Last weekend I was fortunate enough to participate in a masterclass led by Garlic Theatre's Mark Pitman. A two day course focusing on joints and mechanisms, the class took place at the Norwich Puppet Theatre. Founded in 1979, housed in a medieval church, this venue is a pillar of the puppetry community here in the UK... not to mention absolutely stunning. Under the guidance of Mark and NPT's own Peter Butler, we worked through some incredibly useful techniques for making puppets; different joints and mechanisms that can be adapted to suit the needs of almost any character and/or performer.
With eight participants on the course, we were a wonderfully diverse group of people, with varying degrees of experience, coming from different backgrounds and all with differing plans for the future. There was a great sense of camaraderie within the group, everyone supporting each other, and eager to share our love of puppetry. To use a phrase I learned from the Australian puppetry community, we were a real group of "Puppetry Tragics". For those of you not finely tuned to Australian sensibilities, that is a very positive thing to say! I really enjoyed working with this group of people.
Even now, several days later, I can not quite fathom just how much I learned over this two day period. Being fairly new to the puppetry scene, I would say I was one of the least experienced people in the class and that is exactly where I want to be! I long to be the small fish in the big pond, it is one of my greatest desires, especially in the puppetry world, and here was an opportunity for just that. I felt so at home surrounded by this group of passionate and talented individuals, soaking in as much information as I could.
Mark himself is an incredibly talented performer and maker with thirty years of experience... and he is a very good teacher. With a quirky charm and wit, he set the tone from day one, treating us all as friends, allowing us to feel instantly comfortable with everyone in the room and opening up a free flowing dialogue that lasted the entire weekend. Mark was incredibly generous in his teaching, with a long and varied history of making, he shared with us many tips and tricks of the trade, guiding us through practical exercises and introducing us to lots of new ideas!
Over the weekend, I learned about different materials, various approaches to joints and how to implement them, useful mechanisms and plenty of good resources. I was able to understand the concept of a universal joint and build two examples of my own. We learned about cable mechanisms, something that can be used for so many purposes; moving eyes, cable operated hands, head etc. There are unlimited possibilities! I was able to build two cable mechanisms on simple rod puppets, allowing control of the head from down low on the rod when operating. The practical exercises were incredibly helpful! Peter Butler of NPT was a great asset to all of us in this regard; a skilled maker, he offered a guiding hand in the workshop and helped us with the construction of our mechanisms.
All in all, I left Norwich feeling incredibly inspired, having met some absolutely amazing people and feeling confident to experiment further with techniques that were foreign to me prior to this course. I will definitely use the skills learned over the weekend in building my own puppets. The joints and mechanisms we learned about are incredibly adaptable and having an understanding of how they function, I am positive I will implement them into a lot of my work in the future. A huge thank you to Mark Pitman, Peter Butler, The Norwich Puppet Theatre and all of my fellow class mates. This masterclass well exceeded my expectations... I only wish it could have been longer.
For more information about Mark Pitman and Garlic Theatre visit: http://www.garlictheatre.org.uk/
For more information about Norwich Puppet Theatre visit: http://www.puppettheatre.co.uk/index