Off’ the National Student Drama Festival magazine 01/01/06
No Strings Attached
Jilly Snelll talks to Rachel Riggs, artistic director of Dynamic
We’re in a northern seaside town, but Punch
and Judy are not.
Yesterday we were treated to a workshop with Rachel Riggs, artistic
director of Dynamic New Animation, in association with the Puppet
Centre, both working toward a more nationally accepted professional
training of puppeteers. Dynamic New Animation worth with both children
and adults, using fairy tales and devise work through animation
Rachel sits with her Fairtrade NOFFice tea; I’m onto my third
Red Bull and it’s only just gone 1am. Copy deadline is in
12 minutes. Having just seen Kevin Tomlinson’s show we start
talking about theatre and storytelling through other mediums. She’s
here in her role as Artistic Director of Dynamic New Animation,
running puppetry workshops to develop into a cabaret for the end
of the week.
“It’s about demystify the process of puppetry and removing
any preconceptions.. We don’t do “Sooty & Sweep’.”
Rachel has brought with her some simple but effective techniques
for animation objects, but curiously no puppets. Everything and
anything within her grasp is a puppet, something I am about to learn.
She lies to open up the stage and explore what can be achieved with
overlooked objects. It appears that nothing is safe.
All objects have a secret life, especially the everyday functional
ones. How do you find this secret life and then what exactly do
you do with it? She finished her tea, the cup, she explains, is
incredibly versatile but rather obvious. When overturned and held
between thumb and forefinger it has a simple face complete with
handle nose. The puppet we have now created can do many things to
enhance our conversations. It has an innocence that can speak of
what we do not, if can make comments and pass judgements. You find
this exciting the idea of animation characters as a medium to debating
or adding other dimension to what you are actually saying. It is
so simple and doesn’t require the usual obligatory scene of
character establishment, not overburdening the action with unnecessary
characters used to make a point. She’s used this many times
before, recently half-way into a tense mother-daughter kitchen scene
where a cup ad teapot were much more able to work through problems
than the characters themselves. It gives such freedom to explore
The innocence of puppets is such a useful concept. A monologue
delivered through animation ca be much more effective than that
by an actor, and can quickly do a lot more to invite the audience
than 20 minutes of character back story. Puppets aren’t threatening.
The sense of child-like ‘play’ that they bring to a
piece can create a more truthful atmosphere, a truth to a story.
“But how do you show emotion?” I ask. The pretty obvious
answer would be with the aesthetics of the creature, but I’m
swiftly told to ignore the more traditional ideals of human/animal
shapes with animated faces. The teacup is crying at me. It’s
actually very moving. You can often show much of this through symbolist
and metaphor, through this is once again almost too obvious. In
her workshop Rachel taught the process of developing a puppet character.
“Look at how you serve the object and explore it’s limitations
of movement”. My cup has no legs, but with a cleverly placed
jumper it now has a body and becomes curious of its surroundings.
I’ll come back to this point of innocence because I feel
it’s key to animation and creation of characters. Rachel helped
25 students “give birth” to their puppets yesterday,
teaching them to walk, talk and interact, much as you would a child.
This is the same process of development that happened with every
play here at the festival as actors took up their new skins, but
on a more basic level. To give a puppet depth, you have to teach
them first, much in the same way that the experiences and history
of characters are enveloped by actors to their present intentions
Adding puppets to theatre gives more angles. We seem to appreciate
this already: This makes Rachel happy. “I feel it’s
very important that the options are there as part of the technique.
There should be a buffet of supplies with which to tell our story.
It’s an interesting development when the energy of a character
or indeed the actor behind the puppet is transferred to the puppet.
We see a lot more of the truth of the situation.” She goes
on to echo words of the discussion yesterday, that the process is
much more important than the end product. A puppet needn’t
be aesthetically amazing with flashing lights, a carved face and
expensive clothes to tell a story.
The development of the depths of animated character is the key,
and this takes time. She points out that many make the mistake of
adding puppets as props to action or as an afterthought at an end-stage,
but they need to be part of the rehearsals from the beginning. A
pretty sophisticated and complex puppet can be achieved in a very
short time, but it’s important to put in the time to achieve
this. In two hours this morning her students developed fro themselves
way of dealing with the “three F’s – Feeding,
Fighting and Fucking” – the basic primal instinct to
guide the actions of any character. Next they’ll be piecing
together more character work with the cabaret girls. I’m looking
forward to Friday. Rachel, the cup and I say goodbye as she departs
to sleep and the cup is washed up.
If you’re interested in using puppets or have never used
them before Rachel will be holding another workshop this week and
the performance will take place on Friday afternoon. So much can
be done with inanimate objects I’d never considered before.
As a parting shot, have a go at answering her last question to me
of the elements of plays you’ve seen that you felt didn’t
work, where would you have put the puppets?