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MANIPULATE Festival Edinburgh - Puppetry research

Day 1: 04/02/19 [Eden’s entry]

Eden here. Little insider: Sam and I have been alternating the blog entries. WHAT?! 😱Anyway, so since our last blog, we had 2 more days of PEA. rehearsals in Sam’s living room. Not ideal of course, but very worthwhile - and if you can be adaptable with your rehearsal spaces then making theatre will be as easy as breathing air. Well not that easy but you know what I mean. Last Friday we had our scratch performance at The Robinson Theatre. Goodness me. I don’t think we had properly run the finished scratch show in a blacked out space. Actually we definitely hadn’t as we learnt in the show - scrambling for props in the dark in between some very quick transitions. Aside from that the performance was a success and we got some amazing verbal and written feedback from the students of Hills Road Sixth Form College and other invited guests. Reading this back and watching the performance footage has made us very excited for the re-development of PEA.

I am writing this from the swanky Traverse Theatre foyer, having just watched our first Manipulate event “Testroom”, a mix of 4 very contrasting works-in-progress which we gave feedback on ourselves. We made our trek to Scotland yesterday. We’re staying in Dunfermline and the image above is the lovely view from the train to Edinburgh. And in 10 minutes we’re about to watch Wunderkammer which looks pretty epic - so my time is very limited....

WOW. I’ve never seen marionette puppetry like that before. Incredible. Bizarre & hilarious. Beautifully detailed and delicate. And to top it off, tomorrow we start a 3 day workshop (“Things on Strings”) with the company from Germany: Figurentheater Tübingen. Couldn't have had a better introduction to their style. I mean look at this picture. Pumped.

Day 2: 05/02/19 [Sam's entry]

Today was our first full day of Manipulate Festival. We started off with the first part of three of the ‘Things on Strings’ workshop run by Figurentheater Tuebingen who were responsible for the magical marionette puppet show Wunderkammer that we saw yesterday. The workshop was very very interestring and captivatingly fun. It basically turns out that the most fundamental marionette puppet is just a simple pendulum, so that’s where we spent most of the morning. You’d be surprised how much theatre you can get out simply an apple on a string.

We both agree that our favourite part of the day was building our own (and first) marionette puppet. If you’ve never built your own marionettes before, it’s surprisingly possible… I’m not saying it was super easy but certainly possible. Just need a feather, some nuts, some string and a glue gun. From this you can create a little creature that’s able to swim through the air, explore the world around them and bahh like a sheep which Eden was very proud of for some reason.

In the evening we watched three shows with the highlight certainly being the incredible performance of Vu by Compagnie Sacékripa. A one man, I would say clowning, show off a very precise and intricate man sitting on a tiny chair at a tiny table trying to make a cup of tea. The show has no music after the beginning of the show when he unplugs the radio to plug in his kettle. But even in silence we were transfixed by the mad adventures this man could have by simply sitting at the edge of this table. It made me laugh, it made me cry… with laughter. Basically it was just a highly entertaining, hilarious exploration of objects. I loved every second and was sad to see him leave at the end.

(Bonus challenge: there’s a hidden pun in this blog. I find it hilarious and use it as much as I can throughout the workshop, Eden… not so much)

Day 3: 06/02/19 [Eden’s entry]

Another wicked day. Things on Strings keeps on giving surprises. We’re quite close to the group now, which of course holds many a personality. Today we worked with sticks (amongst other things and materials), and explored all the variations of character you can have just by changing their walk. We also went into studio one of Dance Base Scotland just so we could rig strings into the ceiling and puppeteer from a considerable distance. We did this with paper individually and vast sheets as a group which was magical.

After today’s workshop we met up with Alex Bird from Tortoise in a Nutshell, another alumni from our Hills Road Sixth Form College. It was awesome to discuss both his and our work in a way that was very relatable to us at the stage we’re at as a company. Lovely human.

This evening was saw Invisible Lands by Livsmedlet Theatre from Finland. A piece based on migration and the refugee crisis told through miniatures, bodies, and rich soundscapes. It was our cup of tea. And it was delicious.

More tomorrow. Need to sleep.

Day 4: 07/02/19 [Sam's entry]

It was our last day of the Things on Strings workshop by Figurentheater Tuebingen, and it was time to make our first real five string marionette. It’s as fiddly as you would imagine especially as we were using dust sheets as the main material. I must say that I did not master this challenge but I loved it all the same. Eden and I have a weirdly logistical and mathematical minds, so we found there was something wonderful about the pairing of art and creativity but then also mechanics, in the art of making marionettes.

After two hours of losing strings and trying desperately, we all had little ghostly creatures stomping around the room. I spent ages trying to get mine to do certain things till I was told that there is no point trying to impose your will on the puppet. This may seem really strange when a puppet is fundamentally a character/being controlled by an actor. In truth you can’t make a puppet do something it can’t, instead you need to find what it can do and what it can do really well and integrate that into your shows. There’s no point in directing a whole scene, act or show before you cast it and bring in the actors. It’s the same with puppets, get them into the rehearsal room as early as possible because they’ll be a wonderful guide in creating, directing and devising.

Day 5: 08/02/19 [Eden’s entry]

Our last day at Manipulate. I am now ill and have been in bed for most of the day, leaving Sam to venture into Edinburgh alone this morning. However I joined in time for tonight’s shows of course. First up: Beguiled by Invisible Thread. Two awesome small pieces put together. One with very fun guided audience interaction called Cat Mother, and the other with some hilarious slapstick. Next: Sleeping Beauty by Compagnie Akselere (France), a dark and charming fairy-tale telling of Collette’s life through object theatre and shadow puppetry. And finally: Hopeful Monsters by Hopeful Monster, a wonderful and enchanting timeline of the animal kingdom’s evolution, shown by 6 human hands and human hand extensions (also in the form of tiny/huge human hand puppets). Their style was beautiful, playful and refreshing - and the company is composed of ex-Curious School of Puppetry students, which makes me very VERY excited to begin what looks like an incredible course in a couple of weeks time.

It’s safe to say this has been an epic visual arts festival which we highly recommend to anyone who wants delve a bit deeper into the puppetry world. You simply won’t regret it. Somehow in one way or another, over the course of this week, every time we've come back to the Traverse Theatre bar we’ve made more friends that we can have a friendly chat to and discuss the performances of the day with. There really is a community of lovely people that Manipulate has built over its existence.


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