"Tinkering" with Tim Denton

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to attend a workshop run by renowned puppeteer and maker, Tim Denton. Hosted by Black Hole Theatre, the workshop focused on the technical aspects of puppet making, looking at the joints and mechanisms that allow a puppet to move. For me it is always valuable to attend these kinds of workshops; A, so I can learn from my peers, and B: to remind me to figure out the underlying structure first, before allowing myself to get bogged down in the details of the aesthetic. 

Tim has worked in the industry for many years and is well known for his beautiful craftsmanship and innovative creations. The workshop was similar in theme to one I attended last year at the Norwich Puppet Theatre (see post Mark Pitman Masterclass), but the structure was more reminiscent of my time at the London School of Puppetry, and also classes lead by Simon Fisher during my time at Deakin University. The space was filled to the brim with various materials, tools and examples, and after a brief introduction from Tim, we were encouraged to go wild! A wonderful mix of experience and skill in the room, each individual worked on whatever he/ she hoped to achieve. With Tim constantly moving about the space offering guidance, plus the insight of my fellow participants, it was a really wonderful environment in which to learn... organic, playful and free.

After seeing Tim's examples, it was clear to me that I wanted to understand ALL OF IT! However, with limited time, I needed to decide on a direction. With no drastic projects of my own requiring solutions, I decided to look at shadow puppets. Shadow, if I am honest, is the form of puppetry where I feel I am weakest. I absolutely adore shadow puppetry when it is done well, and would love to utilize it more, but always seem to gravitate towards other forms where I feel more confident. I have been thinking for some time now that I needed to challenge myself in this area and here was my first opportunity to do so. Tim had brought in a few examples of shadow puppets with various mechanisms to allow movement. The one that caught my eye was a running, barking dog. 

I decided, rather than taking pictures and writing notes, keeping in the spirit of the workshop, I would learn by doing and create my own version of this puppet... which of course ended up looking like my own beloved Fido. The task I set myself seemed quite simple in comparison to others, but I felt so serene working away at my shadow puppet, gradually figuring out the ins and outs of its design. Tim showed us a specific shadow joint designed by Richard Bradshaw (Internationally renowned Australian shadow artist), which he refers to as a "Bradshaw". It is a simple little joint, but one that is highly effective. Using a short length of wire, you coil half of its length into a swirly shape, poke the other half through your cardboard (or whatever material you choose for your shadow puppet), and then coil the other side in the same way. This joint is simple to make, strong and allows for plenty of movement. I must say however, it did take me several attempts to get the hang of.

At the end of day one, I felt very satisfied, having completed my shadow puppet and met some incredible people in this wonderfully creative and open environment. The interesting thing I always note when attending making workshops as opposed to performance based, is the energy. In a performance workshop the energy is usually very much based in the ensemble, everyone working together and learning together. Often the volume is quite high as well. Whereas in a workshop like this one, the energy is so focused on individual tasks. I would often look around the room and realize no-one was talking, just a sea of busily working fingers and intense expressions as each person created. I am not saying either scenario is better or worse, in fact I love both! It it is just interesting to note the difference.

Unfortunately I could not attend day two of this weekend workshop due to extreme weather conditions. I was very disappointed, however I really enjoyed the first day (as expressed above) and feel very happy to have been involved. Tim was a fantastic teacher, kind and patient, with an incredible wealth of knowledge. I would like to say a huge thank you to Tim and all my fellow participants for a wonderful day. And of course to Nancy Black and Black Hole Theatre for continuing to offer these incredible workshops. What a wonderful gift for the Australian puppetry community. 

For more about Tim Denton visit: http://www.aboutfaceproductions.com.au/

For more about Black Hole Theatre visit: http://blackholetheatre.com.au/