Air inspires puppet workshop

  • Date

    Thu 11 May 23

A young male stands, wearing goggles, in front of a large fan

Second-year drama students got the chance to develop new skills in puppetry and object-led theatre at an annual intensive workshop with industry professionals.

Working with Dr Sue Buckmaster (Hons) and Zöe Grain from Theatre-Rites, they took inspiration from the company’s latest show, Something in the Air, and made puppets out of balloons, giant fans, feathers and even rubber rings.

The week included a series of exercises and visual story telling methods from Theatre-Rites’ practice.

Students got the chance to learn about Sue Buckmaster’s pioneering approach to animating objects, known as ‘puppet whispering’, which uses non-coercive methods to bring an inanimate object to life and extend the ego of the performer into that object. The week culminated in four shared performances.

Sue, Artistic Director at Theatre-Rites, who is also a graduate and an Honorary Graduate of the University, said: “It felt very moving and important to me to return to the University of Essex to share my theories, skills and the joy of my performance craft. It was during my MA that my learning all started to make sense to me and it was wonderful to see the impact the week had on the current students.”

Zöe, Artistic Associate at Theatre-Rites added: “The creativity and openness in the room was a privilege to be a part of. The students were a true ensemble working together with a kindness and care that ended up producing four individual unique pieces that reflected the Theatre-Rites method of object-led creation of movement and puppetry, as well as the complete individuality of the students. It was a pleasure to work with them.”

Student, Heidi Dine added: "Working with the company gave me the opportunity to develop and further my skills, whilst gaining invaluable experience within the industry."

The intensive week, held at the Lakeside Theatre, was organised by senior lecturer Dr Liam Jarvis, who won the Times Higher Award for Most Innovative Teacher in 2021.

Dr Jarvis has previously written about best practice for collaboration with industry professionals for Times Campus and co-authored a book, Theatre-Rites: Animating Puppets, Objects and Sites, about Theatre-Rites’ history and impact with Dr Buckmaster (Hons).

He said: “Theatre-Rites have been creating ground-breaking puppetry and site-specific work for young audiences and their families for over 27 years. To learn about their extraordinary methods in an intensely creative environment like this is a rare opportunity for our students and it was exciting to see their ideas and skills develop as the week went on.

“It is no exaggeration to say that students emerge from our intensive weeks transformed, better understanding their own strengths as well as the untapped creative possibilities of a particular tradition of performance-making.”

Theatre-Rites’ show, Something in the Air, is currently in development with Schauspielhaus Bochum, Germany.