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How can opera and puppetry help each other?

Ariel in Little Angel RSC's Tempest. Photo: Ellie Kurttz
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From War Horse to Avenue Q, from Little Angel to the National Theatre and the RSC there’s puppetry in nearly everything these days. As a theatrical art form, it is well and truly on the mainstream map in a way it has never been before. So, increasingly – but probably still nothing like enough – puppetry skills are being taught in training institutions.

There is a contention, however, that opera has been rather outside these developments and that opera and puppetry are two art forms which don’t talk to each other. So there’s a conference coming – on November 9 and 10 funded by Grants for the Arts and the D’Oyly Carte Charitable Trust – which aims to bridge that gap.

Puppet Centre, a development agency for puppetry, in collaboration with the Central School of Speech and Drama and in association with Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance and the Barbican Arts Centre is to present the two day event. The aim is to “deliver a nationally strategic initiative”. That means examining the ways director and companies are already using puppetry in opera and looking at the way forward. Linda Lewis, Director of the Puppet Centre, based at Battersea Arts Centre in London, is in charge.

Many people are involved and working with Lewis. John Fulljames, Associate Director of Opera at the Royal Opera House, for example, along with Dominic Gray from Opera North, Peter Glanville, Artistic Director of Little Angel Theatre and Mark Down from Blind Summit. Bill Bankes-Jones, Artistic Director of Tete a Tete Opera Festival, Cariad Astles, Lecturer – Puppetry and Object Theatre, from Central School of Speech and Drama and Linda Hirst, Head of Vocal Department, from Trinity Laban are also on board.

The first day – at the Barbican – will consist of presentations and discussions. Confirmed speakers include William Kentridge, a highly renowned director and visual artist who has directed for Handspring Puppet Theatre Company in South Africa, David Pountney, Japanese opera director Nori Sawa, Anna Karinsdotter, Head of Education at Royal Swedish Opera, Roberto Jona from Controluce (Italy); Daniel Snowman, Social and Cultural Historian and Penny Francis MBE, Founder of the Puppet Centre and distinguished puppeteer. Quite a line up. And there will be presentations by students and young people in the evening.

Then on the second day there are further workshops, presentations and master classes at Central School of Speech and Drama.

The movers and shakers are looking for a substantial outcome. They hope that starting a dialogue between directors, performers, composers and other creative artists will encourage established theatre and opera makers to step outside their usual ways of working and explore other possibilities. It sounds to me like a way of identifying and beginning to meet training needs too.

Want to be there? You can get tickets from louise.alexander@puppetcentre.org.uk

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