National Poetry Day

So. Today (6th October – Gregorian Calendar) is National Poetry Day. Hurrah. Poetry is good enough to deserve a day. Unfortunately, I have not written a poem today: too busy working and thinking about heat loss and condensation.

But I did write a poem yesterday. Normally, I would post a little bit of a poem, but I am not going to post this one, because there is serious scope for being misunderstood. Not only does it include words I would not normally use – not sweary or vulgar but differently unpleasant – but it does not represent my own feelings or opinions. How so?

Because I have written the UK’s next ‘Song for Europe’ which turns out to be an unpleasant, self-satisfied, xenophobic rant.

I am torn. At one level, I think it is appropriate and very, very pointed. And at another level, I am shamed of having used some of the words in it, and I do not want anyone to be in anyway confused and to think this might be my actual real opinions. So I will not post it, or publish it, until it is being sung by the next incarnation of the Spitting Image puppets.



Death comes for the Little Bear

Death comes for the little bear

OK, so he isn’t actually death, and he didn’t come for the Little Bear. But he could have.

Yup, I’m just back from another fascinating puppetry workshop by Rene Baker at Northern Stage. Over the course of two days we looked at how to explore an object or puppet to discover its innate characteristics, (using among other things the twin mechanisms of epistemic and ludic play), and how to bring it to life with its actions and – almost more important – reactions.

There was a moment on the first day as I was manhandling a curious puppet of brushes (one of Rene’s wonderful creations) that I thought ‘why am I a grown man with a job doing this?’ But, I parked that thought from the grumpy part of my mind and got on with playing. Because it is the playing which brings knowledge of the puppet or object, and without that knowledge our animation is shallow and/or unconvincing.

Over the two days we came to know the puppets moved and behaved, whether large floppy dog, unsavoury wood-man (surely an original ent), a flight of plastic ducks or a little bear. It turns out even pens want to behave in certain ways, and bunches of keys can be strangely attracted to ducks.

I am going to have to spend some time with my notes and my ducks to really grasp how this can all impact my practice and projects.

Overall, a exhausting, brain-mashing, wonderful two days. And if death had come for the Little Bear I think we would all have cried our eyes out.

‘Shame on you red saucepan!’

Shame on you red saucepan
The red saucepan had offended all the other pans.

A couple of weeks ago I attended a puppetry workshop at Northern Stage run by Rene Baker. A puppetry workshop without puppets. And it was absolutely astonishing.

We spent two days working with materials, exploring what the materials like to do, what we could do with them and, most intriguingly, what we could do together (where the ‘we’ is the material and a person). Through several sets of exercises we started to get to know the materials and to find ‘moments’ with them, all the time recording by photographs and short video clips.

Finally, we reviewed the photos and videos, selected and named the moments which stood out for us, and put them into a story-board for a piece. In two days we obviously weren’t going to produce a finished piece, but I did make a short video from our story-board, to give an impression of what could have developed.

We started with three materials; leather, small pots and pans, and envelopes. By the end of the first session we left the leather alone: somehow, having very clear animal origins, it felt too freighted with meaning and expectation. In contrast the envelopes began as a challenge, they seemed duller to begin with, but the exercises got us working at them, finding out what we could do together. The pots and pans lasted to the second session, but on the final day we had to focus on the envelopes.

We worked in two groups on the story-board, and from the same exercises and material we came out with two very different stories. In our group the envelopes became the occasionally overwhelming sea of life, becoming metaphors for the varied demands on our lives. The naming of moments was a powerful tool for transforming the simple exercises with envelopes into pieces of performance.

There’s a follow on course in June: I’m looking forward to it.