Young Promoter Q&A – Life and Limb Puppets

On Monday this week Suzanne visited Allendale Primary School, where Highlights was working with the fantastic Life and Limb Puppets and Year 5/6 children, designing their own puppet characters. Suzanne caught up with Will for a Q&A.

Will is The Artistic Director of Life and Limb, who are based in Newcastle Upon Tyne and is responsible for the creative direction of the company and the style of their creative output. He is an improviser, teacher, maker and writer and trained at the Curious School of Puppetry, Northumbria University and The Danish Institute of Improvisation.

Suzanne: Hi Will

As an artist how do you put together your shows and workshops to appeal to selected audiences? Could you tell me something about how you structure them to make sure people get the most out of them?

Will: Hi Suzanne! Good question. Well I suppose I take my first cue from myself. I think about what sort of things entertained me as a young boy and how they were often unpatronising, grand and archetypal. As I go through the making process I often check in with my 7 year old self to guess if he would still be interested or giving me a strange look or an eye roll. In terms of audiences though we start with our work by having a core subtext around which the plot is woven. And I think that’s where all the work is really. What do I think is an important subtext but also what subtext would be useful/ enjoyable/ interesting to an audience. Once you have that the rest just falls into place really as you have the logic and the rest is just feeling out what happens, and if you know why then then what and how are easier. We tend to make work for non traditional theatre audiences who might be more comfortable in the cinema. I think theatre can sometimes forget that at its core it’s supposed to be entertaining rather than moralising and gets its self cart before horse and I’m always keen to avoid that. My first job is to make sure the audience have a good time.

Suzanne: what do you enjoy about touring with your workshops, showing the behind-the-scenes instead of for example large-scale puppetry theatre productions?

Will: The two aren’t so different re behind the scenes. Every time we do a show the audience gets to come and look inside after and see how we did it. Part of that is to show people how it feels to be on our side of the story telling and also show them how doable it could be. So running a workshop for young people where they design their own creatures/ hero’s/ heroines is a great next step. I think for me the best part about being able to work with people in a workshop environment is firstly that you get to really teach some of the key things I’ve learned along the way but also that you get to show them that they can actually realise their imagination in 3D. It’s especially interesting working with groups that are ‘hard to engage’ because my experience has been pretty much uniformly that you tell someone you will help them realise what THEY want and not they have to follow some prescriptive design to a prescriptive outcome and they get really into the process and could happily work for hours. I think we do a great disservice in not letting people behind the wheel creatively more, so to speak. We all have incredible stories in us and we rarely get chance to tell them.

Suzanne: Can you tell me how you incorporate the subject of mental health in your work?

Will: That’s our schools program we do with The Children’s Foundation and North East Wellbeing. We essentially use puppetry as a bridge vehicle to communicate with people about difficult things. Essentially this interest comes from my own life experiences and desires to understand things. There’s lots of incredible knowledge and information out there that sadly isn’t common. With those programs we essentially are asked to deal with something by a partner and then we do that with puppetry and other theatrical means. So in the same way as with our theatre we have a core subtext, with the mental health work we have core information.

Suzanne: what do you have upcoming for Life and Limb shows? Are you currently creating more shows or are you focus more on workshops and showing people about puppeteering and getting others involved?

Will: Well we still have our show Dragon which is available for bookings and we are looking at how to take that show out on tour again. We are also trying to secure funding from Arts Council England to make a whole new show in a similar style to Dragon but with some more sweeping themes. That will be called ‘At Sea’ and is very much a story about mental and spiritual health through the metaphor of losing your guiding light in a deep ocean and having to find it again while tackling various monsters of the deep!

We are always up for more workshops and our ethos is if we CAN do it we will. I’d LOVE people to get more involved in puppetry. For me it’s a truly magical theatrical form as since you control the whole world of the story you can really tell fabulous, incredible tales. And there’s no other art form that can do that as affordably and quickly as puppet theatre. Our competitors there are film, tv, animations, and games. And of course people with millions of pounds!

Read more about Life and Limb:

ABOUT | Life and Limb Puppets | Newcastle upon Tyne


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