FoLLow The pUppeT
Blind Summit uses puppetry to invent a new form of theatre
We start with a puppet. This might simply be an object, a kit of materials, puppet parts, or it might indeed be a puppet.
We take these materials into a rehearsal room with puppeteers and we “sketch in space”, trying to discover a seed idea that dramaturgically connects the physical process of puppetry with the narrative through-line of a story.
With that seed idea, we start to elaborate the script through improvisation with the puppets, discovering how they move and how they think. We design a family of puppets and start to assemble a cast of puppeteers.
Actors ask questions like, “what is my motivation to enter the room?” “What is my motivation to say this line?” For a puppeteer the question is slightly different. We ask, “what is my motivation to enter this room with a puppet?” “Or to say this line with a puppet?”
A puppet is something that needs to physically exist but conversely only really exists when it comes alive in front of an audience. So, when we are designing and making a puppet we are not making a final product, we are making something with potential. Something that will transform in performance. That vital inter-dependency between object and moment informs everything about Blind Summit’s process.
Through improvisation, through trial and error with makers and puppeteers we learn how the puppets work, create the story, develop the puppeteers’ skills and undertake the physical production of puppets all at the same time. Our puppeteers learn to improvise together, respond quickly to changes in the script, puppet or set, and contribute to the development of the show as they rehearse it.
We are looking for moments when the puppet is most alive. We are looking for something that would not happen if there were not puppets in the room.
WE MAKE WORK
ThE BLind SumMiT STuDIO
Having our rehearsal room, office, workshop and an inventory of old puppets on the same site means that the Blind Summit Studio is uniquely set up to support this dynamic creative process which might take several years to come to fruition.
Puppetry is contrary, topsy-turvy, counter-intuitive. What you plan to do often doesn’t work, and what happens by accident is often the solution to your problem. Our method of working allows ideas time to develop and percolate. Our project schedules necessarily overlap to be productive and that also means that ideas cross-pollinate.
Our long and slow process has the advantage of engaging a large number of people along the way and everyone who participates plays a material part in the production’s journey; we are not involving them in a special teaching process, they are learning at the same time as they are part of the making process.
Audience feedback guides script development, puppet design and the training of our performers. Much like the best stand-up, try-out performances constantly evolve in response to the live audiences’ reactions, all of which are taken back to the rehearsal room where we incorporate successful new ideas and chase down solutions to any new problems.
Blind Summit’s method is designed to be very responsive to audiences, incorporating risk, improvisation and the exciting spontaneity of direct dialogue with the audience. This extemporaneous approach is particularly key during the creation process, using try-outs that might range from 15 minutes in a cabaret setting, through one-off, full-length performances, to a full Edinburgh Fringe run.
At this point the project is ready to commit to an opening night and to make the full-scale production.
Call of the Wild, Citizen Jack and The Tramp have all been through this process and are now ready to go forward.
ExampLe - ThE jourNey of CaLL of the Wild so far...
The First Idea
A conversation throws up the idea of a shadow puppet adaptation of Call of the Wild, using a shadow screen to represent the arctic.
The First Make - a dog's head and tail
The need for feral dogs to have a brutish, physical, material substance rather than shadow presence becomes clear as does the necessary scale of the show; accommodating the reality of the story’s multiple six- dog sleds. We make the first puppet dog’s head and tail.
A commission to make 20 minute piece
A commission from ROH2 Firsts and Crying Out Loud allows us to make a life-sized man puppet and spend two weeks making a 20-minute performance called “The Real Man Project”. The Times gives it a rave review, but it still does not give us a way into adapting the book.
A week of paid rehearsal at the Naitonal Theatre Studio
A week in the National Theatre Studio with writer Steve Canny and five puppeteers but the book’s text remains impenetrable to puppetry…
6 week Drama School Residency
During six weeks at Central School of Speech and Drama, with a cast of ten students, Call of the Wild transforms into a wordless puppet ballet, set to Mahler’s First Symphony. We perform a one-hour version at Central on five nights to full houses of 75. Audiences are very enthusiastic. The practical implications of recreating the live score remain challenging.
A creative breakthrough about the Music
Our first co-commissioning interest is expressed by National Theatre of Scotland. We decide that Mahler’s Symphony should be adapted for the sort of honky-tonk band that you might find in the Dawson City of Jack London’s 1898. Our work on Rossignol gives us solutions to developing the production values of the puppets to suit large-scale venues.
Engaging a producer to develop the project
We continue working with producers to extend the group of co-commissioners and co-presenters with whom we will make the final show.