60 DEDICATED YEARS IN THE PUPPET THEATRE – A short biography in his own words. Artistic Director, designer, craftsman, author, mentor. Often called, the walking encyclopaedia of the puppet theatre. The most prolific producer of, multi media puppet theatre productions in the UK. My life began in March 1937. My mother studied painting, and my father was a fine craftsman. With my younger brother and sister, we regularly visited the Birmingham hippodrome; this inspired me to become a performer. Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery introduced me to mediaeval wood carving, and a costume by the Russian artist Alexander Benois. At school drama, woodcarving and metal work; I even made a steam engine that worked. The ‘Lilliput Marionette Theatre’ was the most interesting puppet theatre for the design, figures and scenery, and the dramatic productions. In 1951, I created my first marionette theatre, ‘The Festival Marionettes’. I joined ‘The ‘Birmingham Puppet Guild’; affiliated to the ‘British Puppet and Model Theatre Guild’ I received two awards for puppet theatre designs, and clown marionettes from Harry Whanslaw. Later on I was presented with the ‘Presidents Plate’, by Cecil Madden, the pioneer BBC television personality. After his death I took over the role of President. I proposed that regional meetings should be held to enable members to play a greater part, also hold joint Guild and UNIMA meetings in different parts of the country, each one of them with special events. ‘The Puppeteers Roadshow’ was held to provide a hands-on range of specialised technical and craft skills led by leading exponents. The Festival Marionettes’ consisted of four people working in a marionette theatre, and a marionette variety act. Hughie Green and the musician Steve Race spotted us for their ‘Opportunity Knocks’. The variety act performed in the annual ‘Summer Theatres’ in the City of Birmingham Parks, and we won numerous prizes in ‘Search for stars’ talent competitions, we later appeared as guest artistes. We also performed in ‘Stars of Magic’ shows. In 1952 I saw Sergei Obraztsov’s solo performance this inspired me; later he became a friend and mentor. I started to develop carving, design skills, stage craft, circus skills, and classical dance. Obraztsov inspired me to study the ‘Mir Iskusstva’ (The World of Art) the ‘Ballet Russe of Serge Diaghilev’. Designers Alexander Benois and Leon Bakst, were a great influence in my designs. Leaving school at fifteen, I had to take a ‘proper job’ at the ‘General Electric Company’, where I received my ‘Higher National Certificate’ in electrical engineering. The GEC had a theatre company and there I designed my first stage design. We also performed the marionette act in their Christmas Pantomime. I left the GEC at the end of the year, to perform with the marionettes’; I also worked as a graphic designer, for an exhibition and display company. I worked on the first production of the BBC Television studio in Gosta Green, Birmingham. Two years of National Service was spent in ‘JARIC’ the ‘Joint Aeronautic Intelligence Centre’ in the RAF. I also taught painting and drawing to officers. Running a touring variety show of some sixty performers was another activity, I trained another puppeteer to work with me I also performed a clown act. Leaving the RAF I joined the theatre company as a stage designer and stage director at ‘Dudley Hippodrome’, one of the leading UK theatres. There I designed and painted the scenery, and stage managed my first major pantomime, ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’. With the company, I moved to the ‘Pavilion Theatre’, Liverpool. There I had the pleasure of working with some of the legends of the music hall, and many of the leading variety performers. The decline of the variety theatres let me to looking for another outlet. I was offered the position of ‘Floor Manager’ at ‘Granada Television’. Coincidentally, puppeteer, Christine Glanville asked me if I would join the puppeteers in the ‘Century Twenty-one Studios. I accepted the opportunity. I created puppet characters in, ‘Supercar’, Fireball XL5’, ‘Stingray’ and ‘Thunderbirds’, including ‘Parker’, who became an ‘international ‘puppet superstar’. Three of the ‘Parker figures sold for the highest prices ever paid for puppets; thirty four, thirty eight, and fifty thousand pounds! I started to explore the idea of a new form of puppet theatre, combining the skills that I had already acquired. International dance and visual theatre companies were of interest; they included the design and choreography of ‘Alwyn Nicolais Dance Company’; he was previously a puppeteer; Martha Graham’s scenographer Isamu Naguchi, Depero Futurista, and the Bauhaus. Frequent visits to Russia enabled me to see the repertoire of Obraztsov’s Moscow State Puppet Theatre. Lenora Shpet, dramaturg to the theatre arranged visits to meet Alexander Voloshin, the Director of the ‘Moscow State Circus School’, to watch training programmes. I sent him a number of my circus drawings for the school. I had been very much involved in the circus in the UK, and performed as an acrobat and clown. I met the legendary Bunraku master, Monjuro Kiritaki the Director of the ’National Bunraku Theatre’, and actor puppeteer Tamamatsu Yoshida, to study Bunraku figures; their building and manipulation. Later, Koryu Nishikawa and the Kuruma Ningyo, in Hachioji. With Hisao Suzuki, the great master Noh Mask master, I mastered the art and craft of the Noh Mask. Suzuki’s masks can be seen in ‘The Victoria and Albert Museum’ and the ‘National Gallery’. I started to study de-humanisation techniques of Japanese actor, and Tai Chi as exercise for actor puppeteers. Extensive travelling to Eastern and Central Europe connected me with the legendary personalities of UNIMA, and puppet theatres. The quality of puppet theatre design, direction, production values, and nationalistic strength were an object lesson. I left the television studios and I joined Jane Phillips at ‘Caricature Theatre’. We had a commission to create a rod puppet and mask production as part of the ‘Commonwealth Arts Festival’. The production, based on the ‘Mabinogion’, ‘Culwhych and Olwen’. The first performance was seen by The ‘Duke of Edinburgh. It toured Wales, and we made a three-part, Welsh language, television film for the BBC. Harro Seigel invited us to perform the production in his ‘International Puppet Theatre Festival’, in Braunsweig, Germany. Jan Malik from Prague and Ludwig Krafft from Munich, invited us to perform in ‘International Puppet Theatre Festival’, during the UNIMA Congress in Munich. A journey to Poland to see as many puppet theatre productions revealed a plethora of remarkable, contemporary and innovative works. One of my actor director puppeteer friends organised a visit to Grotovsky’s ‘Laboratorium’, to see his work and training methods. Returning to Cardiff, I explored new ideas, and made a documentary for BBC Wales’s television. After the visit to Poland, in two days; I designed and created a production of ‘Peter and The Wolf’. A commission to design a production of ‘Pinocchio’, for Warren Jenkins, the director of ‘The Welsh National Theatre’, with actors, masks. The production toured in Wales, and later toured to leading English theatres, that included the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Leeds Playhouse, and Watford Palace Theatre. The first purpose built Arts Centre in the UK, ‘The Midlands Arts Centre for Young People’ was to open in Cannon Hill Park, Birmingham. I was invited by the Director, John English, to join the management team and undertake the role of designer and puppet master for the ‘Midlands Arts Theatre Company’. I designed classical and contemporary plays; part of a ‘Theatrical Literacy Programme’ for young people. Puppets and masks were frequently featured in them. For twelve years I ran weekend puppet workshops and educational projects for children and young people. An early exhibition in the centre was puppet theatre, with Waldo Lanchester. The Lanchester’s donated their touring marionette theatre and some marionettes as a foundation for a puppet theatre. Caricature Theatre was invited to perform for the first time in the new Studio Theatre with ‘Peter and the Wolf’. This enabled me to explore the potential of a major contemporary professional puppet theatre in a well designed, flexible and technically equipped studio theatre building. Sergei Obraztsov was the first major personality to visit the new Arts Centre; he generously gave us the Moscow State Puppet Theatre version of ‘Buratino’, a version of ‘Pinocchio’. I designed and directed two different productions of this. Lotte Reiniger was a regular visitor to Cannon Hill; she screened her films, and cut silhouette animals chosen by the children. Saturday and Sunday puppet, mask and improvisation workshops for children from five to fifteen years of age took place, this created and ideal opportunity to explore how children and young people developed creative play with disposable objects, also to develop alternative arts education and expressive arts and crafts. Each evening puppet and mask workshops for fifteen to twenty five year olds also took place. Other creative artists in the Centre was the film maker, Mike Leigh, who directed plays and films with students. A ‘Studio and Performance Group’ was formed to explore new, multi-media production techniques, in unusual spaces. Original productions, for adult and children’s audiences were created. The first production, was a Polish Christmas Legend with a vast stage setting based on the ‘Polish Szopka’, rod puppets, and a company of young Polish dancers. The production was toured to a number of large halls in the City of Birmingham. The group was twice invited to perform in International Amateur Puppet Theatre Festivals in Chrudim, Czechoslovakia. One, with an adult play ‘Peter in Heaven and Hell’, and Mozart’s opera, ‘Basteine and Bastienne’, and ‘Narcissus’, with live opera singers and orchestra. Two performances spaces were available to us. A highly flexible ‘Studio Theatre’, seating over two hundred people, and a ‘Hexagon Theatre’, a lecture style theatre that seated one hundred people. The two performance spaces required two distinct production techniques. The ‘Studio Theatre’ with its flexible open stage was a perfect performance space. We were able to present productions from visiting foreign companies, these included, ‘Drak’, Czech. ‘Takeda Marionettes’, Japan. ‘Marcinek’, Poland. ‘Albrecht Roser’, Germany. Yang Feng and his company, China; to name a few. Children and young people deserve only the finest quality entertainment and education. In the early years adults found it difficult to accept the new style of puppet theatre, even so, children and young people were excited by the rich and varied combinations of puppets, masks, mime and other disciplines in productions. In the early years even puppeteers rarely came to performances; it was considered that the new dynamic was not puppet theatre. This attitude continued for a number of years, despite the fact that family and children’s productions were always sold out, even before we opened new productions. The pioneering type of productions created by us, instead of traditional confines of the puppet theatre, with their proscenium frames, and playboard's, continued to be used in UK and European puppet theatres for many years. It is interesting to note, that now; virtually all puppet productions now use the new dynamic style. My intention was to develop a repertoire of classical children’s works and introduce a wide range of international material. Cannon Hill Puppet Theatre presented its first production in 1968. The company comprised of actors from the Arts Theatre Company, and three from the Studio Group and myself. It was supported, with a studio craftsman, sound and lighting technician from the Studio Group. The actor Tony Robinson was one of the first members of the company. Later Ronnie LeDrew joined us, later he became assistant to the Director. The company consisted of an artistic director/designer, administrator, studio craftsman and production manager, stage manager, six actor puppeteers, sound and lighting technician, stage carpenter, and wardrobe mistress. The company was like a family unit working to the old theatre adage ‘no play, no pay’. Everyone had above Equity rates, with rises every year. Creating our own model it was essential to train specialists, actor puppeteers had to explore the role and function of the actor puppeteer on stage, and how to direct multi-media performances. A lack of available texts, required new methods of writing and we created a project with John English to explore it. I discovered that the great Japanese writer, Chikamatsu Monzaemon, considered his writing for the Bunraku theatre not to reach the highest literary qualities as that of the human actor. Specialised technical skills became an important element. I engaged young technicians from the pop world, who were exceptionally creative. Later on, a leading opera sound and light designer joined us. John Wolf, the Royal Shakespeare Theatre composer produced our music. My intention was always to develop the skills of a new and talented younger generation of people who had open minds and were prepared to explore new ideas. Young actors with good voices from Birmingham School of Speech Training and Dramatic Art were retrained for the company. Weekly puppet theatre courses in the drama school were also held to explore new work and ideas, and students had to create work without finance, and only allowed to use disposable material. A one, and two year, professional full-time training for puppeteers and other specialists were established. Simon Buckley, Robin Stevens were two of the early students who later joined the company, and became significant television puppeteers. Adrian Kohler, the creator of the ‘War Horse’ figure spent a two year intern with us, and Ronnie Burkett once applied to join us. Darryl Worbey was an apprentice in the workshops of Cannon Hill Puppet Theatre from 1982 to 1984 he showed a great deal of talent and on completing his education he secured a contract as a puppeteer in a film in Canada. After its completion joined the Henson Creature Shop and now his Studio is one of the leading film and television companies creating high quality puppets. The company performed eight performances, sometimes sixteen each week by splitting the company. Each performance ran for two hours, with a short intermission. Apart from two week summer breaks the company performed all year round. During the twenty five years of Cannon Hill Puppet Theatre we created over eighty productions, all of them completely different in design style and techniques. I produced, directed, designed and created over fifty productions, wrote over thirty texts, carved and painted all puppets heads and hands, and created numerous unique puppet techniques. I also designed our posters and programmes. The puppet theatre was recognised by Equity as the spear head puppet theatre company in the UK, with an international reputation. It is interesting to note that the Arts Council Drama Panel, despite the fact that we received no direct funding, asked us to remove the word ‘puppet’ from our title. The puppet was always our central means of expression, and would always be so through its history. The company was recognised as one of the three jewels in the City of Birmingham’s cultural crown, alongside Simon Rattle and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, and Peter Wright, director and choreographer of The Birmingham Royal Ballet. The Company made tours to many of the leading theatres in the UK, including our London base at the ‘Unicorn Theatre’. International tours representing the UK took us to China, Hong Kong, Hungary, Belgium, East and West Germany, France, Denmark, Yugoslavia, Thailand, Australia, Italy, Sicily and Greece. Many performances were in International Puppet Festivals, winning numerous awards. The UNIMA Congress and International Puppet Theatre Festival in Dresden invited us to perform our production ‘The Princess Who Would Not Laugh’, in The Palace of Zwinger. Criticism of the production by from one of Germany’s leading critic’s, he particularly mentioned the two leading comic actors, this led to performances in East Berlin. The company frequently toured to Belfast performing and workshops in some of the most difficult and dangerous venues and areas. We had some of the most responsive audiences we performed to. ‘The Theatre of Marvels’ was collaboration with the mime Geoffrey Buckley, an early Jacques Lecoq professor. Its purpose was to explore a range of new multi media production techniques. We explored dynamics of performance spaces, visual, non verbal, and physical theatre techniques, object manipulation on rostra or table tops. The production was seen in the City of Birmingham Town Hall, and Cannon Hill. The BBC filmed items from the production, for a series of evening slots, but described them as obscure, and too advanced, despite the fact that we performed it to children and young people. One of the company’s most popular productions, ‘Tiger Peter’ toured to Hong Kong and China for a major Birmingham City Council cultural event, performing in theatres seating two or more thousand people. Most tours also had educational workshops attached. The company performed at the Teatro Alla Scala Pisa, in Italy as part of the year long Festival of twelve of the world’s leading children’s theatres. I directed Tiger Peter for the Tasmanian Puppet Theatre at the Theatre Royal in Hobart followed by a tour in Australia. On the occasion of an International Puppet Theatre Festival held in the Theatre Royal, Tasmania, it was to be opened with a performance by Sergei Obraztsov. Unfortunately he was taken ill, and as the second guest I had to perform my ‘An Illusion of Life’ to a full theatre of international puppeteers. Its success brought me many new puppeteer friends, including, ‘PUK Theatre’, from Japan, and the legendary Yang Feng and his company from Longzi, China. ‘An Illusion of Life’ is my one-man performance, performed in many parts of the world, but rarely in the UK. Many members from the company created their own successful film and television companies. One popular puppet character was Roland Rat, who presented many prime time programmes with major personalities. Roland performed in the Children’s Royal Variety Show. David Clarridge, Roland’s creator started in the children’s workshops, joined Cannon Hill Puppet Theatre when he left school, and performed in our first production. At sixteen, he designed our production of ‘The Tin Soldier’. David was also a fine actor and performed in leading London and provincial theatres. He now has a Television and video and DVD studio in America. Simon Baron came to Cannon Hill from High School. He joined the company as stage manager; he became a fine puppeteer, and sound and lighting technician. He was assistant director, and later became floor manager to Independent Television, and now, a director in Hollywood. Many members of the company played in many of the Henson films and programmes, and many of the top television programmes in the UK and the USA, including Spitting Image and other programmes. Robin Stevens, a former student, presented ‘Pob’s Programme’, the Channel 4 storytelling series. I created the Pob character for Robin. It is now recognised as one of the top children’s programmes along with Thunderbirds. He also performed in all the Rag Doll programmes. He is now working in the USA. Other actor puppeteers, technicians and directors from company secured positions in major UK and European theatres. Now there is a talented second generation performing in films, television and West End musicals. We held writing competitions for texts. A number of leading authors produced some fine works for us; John English from the Arena Theatre, Joyce Chessman from the Victoria Theatre, Stoke on Trent, Dave Arthur, Simon Painter, Ivan Jones and his ‘Zot the Dog’, Nigel Moffatt, ‘Stop the Carnival’, ‘The Twits’, Roald Dahl. I undertook government work placements and other pioneer training initiative projects. The company was recognised as a model of good practise and achievement. I developed many projects in different countries. The Senahassa Centre, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, there I trained four groups of young people to create puppet theatre productions for theatre and television. In Thailand, master classes for young actors in Chulalongkorn University. Aborigines in Alice Springs in Australia. Two major Governmental research projects on puppet theatre took place in the Australian Elizabethan Trust, and for the Chinese Government, a study of the status of Chinese puppet theatre related to other parts of the world. In 1986 I was the Professor for the Summer Academy for the Bavarian Academy of Fine and Applied Arts in Munich, and the Folk Theatre in Endorf. We created a performance based on the life of King Ludwig. Many puppet related exhibitions were mounted in Cannon Hill and elsewhere. Major exhibitions were mounted in many parts of the UK. ‘The Magic World of Puppets’, in Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery in 1985 as part of a major anniversary, attracted 72.000 visitors in two months. Part of the exhibition went to Sheffield Museum and Art Gallery and attracted 60.000 visitors in two months. ‘Around the World with Mr Punch’, at Wolverhampton Museum and Gallery was opened by Peter Baldwin. Two interesting programmes for Independent Television were made. The Making of Hatu Patu, an Aboriginal story for series screened by ITV Children’s Educational Channel. The Pomegranate Princes, a Cannon Hill Puppet Theatre production, for ITV. I designed stage settings for the Crescent Theatre, in Birmingham. ‘The Devils’, ‘Maria Martin, or Murder in the Red Barn’, and ‘Lilly in Little India’. I designed two versions of ‘Noah’s Flood’, one by Benjamin Britten, and one by Stravinsky, a work created for television. ‘Masks and Painted Faces’, was a week long collaboration with ‘Centre Ocean Stream’ exploring Indian performance arts. For Time Cycles, I designed the stage setting. I designed the stage setting for Nahid Sidiquie and Company, for a national tour of contemporary Kathak dance. Nahid is one of the worlds leading Kathak dancers, I also designed the pantomime Cinderella for Leeds City Variety Theatre. Educational projects played a significant role in my work, particularly autism and special educational needs. With our first marionette show where children’s hospital visits were performances were given, also creating ways to encourage people to use puppets in wheel chairs. I undertook a great deal of teacher training programmes in a number of cities; work was based on the use of puppets and puppet theatre. Other interesting projects in the UK were: serving as a Ghost Client and Consultant for Puppet Theatres, in Birmingham and Manchester University. A series of master classes performance for a Conservation Play, using objects and dispensed materials at Goldsmiths College, London. Puppets for Shakespeare’s, The Tempest at the Phoenix Theatre, Leicester. Puppets for Seasons Greetings, Alan Ayckborn. English National Opera, training actor puppeteers, and Bunraku consultation for Stephen Sondheim’s, Pacific Overtures at the London Coliseum. Design and direction for Debussy’s, La Boite a Joujux, for Simon Rattle, London Sinfonietta, and, South Bank Summer Music Festival, at the Queen Elizabeth Hall and in Cannon Hill. I organised two ‘Punch Cavalcades’, in Cannon Hill Park, featuring twenty four professors. Demonstrations on Bunraku, and Noh masks, for The Japanese Consulate, and the Japanese department, in Edinburgh University. Demonstrations of the carving of Noh masks with Baku Adachi, the last student of Hisao Suzuki in Edinburgh University, and Kelvingrove Museum, Glasgow. I organised the Alexander Pushkin Anniversary Festival, in Glasgow, in the Royal Concert Hall, and Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre, with Russia’s leading Pushkin actor. An exhibition of Pushkin inspired paintings and drawings by children from Russia and Glasgow, a major Pushkin Exhibition, and a production of Two Little Pushkin Tales, by The World through Wooden Eyes, in the Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow. In recent years we collaborated with Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre, mainly undertaking automata workshops for children and young people, and The Russian Cultural Centre, where we took part in projects based on our production of, Snegourotchka, with opera singers and musicians. In 2003 I created an automata of Parker and the Bodach a Scottish folklore character for the Arima Museum of Toys and Automata Kobe, Japan. In 2004 created two more automats of Parker, from Thunderbirds for the Arima Museum of Toys and Automata. A major Thunderbirds exhibition, including my Noh masks, and puppets, and the Japanese influences on my design and craftsmanship in puppet theatre. A performance of my Illusion of Life was performed in a temple in Arima; there were also workshops for children and adults. International UNIMA played a significant role in my life and work, as did The British Puppet and Model Theatre Guild, and The Educational Puppetry Association. I was particularly drawn to the organisation due to its focus on international friendship. Two of the organisations, and three independent puppeteers, formed the British Centre UNIMA during a meeting of the Executive Committee of UNIMA in London. Jan Malik, from the Central Puppet Theatre in Prague, Czechoslovakia, Lenora Shpet from the State Central Puppet Theatre in Moscow, and Henryk Jurkowski, from Poland, encouraged me to become more involved in International UNIMA. I regularly travelled to different parts of the world with the Executive Committee of UNIMA. With Henryk Ryl, from Poland, I joined with him on a UNIMA Publicity and PR project. In the 1976, UNIMA Congress and Festival, I was made a Member of the International Executive Committee of UNIMA. At the same time as Sergei Obraztsov became UNIMA President. The event took place on the stage of the Moscow Arts Theatre. I became a member of a number of UNIMA committees, these include the Publication Commission where annual Pictorial Calendars, books containing the finest examples of puppet theatre productions in the world also the first stages of the UNIMA Encyclopaedia. As a member of the Training Committee, we established the International Institute for Puppet Theatre, in Charleville Mezieres. I was one of the early professors, and I collaborated with Koryu Nishikawa, and Toru Saito in master classes for Bunraku, Kuruma Ningyo. Also, the International Puppet Museum, in Chrudim in Czechoslovakia with Jan Dvorak from Drak Theatre. For twenty years, with my colleagues in the Executive Committee of UNIMA, I sat on Juries for performances in International Puppet Theatre Festivals in many parts of the world. My brief, given by Jan Malik, was ‘The Craftsmanship of Performance’. During this period I witnessed hundreds of the finest productions in the world. Rarely ever seen now. As Chairman and President of British UNIMA I Edited, illustrated and contributed to 55 British UNIMA Bulletin’s from 1978 to 1996, and other national and international magazines. I have been mentioned in French and Russian encyclopaedia and other books. In 2008 there was an auction of all of the puppets created in Cannon Hill Puppet Theatre. The finances raised were used to develop the Midlands Arts Centre. I percentage of the puppets are now in Glasgow, and others went to museums and collections in the UK, America and Europe. In Glasgow in 2004 I established The World through Wooden Eyes, housed in the Mitchell Library, one of the great European libraries. It is dedicated to the extraordinary personalities from the world of the puppet theatre that I had the pleasure of working with for so many years. It houses the John M. Blundall Collection of Puppets Masks, prints, engravings, original designs and other works on paper, and related material. The library holds over 6000 of the most rare and valuable books from many parts of the world, also one of the finest collection of puppets and masks of all types and techniques from far and wide in the UK and abroad. Japanese Bunraku figures and woodblock prints, a range of Chinese puppets, Victorian marionettes and trick props, The Cannon Hill archive, British and European toy theatres, including the archive of Peter Jackson’s original toy theatres, and the whole Cannon Hill archive, and original designs and stage models. A selection of puppets from the collection is on show in Kelvingrove Museum, a major part of the collection is held in the Glasgow Museum Resources Centre, Nitshill. The collection preserves unique creations of the artists and masters of the art and craft of the puppet theatre for future generations. Two twelve-foot giants and other figures were designed and built for the Lord Provost of Glasgow Procession in 2000 and 2001. Numerous exhibitions have been mounted in The Mitchell Library and other museums in Scotland, they include The Immortal Villain Mr Punch, Mr Jackson’s Toy Theatres, From Punch to Parker at Motherwell Heritage Centre, and the Old Kirk Museum Kirkentiloch, Pierrot, Puppets and Pictures, Saltcoates Museum. Peddlers of Pleasure - Punch and Judy a year long exhibition, opening a new Community Centre in Glasgow. A number of exhibitions at the Russian Cultural Centre in Café Cosachok, these include Noh Masks, and Designs for the Puppet Theatre. For a period of time I Represented ‘Artists in Exile’ in Glasgow, making frames and helping with exhibitions. Over the years I did many television and radio interviews and demonstrations with most of the leading personalities; Magnus Magnusson, BBC TV, Jack Demanio, BBC Radio, Philip Schofield, Sue Lawley, Sue Cook and many others. Any Artistic Director is only as good as his or her company, and I am always grateful to have so many talented people who helped me to entertain million’s of families and children in the UK and abroad. I have also been blessed with the kindness, friendship and inspiration of vast numbers of the most extraordinary academic and creative genii of the world of the puppet theatre, the arts and the performing arts through the years. Memberships. Member of the Committee British Children’s Theatre Association. Member of the Drama Panel of West Midlands Arts Board. Advisor of children’s and puppet theatre. Member of the advisory panel, and assessor of children’s and puppet theatre for the Arts and Leisure Department of Birmingham City Council. Chairman of the British Centre of UNIMA (the Centre International de la Marionette part of the structure of UNESCO). Hon President of British UNIMA. Member of the International Executive Committee of UNIMA 1976-2000 Honorary Member of International UNIMA for Services to the development of international puppet theatre. Member of the International Training Committee of UNIMA. Member of the International Commission for Amateur Puppeteers. Member of the International Publications Commission of UNIMA Editor of more than fifty British Centre UNIMA Bulletin’s. Listed in the Cambridge International Biographical Centre who’s Who of Men of International Achievement 1984. Listed in the Cambridge International Biographical Centre Who’s Who of Intellects 1985 Member of the ITI (International Theatre Institute) International Liaison Committee. President of The British Puppet and Model Theatre Guild, also a member of its Committee. Patron of ‘Artesian’, ‘Outsider Art. Member of the Committee on ‘Orcadia’, Organisation for people with disabilities. Teachings Venues International Institute for Puppet Theatre, Charleville Mezieres. Drama Department, Oxford University. Aberdeen School of Art. Lanchester College, Coventry. Leicester Educational Drama Centre. Birmingham University, Architecture Department. Manchester University. Department of Architecture. Scottish Mask and Puppet Theatre. ‘The Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama’, Glasgow. National Institute for Dramatic Art, Sydney, Australia. Chulalongkorn University. Bangkok. Thailand. Sennahassa Centre. Colombo. Sri Lanka. Tasmanian Puppet Theatre, and the Theatre Royal, Hobart. Tasmania. Numerous venues in Hong Kong and the New Territories China. Guangzhou and other puppet theatres in China. Theatre PUK. Tokyo. Japan. Arima Museum of Toys and Automata. Kobe. Japan. Goldsmiths College. Conservation Play. London. Birmingham School of Art and Crafts. Birmingham School of Speech Training and Dramatic Art. Training and five productions. Birmingham. Saddlers Wells Royal Ballet. Birmingham. Birmingham Repertory Theatre. Birmingham. Highbury Little Theatre. Birmingham. Malvern Festival Theatre. Malvern. Swan Theatre. Worcester Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. Birmingham. Wolverhampton Museum and Art Gallery. Lichfield Art Gallery. Lichfield. Warwick Art Gallery. Warwick. Coventry Museum and Art Gallery. Coventry. The National Theatre. London. Motherwell Heritage Centre. Exhibition Centre, Birmingham. Warrington Art Gallery. Warrington. North Ayrshire Museum, Saltcoates, Artesian. Edinburgh. Scottish National Library. Edinburgh. Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre, Glasgow. Collections. Moscow. Dresden. Budapest. Switzerland. France. Spain. Italy. Yugoslavia. Germany. Japan. Australia. USA. China.
John M Blundall
Copyright © Nigel Dickinson
John M Blundall
60 DEDICATED YEARS IN THE PUPPET THEATRE A short biography in his own words. Artistic Director, designer, craftsman, author, mentor. Often called, the walking encyclopaedia of the puppet theatre. The most prolific producer of, multi media puppet theatre productions in the UK. My life began in March 1937. My mother studied painting, and my father was a fine craftsman. With my younger brother and sister, we regularly visited the Birmingham hippodrome; this inspired me to become a performer. Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery introduced me to mediaeval wood carving, and a costume by the Russian artist Alexander Benois. At school drama, woodcarving and metal work; I even made a steam engine that worked. The ‘Lilliput Marionette Theatre’ was the most interesting puppet theatre for the design, figures and scenery, and the dramatic productions. In 1951, I created my first marionette theatre, ‘The Festival Marionettes’. I joined ‘The ‘Birmingham Puppet Guild’; affiliated to the ‘British Puppet and Model Theatre Guild’ I received two awards for puppet theatre designs, and clown marionettes from Harry Whanslaw. Later on I was presented with the ‘Presidents Plate’, by Cecil Madden, the pioneer BBC television personality. After his death I took over the role of President. I proposed that regional meetings should be held to enable members to play a greater part, also hold joint Guild and UNIMA meetings in different parts of the country, each one of them with special events. ‘The Puppeteers Roadshow’ was held to provide a hands-on range of specialised technical and craft skills led by leading exponents. The Festival Marionettes’ consisted of four people working in a marionette theatre, and a marionette variety act. Hughie Green and the musician Steve Race spotted us for their ‘Opportunity Knocks’. The variety act performed in the annual ‘Summer Theatres’ in the City of Birmingham Parks, and we won numerous prizes in ‘Search for stars’ talent competitions, we later appeared as guest artistes. We also performed in ‘Stars of Magic’ shows. In 1952 I saw Sergei Obraztsov’s solo performance this inspired me; later he became a friend and mentor. I started to develop carving, design skills, stage craft, circus skills, and classical dance. Obraztsov inspired me to study the ‘Mir Iskusstva’ (The World of Art) the ‘Ballet Russe of Serge Diaghilev’. Designers Alexander Benois and Leon Bakst, were a great influence in my designs. Leaving school at fifteen, I had to take a ‘proper job’ at the ‘General Electric Company’, where I received my ‘Higher National Certificate’ in electrical engineering. The GEC had a theatre company and there I designed my first stage design. We also performed the marionette act in their Christmas Pantomime. I left the GEC at the end of the year, to perform with the marionettes’; I also worked as a graphic designer, for an exhibition and display company. I worked on the first production of the BBC Television studio in Gosta Green, Birmingham. Two years of National Service was spent in ‘JARIC’ the ‘Joint Aeronautic Intelligence Centre’ in the RAF. I also taught painting and drawing to officers. Running a touring variety show of some sixty performers was another activity, I trained another puppeteer to work with me I also performed a clown act. Leaving the RAF I joined the theatre company as a stage designer and stage director at ‘Dudley Hippodrome’, one of the leading UK theatres. There I designed and painted the scenery, and stage managed my first major pantomime, ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’. With the company, I moved to the ‘Pavilion Theatre’, Liverpool. There I had the pleasure of working with some of the legends of the music hall, and many of the leading variety performers. The decline of the variety theatres let me to looking for another outlet. I was offered the position of ‘Floor Manager’ at ‘Granada Television’. Coincidentally, puppeteer, Christine Glanville asked me if I would join the puppeteers in the ‘Century Twenty-one Studios. I accepted the opportunity. I created puppet characters in, ‘Supercar’, Fireball XL5’, ‘Stingray’ and ‘Thunderbirds’, including ‘Parker’, who became an ‘international ‘puppet superstar’. Three of the ‘Parker figures sold for the highest prices ever paid for puppets; thirty four, thirty eight, and fifty thousand pounds! I started to explore the idea of a new form of puppet theatre, combining the skills that I had already acquired. International dance and visual theatre companies were of interest; they included the design and choreography of ‘Alwyn Nicolais Dance Company’; he was previously a puppeteer; Martha Graham’s scenographer Isamu Naguchi, Depero Futurista, and the Bauhaus. Frequent visits to Russia enabled me to see the repertoire of Obraztsov’s Moscow State Puppet Theatre. Lenora Shpet, dramaturg to the theatre arranged visits to meet Alexander Voloshin, the Director of the ‘Moscow State Circus School’, to watch training programmes. I sent him a number of my circus drawings for the school. I had been very much involved in the circus in the UK, and performed as an acrobat and clown. I met the legendary Bunraku master, Monjuro Kiritaki the Director of the ’National Bunraku Theatre’, and actor puppeteer Tamamatsu Yoshida, to study Bunraku figures; their building and manipulation. Later, Koryu Nishikawa and the Kuruma Ningyo, in Hachioji. With Hisao Suzuki, the great master Noh Mask master, I mastered the art and craft of the Noh Mask. Suzuki’s masks can be seen in ‘The Victoria and Albert Museum’ and the ‘National Gallery’. I started to study de-humanisation techniques of Japanese actor, and Tai Chi as exercise for actor puppeteers. Extensive travelling to Eastern and Central Europe connected me with the legendary personalities of UNIMA, and puppet theatres. The quality of puppet theatre design, direction, production values, and nationalistic strength were an object lesson. I left the television studios and I joined Jane Phillips at ‘Caricature Theatre’. We had a commission to create a rod puppet and mask production as part of the ‘Commonwealth Arts Festival’. The production, based on the ‘Mabinogion’, ‘Culwhych and Olwen’. The first performance was seen by The ‘Duke of Edinburgh. It toured Wales, and we made a three-part, Welsh language, television film for the BBC. Harro Seigel invited us to perform the production in his ‘International Puppet Theatre Festival’, in Braunsweig, Germany. Jan Malik from Prague and Ludwig Krafft from Munich, invited us to perform in ‘International Puppet Theatre Festival’, during the UNIMA Congress in Munich. A journey to Poland to see as many puppet theatre productions revealed a plethora of remarkable, contemporary and innovative works. One of my actor director puppeteer friends organised a visit to Grotovsky’s ‘Laboratorium’, to see his work and training methods. Returning to Cardiff, I explored new ideas, and made a documentary for BBC Wales’s television. After the visit to Poland, in two days; I designed and created a production of ‘Peter and The Wolf’. A commission to design a production of ‘Pinocchio’, for Warren Jenkins, the director of ‘The Welsh National Theatre’, with actors, masks. The production toured in Wales, and later toured to leading English theatres, that included the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Leeds Playhouse, and Watford Palace Theatre. The first purpose built Arts Centre in the UK, ‘The Midlands Arts Centre for Young People’ was to open in Cannon Hill Park, Birmingham. I was invited by the Director, John English, to join the management team and undertake the role of designer and puppet master for the ‘Midlands Arts Theatre Company’. I designed classical and contemporary plays; part of a ‘Theatrical Literacy Programme’ for young people. Puppets and masks were frequently featured in them. For twelve years I ran weekend puppet workshops and educational projects for children and young people. An early exhibition in the centre was puppet theatre, with Waldo Lanchester. The Lanchester’s donated their touring marionette theatre and some marionettes as a foundation for a puppet theatre. Caricature Theatre was invited to perform for the first time in the new Studio Theatre with ‘Peter and the Wolf’. This enabled me to explore the potential of a major contemporary professional puppet theatre in a well designed, flexible and technically equipped studio theatre building. Sergei Obraztsov was the first major personality to visit the new Arts Centre; he generously gave us the Moscow State Puppet Theatre version of ‘Buratino’, a version of ‘Pinocchio’. I designed and directed two different productions of this. Lotte Reiniger was a regular visitor to Cannon Hill; she screened her films, and cut silhouette animals chosen by the children. Saturday and Sunday puppet, mask and improvisation workshops for children from five to fifteen years of age took place, this created and ideal opportunity to explore how children and young people developed creative play with disposable objects, also to develop alternative arts education and expressive arts and crafts. Each evening puppet and mask workshops for fifteen to twenty five year olds also took place. Other creative artists in the Centre was the film maker, Mike Leigh, who directed plays and films with students. A ‘Studio and Performance Group’ was formed to explore new, multi-media production techniques, in unusual spaces. Original productions, for adult and children’s audiences were created. The first production, was a Polish Christmas Legend with a vast stage setting based on the ‘Polish Szopka’, rod puppets, and a company of young Polish dancers. The production was toured to a number of large halls in the City of Birmingham. The group was twice invited to perform in International Amateur Puppet Theatre Festivals in Chrudim, Czechoslovakia. One, with an adult play ‘Peter in Heaven and Hell’, and Mozart’s opera, ‘Basteine and Bastienne’, and ‘Narcissus’, with live opera singers and orchestra. Two performances spaces were available to us. A highly flexible ‘Studio Theatre’, seating over two hundred people, and a ‘Hexagon Theatre’, a lecture style theatre that seated one hundred people. The two performance spaces required two distinct production techniques. The ‘Studio Theatre’ with its flexible open stage was a perfect performance space. We were able to present productions from visiting foreign companies, these included, ‘Drak’, Czech. ‘Takeda Marionettes’, Japan. ‘Marcinek’, Poland. ‘Albrecht Roser’, Germany. Yang Feng and his company, China; to name a few. Children and young people deserve only the finest quality entertainment and education. In the early years adults found it difficult to accept the new style of puppet theatre, even so, children and young people were excited by the rich and varied combinations of puppets, masks, mime and other disciplines in productions. In the early years even puppeteers rarely came to performances; it was considered that the new dynamic was not puppet theatre. This attitude continued for a number of years, despite the fact that family and children’s productions were always sold out, even before we opened new productions. The pioneering type of productions created by us, instead of traditional confines of the puppet theatre, with their proscenium frames, and playboard's, continued to be used in UK and European puppet theatres for many years. It is interesting to note, that now; virtually all puppet productions now use the new dynamic style. My intention was to develop a repertoire of classical children’s works and introduce a wide range of international material. Cannon Hill Puppet Theatre presented its first production in 1968. The company comprised of actors from the Arts Theatre Company, and three from the Studio Group and myself. It was supported, with a studio craftsman, sound and lighting technician from the Studio Group. The actor Tony Robinson was one of the first members of the company. Later Ronnie LeDrew joined us, later he became assistant to the Director. The company consisted of an artistic director/designer, administrator, studio craftsman and production manager, stage manager, six actor puppeteers, sound and lighting technician, stage carpenter, and wardrobe mistress. The company was like a family unit working to the old theatre adage ‘no play, no pay’. Everyone had above Equity rates, with rises every year. Creating our own model it was essential to train specialists, actor puppeteers had to explore the role and function of the actor puppeteer on stage, and how to direct multi-media performances. A lack of available texts, required new methods of writing and we created a project with John English to explore it. I discovered that the great Japanese writer, Chikamatsu Monzaemon, considered his writing for the Bunraku theatre not to reach the highest literary qualities as that of the human actor. Specialised technical skills became an important element. I engaged young technicians from the pop world, who were exceptionally creative. Later on, a leading opera sound and light designer joined us. John Wolf, the Royal Shakespeare Theatre composer produced our music. My intention was always to develop the skills of a new and talented younger generation of people who had open minds and were prepared to explore new ideas. Young actors with good voices from Birmingham School of Speech Training and Dramatic Art were retrained for the company. Weekly puppet theatre courses in the drama school were also held to explore new work and ideas, and students had to create work without finance, and only allowed to use disposable material. A one, and two year, professional full-time training for puppeteers and other specialists were established. Simon Buckley, Robin Stevens were two of the early students who later joined the company, and became significant television puppeteers. Adrian Kohler, the creator of the ‘War Horse’ figure spent a two year intern with us, and Ronnie Burkett once applied to join us. Darryl Worbey was an apprentice in the workshops of Cannon Hill Puppet Theatre from 1982 to 1984 he showed a great deal of talent and on completing his education he secured a contract as a puppeteer in a film in Canada. After its completion joined the Henson Creature Shop and now his Studio is one of the leading film and television companies creating high quality puppets. The company performed eight performances, sometimes sixteen each week by splitting the company. Each performance ran for two hours, with a short intermission. Apart from two week summer breaks the company performed all year round. During the twenty five years of Cannon Hill Puppet Theatre we created over eighty productions, all of them completely different in design style and techniques. I produced, directed, designed and created over fifty productions, wrote over thirty texts, carved and painted all puppets heads and hands, and created numerous unique puppet techniques. I also designed our posters and programmes. The puppet theatre was recognised by Equity as the spear head puppet theatre company in the UK, with an international reputation. It is interesting to note that the Arts Council Drama Panel, despite the fact that we received no direct funding, asked us to remove the word ‘puppet’ from our title. The puppet was always our central means of expression, and would always be so through its history. The company was recognised as one of the three jewels in the City of Birmingham’s cultural crown, alongside Simon Rattle and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, and Peter Wright, director and choreographer of The Birmingham Royal Ballet. The Company made tours to many of the leading theatres in the UK, including our London base at the ‘Unicorn Theatre’. International tours representing the UK took us to China, Hong Kong, Hungary, Belgium, East and West Germany, France, Denmark, Yugoslavia, Thailand, Australia, Italy, Sicily and Greece. Many performances were in International Puppet Festivals, winning numerous awards. The UNIMA Congress and International Puppet Theatre Festival in Dresden invited us to perform our production ‘The Princess Who Would Not Laugh’, in The Palace of Zwinger. Criticism of the production by from one of Germany’s leading critic’s, he particularly mentioned the two leading comic actors, this led to performances in East Berlin. The company frequently toured to Belfast performing and workshops in some of the most difficult and dangerous venues and areas. We had some of the most responsive audiences we performed to. ‘The Theatre of Marvels’ was collaboration with the mime Geoffrey Buckley, an early Jacques Lecoq professor. Its purpose was to explore a range of new multi media production techniques. We explored dynamics of performance spaces, visual, non verbal, and physical theatre techniques, object manipulation on rostra or table tops. The production was seen in the City of Birmingham Town Hall, and Cannon Hill. The BBC filmed items from the production, for a series of evening slots, but described them as obscure, and too advanced, despite the fact that we performed it to children and young people. One of the company’s most popular productions, ‘Tiger Peter’ toured to Hong Kong and China for a major Birmingham City Council cultural event, performing in theatres seating two or more thousand people. Most tours also had educational workshops attached. The company performed at the Teatro Alla Scala Pisa, in Italy as part of the year long Festival of twelve of the world’s leading children’s theatres. I directed Tiger Peter for the Tasmanian Puppet Theatre at the Theatre Royal in Hobart followed by a tour in Australia. On the occasion of an International Puppet Theatre Festival held in the Theatre Royal, Tasmania, it was to be opened with a performance by Sergei Obraztsov. Unfortunately he was taken ill, and as the second guest I had to perform my ‘An Illusion of Life’ to a full theatre of international puppeteers. Its success brought me many new puppeteer friends, including, ‘PUK Theatre’, from Japan, and the legendary Yang Feng and his company from Longzi, China. ‘An Illusion of Life’ is my one-man performance, performed in many parts of the world, but rarely in the UK. Many members from the company created their own successful film and television companies. One popular puppet character was Roland Rat, who presented many prime time programmes with major personalities. Roland performed in the Children’s Royal Variety Show. David Clarridge, Roland’s creator started in the children’s workshops, joined Cannon Hill Puppet Theatre when he left school, and performed in our first production. At sixteen, he designed our production of ‘The Tin Soldier’. David was also a fine actor and performed in leading London and provincial theatres. He now has a Television and video and DVD studio in America. Simon Baron came to Cannon Hill from High School. He joined the company as stage manager; he became a fine puppeteer, and sound and lighting technician. He was assistant director, and later became floor manager to Independent Television, and now, a director in Hollywood. Many members of the company played in many of the Henson films and programmes, and many of the top television programmes in the UK and the USA, including Spitting Image and other programmes. Robin Stevens, a former student, presented ‘Pob’s Programme’, the Channel 4 storytelling series. I created the Pob character for Robin. It is now recognised as one of the top children’s programmes along with Thunderbirds. He also performed in all the Rag Doll programmes. He is now working in the USA. Other actor puppeteers, technicians and directors from company secured positions in major UK and European theatres. Now there is a talented second generation performing in films, television and West End musicals. We held writing competitions for texts. A number of leading authors produced some fine works for us; John English from the Arena Theatre, Joyce Chessman from the Victoria Theatre, Stoke on Trent, Dave Arthur, Simon Painter, Ivan Jones and his ‘Zot the Dog’, Nigel Moffatt, ‘Stop the Carnival’, ‘The Twits’, Roald Dahl. I undertook government work placements and other pioneer training initiative projects. The company was recognised as a model of good practise and achievement. I developed many projects in different countries. The Senahassa Centre, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, there I trained four groups of young people to create puppet theatre productions for theatre and television. In Thailand, master classes for young actors in Chulalongkorn University. Aborigines in Alice Springs in Australia. Two major Governmental research projects on puppet theatre took place in the Australian Elizabethan Trust, and for the Chinese Government, a study of the status of Chinese puppet theatre related to other parts of the world. In 1986 I was the Professor for the Summer Academy for the Bavarian Academy of Fine and Applied Arts in Munich, and the Folk Theatre in Endorf. We created a performance based on the life of King Ludwig. Many puppet related exhibitions were mounted in Cannon Hill and elsewhere. Major exhibitions were mounted in many parts of the UK. ‘The Magic World of Puppets’, in Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery in 1985 as part of a major anniversary, attracted 72.000 visitors in two months. Part of the exhibition went to Sheffield Museum and Art Gallery and attracted 60.000 visitors in two months. ‘Around the World with Mr Punch’, at Wolverhampton Museum and Gallery was opened by Peter Baldwin. Two interesting programmes for Independent Television were made. The Making of Hatu Patu, an Aboriginal story for series screened by ITV Children’s Educational Channel. The Pomegranate Princes, a Cannon Hill Puppet Theatre production, for ITV. I designed stage settings for the Crescent Theatre, in Birmingham. ‘The Devils’, ‘Maria Martin, or Murder in the Red Barn’, and ‘Lilly in Little India’. I designed two versions of ‘Noah’s Flood’, one by Benjamin Britten, and one by Stravinsky, a work created for television. ‘Masks and Painted Faces’, was a week long collaboration with ‘Centre Ocean Stream’ exploring Indian performance arts. For Time Cycles, I designed the stage setting. I designed the stage setting for Nahid Sidiquie and Company, for a national tour of contemporary Kathak dance. Nahid is one of the worlds leading Kathak dancers, I also designed the pantomime Cinderella for Leeds City Variety Theatre. Educational projects played a significant role in my work, particularly autism and special educational needs. With our first marionette show where children’s hospital visits were performances were given, also creating ways to encourage people to use puppets in wheel chairs. I undertook a great deal of teacher training programmes in a number of cities; work was based on the use of puppets and puppet theatre. Other interesting projects in the UK were: serving as a Ghost Client and Consultant for Puppet Theatres, in Birmingham and Manchester University. A series of master classes performance for a Conservation Play, using objects and dispensed materials at Goldsmiths College, London. Puppets for Shakespeare’s, The Tempest at the Phoenix Theatre, Leicester. Puppets for Seasons Greetings, Alan Ayckborn. English National Opera, training actor puppeteers, and Bunraku consultation for Stephen Sondheim’s, Pacific Overtures at the London Coliseum. Design and direction for Debussy’s, La Boite a Joujux, for Simon Rattle, London Sinfonietta, and, South Bank Summer Music Festival, at the Queen Elizabeth Hall and in Cannon Hill. I organised two ‘Punch Cavalcades’, in Cannon Hill Park, featuring twenty four professors. Demonstrations on Bunraku, and Noh masks, for The Japanese Consulate, and the Japanese department, in Edinburgh University. Demonstrations of the carving of Noh masks with Baku Adachi, the last student of Hisao Suzuki in Edinburgh University, and Kelvingrove Museum, Glasgow. I organised the Alexander Pushkin Anniversary Festival, in Glasgow, in the Royal Concert Hall, and Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre, with Russia’s leading Pushkin actor. An exhibition of Pushkin inspired paintings and drawings by children from Russia and Glasgow, a major Pushkin Exhibition, and a production of Two Little Pushkin Tales, by The World through Wooden Eyes, in the Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow. In recent years we collaborated with Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre, mainly undertaking automata workshops for children and young people, and The Russian Cultural Centre, where we took part in projects based on our production of, Snegourotchka, with opera singers and musicians. In 2003 I created an automata of Parker and the Bodach a Scottish folklore character for the Arima Museum of Toys and Automata Kobe, Japan. In 2004 created two more automats of Parker, from Thunderbirds for the Arima Museum of Toys and Automata. A major Thunderbirds exhibition, including my Noh masks, and puppets, and the Japanese influences on my design and craftsmanship in puppet theatre. A performance of my Illusion of Life was performed in a temple in Arima; there were also workshops for children and adults. International UNIMA played a significant role in my life and work, as did The British Puppet and Model Theatre Guild, and The Educational Puppetry Association. I was particularly drawn to the organisation due to its focus on international friendship. Two of the organisations, and three independent puppeteers, formed the British Centre UNIMA during a meeting of the Executive Committee of UNIMA in London. Jan Malik, from the Central Puppet Theatre in Prague, Czechoslovakia, Lenora Shpet from the State Central Puppet Theatre in Moscow, and Henryk Jurkowski, from Poland, encouraged me to become more involved in International UNIMA. I regularly travelled to different parts of the world with the Executive Committee of UNIMA. With Henryk Ryl, from Poland, I joined with him on a UNIMA Publicity and PR project. In the 1976, UNIMA Congress and Festival, I was made a Member of the International Executive Committee of UNIMA. At the same time as Sergei Obraztsov became UNIMA President. The event took place on the stage of the Moscow Arts Theatre. I became a member of a number of UNIMA committees, these include the Publication Commission where annual Pictorial Calendars, books containing the finest examples of puppet theatre productions in the world also the first stages of the UNIMA Encyclopaedia. As a member of the Training Committee, we established the International Institute for Puppet Theatre, in Charleville Mezieres. I was one of the early professors, and I collaborated with Koryu Nishikawa, and Toru Saito in master classes for Bunraku, Kuruma Ningyo. Also, the International Puppet Museum, in Chrudim in Czechoslovakia with Jan Dvorak from Drak Theatre. For twenty years, with my colleagues in the Executive Committee of UNIMA, I sat on Juries for performances in International Puppet Theatre Festivals in many parts of the world. My brief, given by Jan Malik, was ‘The Craftsmanship of Performance’. During this period I witnessed hundreds of the finest productions in the world. Rarely ever seen now. As Chairman and President of British UNIMA I Edited, illustrated and contributed to 55 British UNIMA Bulletin’s from 1978 to 1996, and other national and international magazines. I have been mentioned in French and Russian encyclopaedia and other books. In 2008 there was an auction of all of the puppets created in Cannon Hill Puppet Theatre. The finances raised were used to develop the Midlands Arts Centre. I percentage of the puppets are now in Glasgow, and others went to museums and collections in the UK, America and Europe. In Glasgow in 2004 I established The World through Wooden Eyes, housed in the Mitchell Library, one of the great European libraries. It is dedicated to the extraordinary personalities from the world of the puppet theatre that I had the pleasure of working with for so many years. It houses the John M. Blundall Collection of Puppets Masks, prints, engravings, original designs and other works on paper, and related material. The library holds over 6000 of the most rare and valuable books from many parts of the world, also one of the finest collection of puppets and masks of all types and techniques from far and wide in the UK and abroad. Japanese Bunraku figures and woodblock prints, a range of Chinese puppets, Victorian marionettes and trick props, The Cannon Hill archive, British and European toy theatres, including the archive of Peter Jackson’s original toy theatres, and the whole Cannon Hill archive, and original designs and stage models. A selection of puppets from the collection is on show in Kelvingrove Museum, a major part of the collection is held in the Glasgow Museum Resources Centre, Nitshill. The collection preserves unique creations of the artists and masters of the art and craft of the puppet theatre for future generations. Two twelve-foot giants and other figures were designed and built for the Lord Provost of Glasgow Procession in 2000 and 2001. Numerous exhibitions have been mounted in The Mitchell Library and other museums in Scotland, they include The Immortal Villain Mr Punch, Mr Jackson’s Toy Theatres, From Punch to Parker at Motherwell Heritage Centre, and the Old Kirk Museum Kirkentiloch, Pierrot, Puppets and Pictures, Saltcoates Museum. Peddlers of Pleasure - Punch and Judy a year long exhibition, opening a new Community Centre in Glasgow. A number of exhibitions at the Russian Cultural Centre in Café Cosachok, these include Noh Masks, and Designs for the Puppet Theatre. For a period of time I Represented ‘Artists in Exile’ in Glasgow, making frames and helping with exhibitions. Over the years I did many television and radio interviews and demonstrations with most of the leading personalities; Magnus Magnusson, BBC TV, Jack Demanio, BBC Radio, Philip Schofield, Sue Lawley, Sue Cook and many others. Any Artistic Director is only as good as his or her company, and I am always grateful to have so many talented people who helped me to entertain million’s of families and children in the UK and abroad. I have also been blessed with the kindness, friendship and inspiration of vast numbers of the most extraordinary academic and creative genii of the world of the puppet theatre, the arts and the performing arts through the years. Memberships. Member of the Committee British Children’s Theatre Association. Member of the Drama Panel of West Midlands Arts Board. Advisor of children’s and puppet theatre. Member of the advisory panel, and assessor of children’s and puppet theatre for the Arts and Leisure Department of Birmingham City Council. Chairman of the British Centre of UNIMA (the Centre International de la Marionette part of the structure of UNESCO). Hon President of British UNIMA. Member of the International Executive Committee of UNIMA 1976-2000 Honorary Member of International UNIMA for Services to the development of international puppet theatre. Member of the International Training Committee of UNIMA. Member of the International Commission for Amateur Puppeteers. Member of the International Publications Commission of UNIMA Editor of more than fifty British Centre UNIMA Bulletin’s. Listed in the Cambridge International Biographical Centre who’s Who of Men of International Achievement 1984. Listed in the Cambridge International Biographical Centre Who’s Who of Intellects 1985 Member of the ITI (International Theatre Institute) International Liaison Committee. President of The British Puppet and Model Theatre Guild, also a member of its Committee. Patron of ‘Artesian’, ‘Outsider Art. Member of the Committee on ‘Orcadia’, Organisation for people with disabilities. Teachings Venues International Institute for Puppet Theatre, Charleville Mezieres. Drama Department, Oxford University. Aberdeen School of Art. Lanchester College, Coventry. Leicester Educational Drama Centre. Birmingham University, Architecture Department. Manchester University. Department of Architecture. Scottish Mask and Puppet Theatre. ‘The Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama’, Glasgow. National Institute for Dramatic Art, Sydney, Australia. Chulalongkorn University. Bangkok. Thailand. Sennahassa Centre. Colombo. Sri Lanka. Tasmanian Puppet Theatre, and the Theatre Royal, Hobart. Tasmania. Numerous venues in Hong Kong and the New Territories China. Guangzhou and other puppet theatres in China. Theatre PUK. Tokyo. Japan. Arima Museum of Toys and Automata. Kobe. Japan. Goldsmiths College. Conservation Play. London. Birmingham School of Art and Crafts. Birmingham School of Speech Training and Dramatic Art. Training and five productions. Birmingham. Saddlers Wells Royal Ballet. Birmingham. Birmingham Repertory Theatre. Birmingham. Highbury Little Theatre. Birmingham. Malvern Festival Theatre. Malvern. Swan Theatre. Worcester Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. Birmingham. Wolverhampton Museum and Art Gallery. Lichfield Art Gallery. Lichfield. Warwick Art Gallery. Warwick. Coventry Museum and Art Gallery. Coventry. The National Theatre. London. Motherwell Heritage Centre. Exhibition Centre, Birmingham. Warrington Art Gallery. Warrington. North Ayrshire Museum, Saltcoates, Artesian. Edinburgh. Scottish National Library. Edinburgh. Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre, Glasgow. Collections. Moscow. Dresden. Budapest. Switzerland. France. Spain. Italy. Yugoslavia. Germany. Japan. Australia. USA. China.
Copyright © Nigel Dickinson