Beauty and the Beast: The show!

Here are some pictures from the finished show!

The project has been three years in development and we are very proud to open the show to the public this Saturday. We’ve been lucky to work with a wonderful team, led by director Gavin Glover, of skilled designer makers, puppeteers, a writer and composer supported by interns from Nottingham Trent University and volunteers.

Many thanks to all those involved in creating this truly original and imaginative production. The show runs from 20 December – 17 January, visit the website for full details.

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Dot, Squiggle and Rest R&D photos August 2014

Images taken by Joy Haynes while working with artists Elspeth Brooke, Jasmiina Sipila, Zannie Fraser, Laura Moody, Anna Sideris and Graeme Hawkins between the 11th – 15th August 2014 to develop concepts for new early years production Dot, Squiggle and Rest. An interdisciplinary piece for children of 2 – 4 years their parents and carers fusing opera with dance, puppetry and digital animation elements created in collaboration with Polka Theatre and The Royal Opera House.

Beauty and the Beast Puppets: Part 2

Meet the Beauty and the Beast 2014 Team: Joy Haynes, Producer

In the weeks building up to the end of our Kickstarter campaign for Beauty and the Beast (http://kck.st/WL7sBo), there will be a series of posts introducing you to members of our wonderful creative team. This week, we’re talking to Joy Haynes, producer of Beauty and the Beast and the creative director of Norwich Puppet Theatre.

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Introductory Blurb: Joy Haynes, director of the Norwich Puppet Theatre, has been working with puppets since 1987. She’s first joined the Norwich Puppet Theatre in 1990 as a puppeteer – from there, she performed and directed puppetry shows all over the country for 18 years to great acclaim with her own company Banyan Theatre Co, and acted as an educator in the medium, before achieving the post of the theatre’s director. Acting as a producer on Beauty and the Beast, we spoke to her about her role in creating this new spin of an old tale, and about puppetry as a medium.

Q1) What is your role as a ‘producer’?

I made the initial contact with Gavin Glover (the director of the show) to discuss his interest or not in the project. We did actually put in an application to the arts council as part of a broader development programme for a phase of research & development for Beauty and the Beast, so I suppose my main role as the show’s producer is to make sure the money is in place for the production. The first stage of R&D happened in 2012, and we had a team of artists including Gavin and Tilly Lunken (the show’s writer) – they are the remaining people who are now involved in the project. We then went through another phase of fundraising, putting in another application to the Arts Council for funding through the ‘Grants for Arts’ programme and also we had to find match funding from various trusts and foundations, and we made partnerships with other organisations. We currently have a partnership with The Garage in Norwich, working with their senior theatre company where members of the creative team go with some of our workshop leaders out to the Garage to work with young people around the issues of Beauty and the Beast, experimenting with using puppetry as a theatrical medium. Hopefully, their project will run in parallel with the production process here and they will be able to see and engage with the rehearsal process while developing their own piece.

So I suppose my job is about developing the engagement right from the very beginning with the artists, building a financial framework for it to work in and contacting people to form partnerships to develop themes and other aspects for the production.

Q2) How involved were you in the process of crafting the Beauty and the Beast story?

I was quite involved, and happily quite involved. I worked with Tilly and Gavin over a three day period – there had been quite a lot of work already done during the first stage of research and development and I was not particularly involved there, but I did contribute towards the development of the narrative over time.

Q3) What can we expect from the show?

Well I think it’s going to be a really interesting interpretation of a classic tale. There will be some surprises, some new interpretations; it will be stylistically very interesting as there’s a very strong design component to the show. We’re using rod marionettes and Norwich Puppet Theatre’s very unique marionette bridge facility as we’re one of the very few theatres in England who has one; we’ll be using it not necessarily in a traditional way but it will be used for the first time in a very long time, being directly incorporated into the design.

The relationship between the puppets and puppeteers will be interesting as the puppeteers will be performers in their own right, using the puppets to tell this 20th century Beauty and the Beast, set in the 1920s and 30s, a time of real extremes between the depression and the ‘roaring 20s’. Communications were starting to happen globally, people were travelling, there were balloons and aeroplanes which was very exciting; that’s the world in which this Beauty and the Beast is set. But it’s also a very human story; it’s about the perceptions that people have of how close you have to conform to ideas of beauty within a modern society, and what it takes to be beautiful; but also what it takes to be beastly, and how those things co-exist.

Q4) How did the modern twist on an old classic come to be?

I think it came about because in part of my role as a producer I posed a question to the artists at the very beginning about relationships between the story of Beauty and the Beast and films like King Kong, or the Hunchback of Notre Dame or La Belle et la Bete – these are all versions of Beauty and the Beast, but they’re all very very different from what you’d probably expect from a classic Beauty and the Beast story, and they’re very reflective of their time; they kind of explore through the fairytale issues that are relevant to their time.

So, while we’re not in the 1920’s, I think there’s a lot that started in that time that there’s still a residue of now, particularly to do with the beauty industry and celebrity and all of those things; that’s where it all sort of started, so it’s still relevant to us now. I think it was a very iconic time for visual imagery as well, and I think that’s exciting, but also music, so Hannah Marshall who is composing the score is quite inspired by the music of that time. So it’s sort of using the ethos and the style and making it a contemporary retelling.

Q5) The 35th anniversary of the Norwich Puppet Theatre is coming up! How does it feel to be director of the theatre on this milestone year?

It’s very exciting, really, to have made it this far! And let’s hope we have another good 35 years ahead of us! It is a milestone in our history, and what’s great about Beauty and the Beast is that it reflects that history as well; we’re using traditional aspects of puppetry like the bridge, looking at rod marionettes and how they’re constructed but putting a new twist on it all. So it’s all about bringing the old and the new together, and it’s about respecting and looking back at our history and all the people who contributed to the theatre and where it is today, but also looking forwards to what our future will be.

Q6) Why is NPT’s Beauty and the Beast a good alternative to the old fashioned pantomime?

Well, it’s cheap! I’m not saying cheap and nasty – I’m saying cheap and really really good. We are a very affordable, fantastic Christmas experience for families; it’s very very expensive for people to go and experience live theatre at the moment, and I think we try our utmost to make it as affordable as we can. So what we need is people to come and see it! So that we are supported and that we are able to do this. Plus, we are a unique space.

You won’t find another space like this probably in the whole of the UK; there is another puppet theatre in London but you have to go an awfully long way away. So for local audiences it’s a unique and wonderful experience; it’s more friendly than going to a bigger theatre or seeing a pantomime in that it’s distinct and more about us and smaller, more intimate experience. So coming here for Christmas, you’re not lost in a crowd; you’re an individual part of our audience, and I think that is special. There’s an awful lot on offer now for people and what we need to demonstrate that we are something truly special, and I think we can do that.

Q7) Why should people back the Kickstarter fund?

I’d say it’s a really good opportunity for people to contribute to something very unique and special. We’re offering all sorts of rewards, but it’s not just about that; it’s about feeling that you have contributed yourself to the development of a very special piece of theatre, and also contributed to Norwich Puppet Theatre and the work we do here. It’s about our audiences as well because your contribution means we are able to reach as many audiences as we can, offering reasonable prices; we are able to bring in puppeteers with very specialised skills so we can pay for them to make the puppets and the set. There’s a very direct relationship between the support that we are given for our Kickstarter campaign and what is actually happening. For instance, we have a budget for materials for puppets which is £2,000 – which is what we are asking for! It really is about being able to buy the materials that construct the stars and make the show so special.

Meet the Beauty and the Beast 2014 Team: Mark Mander, costume & design

In the weeks building up to the end of our Kickstarter campaign for Beauty and the Beast (http://kck.st/WL7sBo), there will be a series of posts introducing you to members of our wonderful creative team. This week, we’re talking to Mark Mander, an experienced puppetry performer who is taking on the costumes for Beauty and the Beast.

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Mark Mander answered his call to puppetry at the age of six when being inspired by watching the Muppet show – since then, he has worked with puppetry in London and Norwich, including taking up the mantle of performing as George from the legendary TV show Rainbow, as well as performing in various children’s TV shows with the BBC and ITV. For Beauty and the Beast, he’s creating some of the costumes and scenery; we caught up with him to ask him about what makes a good puppetry performance, as well as what lies ahead in the show…

Q1) What attracted you to the Beauty and the Beast project?

I have been involved with the Beauty and the Beast project since it began. A couple of years ago I approached the artistic director Joy Haynes about putting on a traditional marionette show. We looked at a couple of stories but both loved Beauty and the Beast. Joy then created a brilliant team to workshop the story, then a second team and cast to bring the story to life. The production is now much more elaborate than a simple marionette show, with specially commissioned music and lots of dynamic ways to present the puppets.

Q2) What makes a good puppet aesthetically?

Thats a little like ‘How long is a piece of string’!

I was flicking through an old book on puppetry recently and the puppets featured dated mainly from the 50’s and 60’s. It was refreshing to see how many different forms the puppet can take. For instance, the human figure can be represented in a highly ‘realistic’ way with naturalistic proportions and detailed miniature costumes and at the other end of the scale it can be entirely abstract- maybe a few pieces of wire and a scrap of cloth. Its easy to think that ‘deconstructed’ puppets, like the amazing horses created by the Hand Spring company for War Horse are a new idea. In fact they are as old as puppetry.

But to try and answer your question – aesthetic tastes come and go out of fashion, from highly elaborate Victorian Marionettes which look like miniature actors to the 3d ‘sketches’ of horses in War Horse which evoke the movements of a real horse , but whose aesthetics rely on revealing the beauty of their complex machine like construction.

I think the most successful puppets from an aesthetic point of view are ones which an audience finds accessible and engaging. The puppet is there to do a job- that of portraying a character (or an abstract emotion). Puppets are really kinetic objects and how the puppet moves is as important as what the puppet looks like. Cute and fuzzy puppets are loved on TV and starker, more abstract puppets are currently in fashion on the stage. Both are equally ‘valid’ from an aesthetic point of view if they engage the audience and help tell the story and go to prove how adaptable puppet aesthetics can be.

Q3) What can we expect from the show in terms of the puppets and costume?

Ask a showman to give away details and he will tell you ‘Come and SEE the SHOW!’   The puppets MIGHT be based on Sicilian puppets. These are marionettes which have a metal rod to the head. This allows the puppet to have very sharp, definite, quick movements. A marionette with strings to the head has softer more ‘floaty’ movements. The costumes are still very much a work in progress- but they will have the flavor of old Hollywood , when the roaring twenties gave way to the glamour of the silver screen in the nineteen thirties .

Q4) It’s the 35th anniversary of the Norwich Puppet Theatre when the show begins. Does the performance utilise the space in any historic way?

I have a long and happy association with the Norwich Puppet Theatre. I have performed my character “Clementine the Living Fashion Doll” many times here and it was during the special 30th anniversary show at the theatre, when Clementine was singing a finale song, floating on a moon 15 feet above the audience, that it struck me just what a brilliant resource the NPT Marionette Bridge is. (The performance can be seen HERE; http://vimeo.com/30625938)

(A Marionette Bridge is a raised platform with a leaning bar running along it at waist height. Marionettes or String Puppets can be operated from above the stage floor using the bridge, often on strings of 2m or more)

Not wanting to destroy any illusions, but to operate ‘Clementine’ i was actually sitting on the very edge of the Marionette Bridge , with the artistic director holding on to my belt, preventing me plummeting to my doom!!! (Luckily we are on good terms and she continued to pull, not push).

The marionette bridge is a unique piece of stage machinery- the only one of its kind in the uk. It was purpose built by the brilliant Ray Dasilva when he created the theatre.

Of course the Little Angel Theatre in London also has a wonderful purpose built bridge- as does the Puppet Barge on the Thames, but both of those are static. Norwich Puppet Theater’s version is made of steel and can be raised and lowered AND move towards or away from the audience AND can be split in half.

When I was sitting on the edge of the Marionette bridge it was the first time this amazing piece of stage machinery had been used for several years.

The new production of Beauty and the Beast will see the unique and wonderful resource of the Marionette Bridge used to full effect- a great way to mark the 35th anniversary of the company.

Q5) What are the challenges in creating for a show like this?

One of the greatest challenges in creating a show based on a ‘classic’ story which people know and love (Especially when it is a well known film) is to forget about what other versions of the story have gone before- and to find a new way to tell the tale.

I think the NPT version will have enough elements of the familiar story to please those who like ‘tradition’ but it also contains new themes and a fresh new approach to make it appeal to everyone.

Q6) What sparks your passion for creating puppets & performing with puppets?

What sparks my passion for Puppets?   I’m one of those lucky people who always had a very clear vision of what i wanted to do , even as a child- and that vision was to be a puppeteer.   The Muppet Show was on TV and it was a huge hit in the UK- so it proved to me that it was possible to be a professional puppeteer and i was lucky enough to have the Norwich Puppet Theatre on my doorstep. Today one can take courses in puppetry, but back then it was a simple case of DIY!   I wanted to be a puppeteer so i started building puppets, writing scripts and subjecting my poor family to hour long puppet shows from behind an ironing board.

My family were always very supportive of this odd career choice and i eventually started working at the NPT, then its ‘Cousin’ in London, the Little Angel Theatre, then broke into TV puppetry.

What keeps my passion for puppetry going?   I think puppetry is a very magical phenomenon- making bits of wood, felt or plastic appear to be alive is a strange thing to do on the face of it. When those various bits of inanimate matter are moved with skill and thought, an audience can be amused by them- or genuinely feel that the puppet is experiencing emotions.

Humans seem to be hard wired to want to hear stories. Puppets are great story tellers, and even though they are entirely artificial they are very ‘honest ‘ in a way. Take the Beauty puppet from this production. She may be a new take on an traditional fairytale heroine, but you will never see her in an episode of Eastenders or in Hello Magazine getting married to a footballer – in the same way you might if she was being played by an actress. Beauty will be 100% the heroine of our show and she will go through a range of emotions which the audience can relate to when she meets the terrifying beast. Yet Beauty will really probably be some bits of wood and fabric. Thats why i continue to love puppets- because they are great storytellers and they are magic.

Q7) Why should people back the Kickstarter fund?

The Norwich Puppet Theatre is a real gem of a place, not just for Norwich but for the entire UK . It continues to be both a receiving house for the best puppetry work from all over the world, and also produces new work of international quality by leading practitioners in the field of puppetry. No one needs reminding of the financial situation currently facing the county as a whole and the Arts in particular- but by donating to the Kickstarter fund people will be supporting the creation of a fantastic new puppet production.

Meet the Beauty and the Beast 2014 Team: Gavin Glover, Director

In the weeks building up to the end of our Kickstarter campaign for Beauty and the Beast (http://kck.st/WL7sBo), there will be a series of posts introducing you to members of our wonderful creative team. This week, we’re talking to Gavin Glover, the show’s director.

Gavin presenting some ideas with the miniature theatre. Credit: Sam Richards

Gavin presenting some ideas with the miniature theatre. Credit: Sam Richards

Gavin Glover has been working with puppetry since 1987, when he co-founded the company FaultyOptic, who were well renowned for mixing puppetry with other media including mechanical objects and scrap sculpture, creating critically acclaimed surreal and strange worlds within their ‘puppetry for adults’ shows. Since then, Gavin has founded PotatoRoom Productions, another creative company dedicated to amalgamating puppets with onstage actors and performers, and has even made puppets for the BBC. We spoke to Gavin ahead of the show about directing Beauty and the Beast, how he is going to use the on stage performers with the puppets, as well as the experience of directing a family show rather than those for adults.

Q1) What attracted you to the Beauty and the Beast project?

Well it wasn’t so much being attracted to it – it was that somebody had asked me to do it, and I thought it was a good opportunity to do it because it’s kind of similar to what I do already but this is more for kids. It’s a challenge really and that’s I suppose what attracted me to it.

Q2) What’s your role in the process?

“My role as director is like the role of any director; it’s to make sure everything is going well, to keep an eye on everything, making sure everything is balanced; that the story’s working, the lighting’s working, the soundtrack’s working and all that sort of stuff.”

Q3) How involved were you in the formation of the story?

Very much so. Basically, we did a research and development period sometime last year when we were trying to cram these two ideas together which was Beauty and the Beast & King Kong. Then we finished the R&D and someone said to me ‘would you want to direct the thing?’ so I said yes but I’d need to have a think about what the story would be. So then I went away and went through the ideas and came up with a basic version of it. A few weeks ago I was down there in Norwich, working with Joy and Tilly the dramaturg and we bashed out the working skeleton of the story – towards the end of the week we got a more detailed idea of what we are going to do. So yeah, we’ve adapted it and I played a part in that adaptation.

Q4) What ingredients are needed to form the best puppetry show possible?

I suppose like any show really, any theatre show, doesn’t have to be puppet show… It’s got to be well performed, it’s got to be well produced, it’s got to be lit well, it’s got to be manipulated well, and that’s just the technical side of it. On the story side, the drama needs to work and in there there needs to be a beginning, middle and an end up to a certain point – then there’s an arty-farty point where it can go in any direction you want to. It’s got to be engaging – you don’t want to alienate the audience. At the same time, being a puppet show – it’s not real theatre, it’s puppet theatre, so the story’s actually about three people the story of this new version with puppets. Rather than just watching the puppets doing stuff you’re watching PEOPLE with the puppets doing stuff. Often you hide the puppeteer – for lots of puppet shows, you can’t actually see the performer, it’s just the puppets doing the performing and that’s the deal. Whereas in this show, the actors are going to play a very important role in it by being an actor in the space; you’re aware that they’re there, and they are aware they are telling a story.

Q5) What are the challenges in creating a multimedia show like this?

Well it’s got to fit in; it’s got to work within the space because obviously you’re watching a live show. The thing about puppetry is that you can kind of go anywhere with it because it’s a kind of visual feast, as it were. Chucking some film into it or camerawork (whether it’s live or pre-recorded) is not a challenge – it’s a fun thing to add into it as it adds another dimension into it immediately, but we have to make sure it works. You don’t want it to be too precise or too beautiful or too well produced because it my clash with the sort of cronkiness of what you see in front of you. If you watch a dance piece, for example, where often they will use a lot of AV and film stuff, it’s often beautiful, high definition stuff, and it works with the dancers because obviously they’re high definition in that people can see them very clearly, and that works really well but with puppetry it doesn’t really work like that unless your puppets are super clean and there’s not a lot of set involved or the set is so high tech that high definition video fits in with it, however normally puppetry is very low-tech. In this case, because we’re working in 1920s/30s, we’re in that realm of black & white, slightly blurred kind of Nosferatu kind of Frankenstein, gloomy lighting and stuff – much lower tech, which fits in with the genre and fits in with the puppets and the medium that we are using.

Q6) What sparked your passion for creating puppets/performing with puppets?

Purely by chance. I was working in theatre, doing a lot of visual theatre like mask, mime, clowning, dance… and I got a job in the Little Angel puppet theatre by chance and I thought ‘Oh this is just for kids, surely!’. Then, after of few weeks of being there thinking ‘Actually, no, if this was used in conjunction with a script, or if it could be utilised in a different way then it would be ideal for a much more adult audience’ and that was what I was interested in. So then I joined with another member of the company at the Little Angel and reformed as FaultyOptic and got renowned for our more weird adult stuff rather than kids stuff. So it was just by chance, really.

Q7) Are there any inherent challenges in making a more family orientated show rather than the ‘puppetry for adults’ you have made before?

I don’t think so. I mean, it’s got to be a bit more commercial I suppose – there’s more text in this and most of the work we did before this had no text, and the themes we were working on were quite dark but we still had kids and families although it was sold for a more theatre-going audience we still had the occasional kid in, and they found different things rather than what adults would find in it. I think at FaultyOptic we pushed it being an adult thing because we didn’t want to be doing school shows as they’re a lot more restricted so essentially the shows were for everyone. To be honest though, I don’t think there’s a great deal of difference – I think this Beauty & The Beast will be just a bit more traditional in the way that you’ll recognise the story as it’s similar to the original story, but more devised with a bit more ‘weird’ and visuals; more ‘out there’.

Q8) Why should people back the Kickstarter fund?

To play a role in creating such a spectacular show and contribute to a piece of puppetry history!