Tue 13 Jul 21
A new book by Dr Liam Jarvis, from the Department of Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies (LiFTS), explores the magic of puppetry and offers readers an insight into the theatrical process of bringing objects to life.
Theatre-Rites: Animating Puppets, Objects and Sites is co-authored by University of Essex graduate Sue Buckmaster and is the first in-depth exploration of her visionary practice as Artistic Director of acclaimed theatre company Theatre-Rites.
The book marks 25 years since Theatre-Rites was founded and will be launched at an event on 28 July.
Affectionately known by her students as the ‘puppet whisperer’, Sue Buckmaster - who graduated from Essex’s Centre for Theatre Research in LiFTS in 1997 with a MA Contemporary Theatre Practice - is a pioneer of object-led theatre.
Since its foundation, Theatre-Rites has created over 30 theatre-based and site-specific productions in the UK and internationally. It produces high-quality and experimental performances for young audiences, often presented in unusual spaces such as corner shops, hospitals and museums.
"Theatre-Rites' unwavering commitment to ensuring children are offered highly innovative and creatively daring theatrical experience is truly pioneering."
Speaking about the company’s contribution to British theatre, Dr Jarvis said: “Theatre-Rites’ unwavering commitment to ensuring children are offered highly innovative and creatively daring theatrical experiences – often setting the benchmark as a child’s first ever experience of theatre – is truly pioneering. They have pushed the boundaries of theatrical form, promoting an understanding and enjoyment of ‘object-led’ theatre that celebrates the power of puppetry, animation and site-responsive performances.”
Drawing on the history of the company through interviews, professional training observations and archival material, the book reveals how Theatre-Rites’ approach, based on Sue Buckmaster’s own expertise as a fifth-generation theatre practitioner, has broken new ground in theatre.
Each chapter offers distinct insights - drawing on perspectives from child development theory and psychoanalysis - to deepen understanding of the process through which audiences project ideas and associations onto animated objects. The book concludes by outlining nine practical exercises that the company uses in its professional puppetry training workshops. These exercises develop skill-building in a range of key areas from aiding puppeteers to draw focus to an object, to sensitising the puppeteer to the musculature of the animated object.
"It has been a joy to work with Liam, reflecting on the last 25 years of Theatre-Rites, and how fitting that it has continued my connection with the University of Essex."
The book is the culmination of a long-standing personal and professional creative partnership between Sue Buckmaster and Dr Jarvis, who first met in 2005 through the Young Vic’s Genesis Directors’ scheme.
Sue Buckmaster said: “It has been a joy to work with Liam, reflecting on the last 25 years of Theatre-Rites, and how fitting that it has continued my connection with the University of Essex. Theatre is in my blood, it goes back for five generations in my family, and I owe a huge debt to my late father for my love of puppets and objects. It is an honour to be able to pass this love on through the work of Theatre-Rites, through my teaching and now through this book which celebrates the world of object theatre. I hope this publication will contribute to a growing academic appreciation and understanding of the artform.”
“Anyone can do puppetry but to practice it professionally and to excel involves a complex training process. By demystifying Theatre-Rites’ creative methods and philosophy, widening perceptions of what puppetry can be and illuminating the sophisticated interdisciplinary approach that underpins the performances discussed, our book is an extension of Theatre-Rites’ unique professional training programme, as well as a history of the company,” added Dr Jarvis.
Theatre-Rites: Animating Puppets, Objects and Sites will be launched on 28 July.
Picture courtesy of Theatre-Rites and Jeff Eden.