Why Puppets?

Date published: 3 Mar 2024

Posted by: Kayleigh Page

2021 city centre day

A few thoughts from Alison Denholm, Creative Development Manager at City Arts on “why puppets”…

This year’s event is the third festival we have produced, and we are indebted to the network of partners, artists and communities who continue to champion and support the event. A particular thanks to our venue partners including Lakeside, the Squire and Broadway, and community partners including the Hubb Neighbourhood Centre in Sneinton and Cantrell School in Bulwell.

I wanted to share some of my thoughts around the question ‘why puppets’. At City Arts, we talk a lot about access to culture, and accessible culture. For me, puppetry presents many routes into culture. It may initially seem light touch and playful, but it can open up many different conversations about art form, creativity, ethnicity, access, scale, place and narrative. It seems to be ubiquitous across time and cultures, yet holds its place in each new millennium – the marriage of puppetry and new technology in the festivals shows Life of Pi and Noones Land are perfect examples of this.

So, while we are wanting the festival to share some of the best in creativity, we also want to use it as a tool to create opportunities and open routes into culture.

Creatively, festivals offer platforms for artists to make new work and take risks, and we have built into Nottingham Puppet Festival opportunities to champion artists working in the region, as well as build connections with artists working nationally and internationally.

Our bursary programme is investing into disability led theatre company Meander, who are based at the Playhouse, and Bryony McCombie Smith and Liz Johnson, who are both freelance artists and puppet designers.

A highlight of our exhibition programme is the exquisite puppetry of Nottingham artist Laura Mathews, who will be displaying her work at the new Central Library, as well as animating her creatures as part of our City Centre Day.

We will have talks and sharing’s from a number of different artists who use puppetry as a tool to unlock bigger conversations. This includes hearing from Sue Pyecroft at Bamboozle Theatre Company, and their work with disabled and autistic children and young people, and from Nikki Charlesworth, and her campaigning work around health, wellbeing, disability and race.

We have looked at how the festival can invite communities into our process. To this end, we have worked with participants at the Hubb neighbourhood centre, and children at Cantrell School. Together, we shortlisted and chose an artist who will work with them to create a new large-scale puppet. A very rigorous process that everyone took seriously, and we are delighted to be commissioning Cat Rock to create a new puppet with them.

We are also looking at where we are presenting work. While, of course, there is work in flagship venues and spaces across Nottingham, we are also making sure we connect with the wider city, and champion the spaces that we are all fighting to protect at the moment. To this end, we are touring a show from one of Europe’s best string puppeteers, Stephen Mottram, to four local community centres, and we have two early years shows that will be touring 12 library spaces across the city.

Finally, we are thrilled to be animating the city centre – as the festival strap line says, bringing the city to life with puppets and people. One of the best carnival companies working in the UK today, Mahogany Carnival Arts, will be bringing their unique world of dancing mobiles to our streets. We are also presenting the Ancient Giants walkabout show from Leicester based Inspirate. This is a street battle between Good and Evil in the form of the Hindu gods Ravan and Hanuman.

Also on that day, smaller scale shows will animate both inside and outside the new central library space, and the By Our Hands wood carving studio in Sneinton Market will be open for people to explore their magical environment.

And it is that word, Magic, that I would like to leave on. We are living through challenging times, and it is important to carve out a space where we can still share moments of magic and wonder. I hope the Nottingham Puppet Festival brings energy and colour to our streets and our communities, and hope, above all, that people enjoy it.