Juli Mahr reports on an opportunity
for puppeteers to test out new pieces and for audiences to have
a good time.
This article was first published in 'Animations'
magazine October/November 1995.
There's a hot new evening at BAC in Battersea, South London. For
a few hours every couple of months, the BAC cafe is transformed
for a night of bliss. This is the DNA Cabaret - a night dedicated
to showcasing new work on the puppetry scene - and it has been a
long time coming.
No one is more aware of this than DNA's two organisers, Rachel
Riggs and Adam Bennett. 'There was just nothing. There was no showcase
for adult puppetry,' explains Riggs. 'We thought, are we really
naive? Is there someting we don't know? Is there a reason why this
has never been done?' Bennett, who hails form Perth, Australia,
agrees. 'Every five or ten years there's a renaissance in puppet
theatre - but nothing seems to happen. Nobody capitalises on it.'
And so, resolved to make the most of the latest wave of interest
in puppetry, the two moved into action. Six months out of the puppetry
course at the Central School of Speech and Dram and advised by a
group of established puppeteers, directors and administrators, Riggs
and Bennett opened the doors to the first DNA Cabaret. They were
determined to set up a point of focus, not only to galvanise the
puppetry community, but also to sweep it into public conciousness.
'We're still learning about how to develop an audience for puppetry,'
says Bennett. 'We want people to come away feeling that they want
to see more.'
So, what can one expect to ee on an average cabaret night? Hosted
by comedian Iain Martin, who was brought in to give the proceedings
a more informal atmosphere, the evenings usually comprise a mix
of short acts and more serious 'try outs'. There's Maybelline Lushlips,
the one-foot high chanteuse, causing a near riot with every
ravishing pout, there's Madam Poulet, the singing chicken and Steve
Tiplady's one-man, all-digit Hamlet.
At the more experimental end of the cabaret spectrum, there is
the likes of Sharon Silver's Cities and Desire, an atmospheric and
beautifully reflective piece based on Italo Calvino's short story,
Invisible Cities, and Bennett's Tape - improvised sessions using
reels of theatre technicians tape.
'It is difficult to perform and organise the event at the same
time' acknowledges Riggs. 'I've always got an eye on the audience
to guage their reaction. Also, technically, it's like organising
a mini festival: six acts with six needs and a fast turnaround.
We're definitely more together now than we were at the beginning.'
The cabaret started life in May 1994 in a small room above a notorious
alternative pub The Jugglers Arms. It was a lucky break that allowed
them to move into what some people refer to as the National Theatre
of the Fringe, BAC. A ccompany cancelled it's regular spot at the
last minute, Riggs and Bennett jumped at the chance and the cabaret
has been more or less resident there ever since. In 18 months they
have succeeded in providing a space for puppeteers to exchange ideas
and to develop new hybrids of work. And it is not just for newcomers:
the latest cabaret included previews of works by Puppetworks and
Jactito. These efforts have not gone unrecognised and DNA has secured
funding from both the Gulbenkian Foundation and the London Arts
'I think it's brilliant,' says Sharon Silver, 'It gives a chance
for people to show their experimental work. I hope it can continue
to open up even further to new acts and to encourage image-based
puppetry.' Riggs and Bennett agree. They want to give a platform
to the newest talents and next year they plan to organise a DNA
tour, taking four or five of the best acts around the country. At
each stop a slot will be allocated to a local company. Other plans
include participation in Brighton's puppetry festival Visions 96
and an international tour.
The next opportunities to be at DNA CAbaret are at 8pm on 24
September in the BAC cafe and foyer; at 8:30pm in Studio 2 BAC on
1 and 2 October for The Best of DNA; and at 8pm on 26 November in
the BAC cafe.