What I learned from making Beckett out of Styrofoam/ Time in the Blind Summit studios
Arriving on a bright Monday morning to where I knew the Blind Summit HQ should be, I was feeling a little lost. That is until I looked up to see a window piled high with yellow hands and the face of a gnarled puppet dangling from the ceiling behind. This introduction set the tone for an inspiring week of exploration into the purpose and potential of puppetry. The workshop is a hub of creation. Puppets bodies and heads lie on the tables in a state of half completion whilst scenes are devised and enacted by the Puppeteers and various questions of life commented upon by the most learned members of the company- Daz, Tina, and Suki of Citizen Puppet. Occasionally Moses pipes up to have his say. From my position at the table- initially making Samuel Beckett out of styrofoam and ending up with a very grumpy goblin, I watched as little by little characters and stories were found in the puppets. The process of devising cannot afford to be lazy and at Blind Summit it is not. Mark and Fi interrogated the importance of the relationship between Puppet and Puppeteers. Besides concocting a story, complete with political comment, character and poignancy there is always the added layer of complexity in figuring out what the Puppet’s ‘job’ is. ‘What is the puppet doing that a human couldn’t?’ It was wonderful to join in and to work out where Puppetry can fit into such a competitive industry. At Blind Summit it is immediately clear that Puppetry is a field that is developing with so much innovation and potential that their workshop is the exciting place to be.
You can also find Beckett in action (pretending to be Jeremy Corbyn.)
A year later Mark called me as I was about to leave London after my first year at Drama school. Bag’s in hand and just about to walk out the door he said, ‘Ant, do you fancy coming over to the studio’s tomorrow to read in for me.’ I mean yes. Of course, I do. One day turned into the next and so began the 6 weeks of Henry, A puppet Possessed. I turned up, read in, wrote down, acted out, marked, moved & puppeteered bin bags in the run-up to, and during the Edinburgh Fringe.
It turned out Mark was in the process of writing, directing and acting in a new piece about the ‘puppeteer’. ‘Im sick of the puppets getting all the attention said his character whose name I don’t think we ever managed to change from Mark. ‘Henry, A puppet possessed, or as it became known, ‘The Puppet show without puppets’ did a full run at the King Dome Pleasance venue. It was, in fact, an entirely different production every single day (so bad luck if you only came along once.) At the end of each run, we went back to the flat and re-drafted, re-worked, often re-wrote ready for the next day. Beckett would probably say ‘Try again, fail again, fail better’, though for him failure was an essential part of life- which itself was perhaps the biggest failure and Henry was pronounced as ‘Comedy gold that is powerful and majestic to watch’. So here’s to another extraordinary few weeks with Blind Summit…I wonder what will be next.
To see more about Blind Summit, whose legendry puppetry has crossed the globe and done things no puppet has ever done before click here. If it were not for Corona Virus you could also see them in action in Mme Butterfly at the Royal Opera House right now.