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!

30 April 2014

Weekend Storytelling & Paper Workshop in Melbourne




















We are excited to announce a brand new ‘Weekend Storytelling and Paper Workshop’ in Melbourne from 1 - 3 August 2014 -  A weekend of pure play, inspiration and creativity!

The workshop, for teenagers and adults, is being run by master-puppeteer and facilitator, Gary Friedman and will focus on the art of storytelling, using the medium of paper, movement and sound.

We take storytelling and improvisational performance to the most elaborate ends. This workshop is ideal for teachers, therapists, artists, story tellers, community workers, and lovers of play!

This once-a-year weekend workshop will begin on Friday 1st August from 5pm and will run until Sunday 3rd August 2014 at the Batesford Hub in Chadstone, Victoria.  There are restricted spaces available, so book now!  To view examples of this workshop, click here and here!
Bookings and more information, click here!

23 April 2014

Off to meet Roger Law...

In an interview at the AGI Open last year, Roger Law spoke about his satirical British television show "Spitting Image" and his visit to ZA News studios in Cape Town. Roger Law is an artist, caricaturist and one half of Luck and Flaw, with Peter Fluck, creators of the satirical television puppet series in the eighties and nineties, Spitting Image.

Many countries around the world have since created their own spin-off versions of the satirical programme, such as South Africa's ZA News, which recently I visited at the launch of our recent documentary film shoot in January.

I am now off to shoot many other inspiring puppeteers around the world working in puppetry and politics. In fact I'll be even interviewing Roger Law at the Cartoon Museum in London next month, where a thirtieth anniversary exhibition of 'Spitting Image' is currently running.

So my upcoming adventure starts next week. I firstly visit  'The XYZ Show' in Nairobi, Kenya. The wonderful puppeteers working on the series were my former-puppetry students in the nineties, when we ran puppetry training workshops in East Africa. The company has also recently created a Nigerian Web Television Series, 'OGAS at The Top'

Following Kenya, I shall be filming in the Middle East and Europe. We have many fascinating interviews and performances lined up along the way. Our documentary film, 'The Puppet and The Power' shall feature some controversial and powerful political figures, both of puppet and human variety, discussing and demonstrating how the puppet is being used to criticise the world's powers, in some often extremely dangerous situations. So stay tuned for updates!

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!