Puppetry faces the lure of the big time

Next week, the Little Angel Theatre will host another Puppetry Provocation, part of an ongoing series of lively debates about the relevance and future of the art form. On Tuesday 16 October, the question on everybody's lips will be 'Can puppetry, as a discrete art form, really continue to develop and grow in this country?'

Last month, there was a Puppetry Provocation at the Edinburgh Fringe. The event centred around the statement and question - 'Too many children and animals: is puppetry putting spectacle before content?'. Puppetry is indeed a provocative subject, and social media means discussions about the art form's relevance can rage for days. Ahead of next week's real life debate on puppetry's future, we review that previous debate on spectacle vs content via an experimental 'Twitter essay'.

@PuppetCentre hosted Puppetry Provocations at @FringeCentral 17.8.12. Ex-post-facto tweets by Richard & Elspeth of @PuppetStateThtr #pprov

Peter Glanville of @LittleATheatre’s provocation was: Too Many Children & Animals: Is #Puppetry Putting Spectacle over Content? #pprov

A trend for BIG-scale puppets, & representational #puppets of children and charismatic megafauna: horses, lions, giraffes. #pprov

A resurgence of #puppetry in theatre but not necessarily of The Puppet Theatre - how do we feel about that? #pprov

The amazing success of @HandspringUK's @WarHorseOnStage as a game-changer, puppets stealing the show on the West End stage. #pprov

Muppets new movie & suddenly we're taken seriously. And we all want to be taken seriously, right? @MuppetsStudio #fartshoes #pprov

Recent big stage puppetry partnerships include @TheRSC & @LittleATheatre, @1BlindSummit & @E_N_O #pprov

Being taken “seriously” are we in danger of losing that special something that puppetry has to offer to the world of dramatic arts? #pprov

Risk of losing our best practitioners to the human stage where it turns out we aren’t really taken very seriously? #pprov

Some egs where puppets turn up only days before the 1st performance, or ‘puppeteers’ get a couple of days training #pprov

Few instances of physical theatre using puppets are manipulated as fantastically as @HandspringUK with @WarHorseOnStage #pprov

But @HandspringUK give their puppeteers rigorous training with obvious results. Sadly this is not always the case. #pprov

@LittleATheatre get heaps of applicants for puppeteer posts but many don’t see why scant experience with puppets should be a problem. #pprov

Trend for puppets alongside actors without due attention to craft. Downside of a jack-of-all-trades approach in small puppet theatre? #pprov

Recent big spectacle puppets: Big Man Walking by @VisionMechanics, @GodivaAwakes in Coventry, Voldemort at the #2012Olympics #pprov

French company Royal Deluxe with the Sultan’s Elephant, Little Girl Giant and Giant Uncle broke new ground with large scale puppetry. #pprov

For on-stage performance, it’s easier to use a puppet than a child & much, much easier to use a puppet than a lion or a horse! #pprov

Puppet characters seem cheaper but could it may take 3 people to operate 1 puppet- temptation to skimp & use fewer 'puppeteers'. #pprov

Skilled puppeteers are hard to find- but surely with a couple of hours training any actor can learn to manipulate a puppet? #pprov

Meanwhile, in the world of traditional puppet theatre (the big time vs the small time) What has happened to the puppet show? #pprov

The rebellious Mr Punch is silenced, his creator hired for West End or TV gimmickry. He can’t find funding, he’s non-pc and past it. #pprov

Health and safety have kittens when Punch throws the baby out of the window. His anarchic spirit is quelled. #pprov

Outdoor crowds yelling “He’s behind you!” becomes plush quietness & polite clapping at the end, however good the show. #pprov

What do puppets do that actors cannot? Ken Campbell said puppets act like masks allowing us to tap into our madness safely. #pprov

Large-scale puppets get ever-further from the palm of the hand where the magic of puppetry begins – is that the problem of scale? #pprov

The best makers & most imaginative companies risk being syphoned off to work on big projects that pay well. #pprov

And where are the puppetry directors? We heard varied experiences of puppeteers working with directors. #pprov

How much freedom are puppeteers given in trad theatre? Combat specialists are given carte blanche, not so with puppeteers. #pprov

Some puppeteers wary of Theatre strictures value the freedom of the lone puppet maker, furiously peopling their imaginative worlds #pprov

Pedagogy: in Bulgaria puppeteer trumps the actor in years of training. Charleville offers in-depth training. Is training the issue? #pprov

Puppeteers often learn on the job, performers from other disciplines eg mime knowing the basics take to the medium quite naturally. #pprov

Cart before the horse? Fight for puppetry or let narrative dictate form? Use puppets that help your story otherwise leave them out. #pprov

Is puppetry’s problem greater than the skills challenge in other disciplines or artforms? What opportunities are there now? #pprov

Training medium? In-person but also scope for online @TEDtalks format? Video handy for demos of shoddy vs skilled manipulation. #pprov

Thanks to @PuppetCentre & @LittleATheatre for kicking things off. Hope we’ve covered the main points here. #pprov

There was of course plenty of chat afterwards and sharing of #edfringe flyers and show experiences. Great to meet everyone! #pprov

Let’s continue the #pprov debate!


With thanks to Elspeth and Richard at Puppet State for writing this Twitter essay


"The rebellious Mr Punch is silenced, his creator hired for West End or TV gimmickry. He can’t find funding, he’s non-pc and past it."

Additional Info

Puppet Centre and Little Angel continue their series of small discussion groups around hot topics. The next Puppetry Provocation is on Tuesday 16 October at 7pm. Visit the Little Angel website for more info and tickets.