Yesterday we spent the day with the incredibly talented Liz Walker of Invisible Thread. An experienced performer and maker, Liz works with all sorts of different puppets, creating innovative and beautiful shows that she tours around the festival circuit (see http://www.invisiblethread.co.uk). Working within the industry for many years, Liz has a wealth of knowledge and yesterday we were talking lip sync!!
A lip sync puppet is a type of glove puppet, one that speaks... lip syncing in time with it's operator. As those familiar with my work will know, this is an area I am certainly no stranger to. In fact, 90% of my previous work is with lip sync puppets. However, my expertise is incredibly limited as I am mostly self taught (with the exception of an excellent short course with Gary Friedman in Melbourne). This, coupled with the fact I have really only performed with one style of lip sync puppet ("Muppet"-esque), means that I still have loads to learn.
From the moment we started with Liz, I felt I was being stretched and challenged by her ideas, techniques and exercises. Ironically, we began with no words, playing around with things like sneezing, yawning and laughing. We worked in pairs, one person operating a simple sock puppet and the other providing the inspiration, the puppet imitating the real life experience and exaggerating it as far as they could. This proved to be a huge amount of fun and got us prepared for everything to follow.
The rest of the day was spent expanding our skill set with various exercises and experimenting with what was possible with Liz encouraging us and offering feedback along the way. We played with in pairs with the idea of legs... One puppeteer operating the sock puppet and another operating stocking legs (see picture below). This was incredibly challenging and very enjoyable. Later Liz introduced an obstacle course for us to play with!!
Then we moved on to larger puppets, lip sync mouths with the puppeteers arm as the characters (see gallery for pictures) along with some puppets with lever operated mouths (my favorite was lawn boy!). We did a lot of improvisation with these characters, developing short skits and working with Liz on improving our technique. The greatest lesson I took from these exercises was to use silence, find those quiet and still moments within the scene. Also, the power of eye contact, with the audience, other characters or even an object you want the audience to look at. Liz also gave me some fantastic tips on how to improve on my lip syncing. This was a wonderful change for me...
For my last few projects in Melbourne, I was the most experienced lip sync puppeteer involved and so acted as director and mentor to the other puppeteers. For a long time I have been saying "I don't want to be the big fish in the little pond, I wan't to be the little fish in the big pond!" Finally that transition has happened, and as much as I thoroughly enjoyed all my work in Melbourne, it is a very welcome change.
The workshop took place at Liz's workshop in Holmferth, a beautiful area (English countryside) and we enjoyed a picnic lunch in the sun outside her studio. It was a fantastic day from which I gained a lot. I am looking forward to seeing Liz perform at the Skipton Festival in September (at which I will also be performing!)
Liz closed the workshop with a very different exercise, one in group co-ordination. We built a large paper puppet in pieces and the four of us operated it (see gallery for photos). This was a real challenge, breathing together as one and making this puppet walk around the space... a really lovely way to finish off the day.
I have been at LSP for less than a week and already feel I am growing in leaps and bounds. Today I have been working on heads for my glove show, playing with clay and paper mache as well as having my first operating class with marionettes! Tomorrow we are shooting a video clip with marionettes for band August and After (the blog won't be far away!)