations which inflate their profits and their power, but care nothing about the destruction of the planet and the destruction of lives.

Puppeteers of the whole world, let us confront cruelty, inequality and injustice. Using the infinite variety of techniques and aesthetics to give form to that most expressive of personalities - the puppet - and endowing it with the most fiery language, let us denounce them and demonstrate to them with an admonitory finger how these young people, branded as lacking in ambition, are striving for the development of a better, more humane world."

Eduardo di Mauro 2014
Teatro Tempo
Venezuela

9 February 2014

High-tech ART with a sense of humour

"Expressing emotion and behaviour patterns in the creatures we create" sounds like the words of a puppeteer, not an artist working with purely with technology to achieve an effect. But where do art and technology actually meet and is this just another form of puppetry too?

One example of this installation is - 'A viewer sort of unsuspectingly walks into the room, and catches a glimpse of a group of panels in a messy composition on the wall. Within seconds, as if the panels have noticed the presence of the viewer, they appear to panic and sort of get into a strict symmetry. So this is the sketch of the two states. One is total chaos. The other is absolute order.'
'So a viewer enters the space, and they snap to attention. And after a while, if the viewer continues to remain in the space, the panels will sort of become immune to the presence of the viewer and become lax and autonomous again, until they sort of sense a presence in the room or a movement, when they will again snap to attention.'

Artist and TED Fellow Aparna Rao re-imagines the familiar in surprising, often humorous ways. With her collaborator Soren Pors, Rao creates high-tech art installations — a typewriter that sends emails, a camera that tracks you through the room only to make you invisible on screen — that put a playful spin on ordinary objects and interactions.
It's best to view Aparna's TED Talks on their site; 'Art that craves your attention' here and the second talk, 'High-tech art (with a sense of humour)' here!

8 February 2014

Quick start for new year of change

Bishop Desmond Tutu with his alter egos Tutu & Tata on ZA News















My sincere apologies for taking so long to post something on this blog! I can explain. We arrive home, after spending six weeks catching up with family and friends in South Africa, to an eviction notice. The house we are living in, here in Melbourne, is being chopped down in a few short weeks. This means we have to find alternative accommodation really soon. So, as you can imagine, the past few weeks have been spent driving around the town 'house hunting'. We're slowly getting there, but that still means the long pack-up and move has to begin very soon.

But let me tell you about Africa - the dark continent. Besides entertaining my two little boys, which was a full-time job, I did get to start shooting a documentary film on 'Puppetry and Politics' for the international conference of the same name, which is scheduled to take place 20-22 November in Charleville-Mezieres in France.

Some of the wonderful artists whom I recently interviewed in South Africa, all working in puppetry related to politics in some way were Thierry Casuto, producer of ZA News, Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones from Handspring Puppet CompanyCindy Mkaza, head of UNIMA South Africa, Janni Younge from Handspring, Aja Marneweck, who directs puppetry productions and runs workshops internationally and Conrad Koch, with his ventriloquist puppet Chester. Conrad has his own TV show, where he interviews local politicians and sends up the political highs and lows in South Africa.
If anyone is interested in attending the conference in late-November in France, please do get in touch.

Handspring's A Midsummer Night’s Dream now on!

For the first time since the triumph of War Horse, Bristol Old Vic's Artistic Director Tom Morris and Handspring Puppet Company reunite to realise one of Shakespeare’s most popular and fantastical plays 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' which is now running at the Barbican Theatre until 15 February 2014. If you'd like to view some of the images from the production, click here!  If you going to be anywhere in the UK during this period, don't miss it!

Daily Battles in Shadows and Film


I can watch this beautifuly made film over and over again and never get bored! Daily Battles is a collaboration beween two artists, a paper artist and a film maker. Béatrice Coron developed a language of storytelling by papercutting multi-layered stories.

Upon seeing her TED presentation film of 2011, I actually was hoping that the camera would zoom into her silouttes to reveal the tiniest treasures hidden in the detail. Film maker, James Steward, was obviously thinking exactly the same thing.

They met up after the paper artist, Beatrice Coron did a presentation at TED in March 2011. The results are unusual and exciting, showing the incredible potential for collaboration between arts practitioners emerging from two almost diametrically opposed sources.

Their combined work, Daily Battles' was premiered at the 2013 TED Conference in Long Beach, California.
You can read an interview with Artist Béatrice Coron and Filmmaker James Stewart in two parts, here and here.
But most importantly, you should view the original inspiring TED Talk of 2011, in which Béatrice first inspired the world, here!

6 December 2013

A Tribute to Nelson Mandela

Photo: Nan Melville, NYC
















Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela has finally left us today, at the age of ninety-five! South Africans and the entire world will never forget this man!  He was born to a noble family on 18 July 1918 in a little village in the Eastern Cape in South Africa. In later years he became known by his clan name, Madiba. Given the forename Rolihlahla, a Xhosa term colloquially meaning "troublemaker", he went on to become the thorn in the side of the minority Apartheid South African Government, who imprisoned him for 27 years.

Finally upon his release from prison, he quickly took charge of the deteriating social and political situation and was elected as President in the first democratic election ever held in South Africa. In 1994, in the lead up to the first democratic election in South Africa, I had the rare privilege of interviewing Madiba in the lead up to the election. You can view the video clip here!

Mandela, who became South Africa's first president in 1994, celebrated his 95th birthday on 18 July 2013. Within South Africa, he was widely considered to be "the father of the nation" and "the founding father of democracy", being seen as "the national liberator, the saviour, its Washington and Lincoln rolled into one." He was an extraordinary warm down-to-earth human being, who made everyone in his presence feel special. Madiba, we salute you and the world will never forget the dream you achieved in your remarkable life.

1 December 2013

Let Them Shine

 Let Them Shine is the workshop I've been running around the world over the past few years. The nature of the workshop changes and evolves as we continue on our journey. The photo on the video above illustrates one of the participants being covered with brown paper, which starts them on their journey of exploration of the World of Paper.

As we take our annual break now and fly off to Africa, I am contemplating many new changes and new directions for the company in 2014. Do keep your eyes open for the new extension of our webcasts and online content in the new year, as well as for our upcoming European Tours starting in March 2014.  For bookings and information, contact me here! And let me take this opportunity in wishing all our readers a healthy, happy and peaceful silly season!

29 November 2013

New International Puppetry Film Series - Part Four

The final day of the week means the final Part Four of our four-part series today of interviews with Canadian puppet master, Ronnie Burkett. The series cover some of Burkett's productions and his views of World Puppetry today.

Next week we leave on an African Escapade, so you might not hear from Puppetry News for a while, but let me tell you about some of our wonderful news events planned for 2014. Firstly we are planning another fantastic Five-day workshop in Milan, Italy at the beginning of May. I shall be working together with a highly talented British theatre director, so if you are interested, watch this space and more news will be available very shortly! In April-May I am organising yet another European Tour to International Schools and Universities - if you are interested in a booking, contact us immediately here.

In early 2014, We shall have a new subscription website which will be launched, featuring many Puppetry Masterclasses with world renowned puppeteers, both past and present; audio and video interviews, lectures and educational content and weekly interviews with international puppeteers on video. If you are interested in subscribing, further information with will be available in the new year, so watch this space! In the meanwhile, take a look at our huge FREE film archive right here!

28 November 2013

New International Puppetry Film Series - Part Three


If it's Thursday, it must mean Part Three of our new series of short films with the renowned Canadian marionette-master, Ronnie Burkett. Today's short film reveals The Puppeteer Provocateur, which gives our art an edge in communicating difficult or sensitive issues to change the world. Burkett talks about the puppet demanding that the audience suspend their disbelief and engage with the innocent, or childlike characters before them. This is the essense of it's true power.
Enjoy Part Three and do share it with someone you admire! Tomorrow we will feature the final Part Four in our four-part series, so stay tuned!