Puppeteer in action © Drew Colby.
If you’re looking to bring unusual entertainment to your venue, our latest resource could come in handy. Find guidance for hosting puppetry in this guest post from Linda Lewis, Director of Tunbridge Wells Puppetry Festival.
Puppetry is an all-embracing art form involving storytelling, visual arts, craft, design and performance.
Whilst we all know Punch and Judy, contemporary puppetry has much more to offer audiences of all ages. It can be an extremely accessible, thought-provoking and informative art form.
As a theatre producer and former venue manager I have been drawn to puppetry because it has the versatility to create situations that could not be shown by live performers. It takes years to develop the skills required to engage with an audience through precise and detailed manipulation of the object or puppet.
There are many different types of puppetry:
- Glove puppets
- Bunraku (a puppet requiring three or four manipulators)
- Object theatre
A detailed explanation of these art forms would require another article! Read on for my top tips.
1. When planning an event, identify available spaces where everyone can sit down and see clearly in front of them. There should be a raised platform for the puppeteers and perhaps even a small stage. Think about how many people can fit into the space comfortably. Often puppetry shows can be quite small scale and the company/artists will guide you on audience numbers. For example, some are suitable for no more than 50 at one time.
2. Carry out a risk assessment that suits the context of your building. If there are certain spaces where fragile textiles or historic floors may be damaged, it may be easier to rope these off.
3. Choose a show that fits the space you have. You will need to ask the puppetry company/artists about precise technical specifications for their show.
4. Choose a show that visitors will appreciate. It must be skilful, well-produced and suit the target audience for your event. To decide whether a show is a good fit, look at companies’ track records and see a performance for yourself! Start with something tried and tested, amazing and accessible for your audience. Once you have built up and captured your audience, you may be able to try more innovative work.
5. Plan your event budget and consider what you are prepared to offer artists before you contact them. Artists will usually have a set fee, which you may be able to negotiate a little – especially if you have more than one performance. You must state whether or not this fee includes expenses for food and travel.
6. When booking artists give them as much detail as you can about your venue, facilities, the space you have chosen and plans for the event.
7. Once you have reached an agreement, you will be responsible for producing a contract. The company/artist may also have a contract which they will exchange with you. You must ensure they have public liability and employer’s insurance and if they are working closely with children they need to have up to date DBS certificates to show you.
8. When you have confirmed details and signed contracts, you can start marketing the show. You should have a marketing plan for this event, especially if it is an art form you have not programmed before.
9. Some puppetry companies will supply marketing packs with tips on how to sell their show. They should be able to add the event to their tour list and provide a certain number of tailored posters and leaflets.
10. Use your venue’s marketing channels – including your website, social media and printed materials – to let your existing audience know about the event. The company and artists can do the same, hopefully helping you to reach people who have not visited your venue before!
11. If you are aiming to pull in new audiences, try to secure local and online media coverage about a unique type of show at your venue. Sometimes people are put off by the word ‘puppetry’, so explain what the show is about – if it’s an adaptation of a well- known story, for example.
12. A few days before the performance, contact everyone involved in your event – artists, technicians, staff and volunteers – to share key event information, delegate tasks and coordinate a briefing.
13. Allow time for the company/artists to set up on the day. Make sure the performance space will be available for them at your agreed time. Someone should meet them to provide help and technical support if required.
14. Before the event, ensure that all potential risks (like trailing wires or blocked exits) are avoided. Walk through the venue as a visitor would, checking signage, seating and facilities.
15. Enjoy the show! Try to watch some of the performance and see how your audience reacts.
After the performance, capture feedback via forms or short video interviews. Make sure to ask the company for their feedback, too. All of these responses can help you to evaluate the puppetry event and improve the offer for next time.
Puppeteers UK – home of Puppets Online puppeteers’ directory, events listings and news.
Puppet Centre – the national development agency for puppetry.
Puppetry festivals include:
Linda Lewis is the Director of the Tunbridge Wells Puppetry Festival.