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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 Board.

'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.

All text and images © Dynamic New Animation 2002