Want to learn puppetry skills? Here are the UK courses to add another string to your bow
Puppets are on the up – War Horse and Pinocchio being just a couple of recent examples. So now is a better time than ever for actors to set themselves apart with the extra skill. Susan Elkin looks at what courses are available
In 1662, Samuel Pepys commented on a performance of Mr Punch in his famous diaries, thereby creating puppetry’s first surviving mention. The art form has come a long way since then.
Slavka Jovanovic, head of learning at Little Angel Theatre, points to “the War Horse effect” and the impact of the 2012 Olympic ceremonies, which opened up ideas of scale and the impact of using puppets.
“The current wave of puppetry in large theatres and opera houses is partly down to decision makers like [War Horse] director Tom Morris, who have always had a passion for puppetry,” says Jovanovic.
And you can make puppets speak the unspeakable and do the unthinkable, as Mr Punch does. “Puppetry is a great way to present scale and fantastical or extraordinary situations,” says Jovanovic. “Now that directors and producers have finally caught on, and the public has an appetite for it, it looks as though we’ll see ever more puppetry on stage.”
This means actors need puppetry training. “Unfortunately there is not enough of it available for the theatre industry,” warns Jovanovic, “because many actors want access to short courses they can fit in around their work.”
Some actors want to specialise in puppetry during their initial training and, although most acting courses have an option or module, there are few opportunities to study it full-time. Royal Central School of Speech and Drama’s Puppetry: Design and Performance BA degree, which was founded by the renowned puppeteer Penny Francis, has long been a valued exception but it isn’t running in 2018/19. So what training is available? Here is a non-exhaustive selection.
Curious School of Puppetry, various locations
Founded by Sarah Wright, daughter of John and Lyndie Wright who started Little Angel Theatre, Curious School of Puppetry offers an annual 10-week course. It is taught in two parts and covers the full range of techniques and puppet types. Tutors include Rene Baker, Toby Olie and Lyndie Wright and there are module tutors brought in to teach and develop aspects of performance. This year’s course, which has just ended, was based at Summerhall in Edinburgh because CSP styles itself as “a mobile school”. The next course will take place from January to March 2019 and applications are open from this month.
Little Angel Theatre, London
At its studios in Sebbon Street, Islington, Little Angel Theatre has six options for children, young people and families along with two forms of youth theatre. As well as its foundation course, there is a range of courses for adults including a weekly table-top puppet-making course, a marionette-carving workshop and an introduction to making and performing with hand and glove puppets. LAT also offers school-related courses, continuing professional development courses for teachers and an ongoing programme of industry-related professional development, talks, masterclasses and events.
London School of Puppetry, London and Derby
Founded in 1987, London School of Puppetry offers a flexible diploma in professional puppetry. This consists of six modules over two years – including four months of intensive teaching in Derby with guided research and practice using distance learning. It is designed to allow participants to fit the course around concurrent work. Tutors have included Caroline Astell-Burt, Ronnie le Drew and Lyndie Wright. Bursaries are available to help with fees. LSP also offers short courses for teachers and others.
Brighton Puppetry School
Led by Darren East and Beccy Smith (of Touched Theatre) along with Isobel Smith (of Grist to the Mill), Brighton Puppetry School offers a “professional pick and mix” of courses designed to stand alone or to be combined to create a comprehensive foundation in puppetry. Focusing on three core elements – performing, creating and making – all levels are catered for, from keen amateurs to established practitioners. There is, for example, a six-day summer school covering the full range from July 7 to July 12. The organisation’s catchline is “specialist vocational training by the sea”.
Norwich Puppet Theatre
Norwich Puppet Theatre runs a range of public and adult workshops, from two-hour skills workshops to two-day masterclasses. The latter include the recent course Emotional Space, led by Luca Ronga, which explored choreographic, geometric and rhythmic possibilities between actions and puppet- body movement.
Puppet Centre Trust, London
Established in 1974, and now based at Battersea Arts Centre, Puppet Centre Trust is a “national development agency for puppetry”. Its work includes a full programme of training workshops along with residencies, conferences, mentoring and advocacy. It is not a producing company, like Little Angel or Norwich Puppet Theatre, but it aims – in collaboration with partners – to enable puppetry to develop and to provide training and support for industry professionals. PCT also has some access to bursary funding.