Tuesday 28 February 2012

Weekend 2 of Research and Development

This is our second weekend and things have begun to settle and take hold. We want to have a clear selection at the end of this weekend of scenes that we will perform at the showing at the BAC on the 28th of March. We have a new source of inspiration to play with a book called The Rubaiyat by Omar Khayyam, Illustrated by Robert Stewart Sherriffs. We are keen to see how we frame our piece and what comes from this device.

Day 1: BOVT Basement
Warm up and movement exercises. We looked at the images in the Rubaiyat and chose one as a tool to improvise from and around. Setting up the tableaux with the objects and materials in the room. We have also generated two animal puppets a bird and a cat that are in the image.  This takes us into a series of improvisations. Where is she going, what is her choice, why is she so determined, how do the animals around her respond. Is it a question of staying and being domestic like a cat or free like a bird. How can we play the scene with to puppeteers, then the puppeteers take on the qualities of the animals and pursue one another. Combining the puppet as a costume for the puppeteer to have more freedom and movement.  After lunch we discovered some masks we could use instead of objects for our puppet faces. This lead on to a series of improvisations around manipulation and passing around characters and letting the puppet dominate the puppeteer.

Day 2: Bridewell Dance Space
A personal research day, we all needed a bit of a pause so consider what was being created and so we each carried out different task. Miranda developed some choreography, Lizzie research arabic music and chanting. Liesel found more material and clothing to use for Sunday. I read passages from the Rubaiyat to think about how to frame our stories.  Physically my back was playing up so we decided not to carry out movement work today.

Day 3: Bridewell Dance Space
Warm up. The Morning was a puppetry skills session. We worked on passing, dancing and maneuvering in and out of characters giving them two hands, spins and couple dancing. Keeping the puppet alive and moving whilst being able to dance and swap between them. Then we carried out vocal work, learning a song. We then had the space set up and carried out a long improvisation and discovered new characters with mask puppets and found them to be more sinister than objects. They seem to be better able to connect with a human character, we had some haunting family scenes.
After Lunch there was long discussion about FRAME. Was this coming out of a dream, a book that a character reads, a story on character is telling another. We decided that the most playful option was to come at it from the child and mothers relationship. We have a list of established scenes we have found in our 6 days. We now want to polish these of and reduce them down. We have a list of characters that we will work with.  We then recapped on existing choreography and packed up. 

Tuesday 21 February 2012

Weekend 1 of Research and Development

We began research for our Dance and Puppetry Collaboration today 18 of Feb 2012. We are carrying out r&d over three days every weekend starting Saturday and ending Monday.

In the room we had:
Miranda Cromwell- director
Lizzie Wescott- musician, composer/ performer
Chris Farish- performer
Corina Bona- puppeteer/ performer
Liesel Corp- Set & Costume Designer

We are devising and discovering what can be done with dance and puppetry

We set up certain rules:

Our location for the ideas is an eastern setting, it is a one room environment, we are keen on Extracts of Trespass book influencing our discovery of narrative.

We are developing stories and journeys in a space that has a living room, dining room, sleeping room, washroom feel. There are sheets, pillows and other object.

We are playing with the puppets movements, us moving as the puppet, being a person and engaging with the puppet.

 Day1: BOVT basement space
We began work at 10 am warming up and playing improve games to discover
How we could manipulate each others bodies as puppets, without using hands, contact movement.
improvisation in the space with objects entering and interacting with a person already in the space with an element.
Object puppets began to emerge through this improvisation, changing the layout of the space offered different landscapes for events.
Read the story of Princess Budhur and from Extract of Dreams of Trespass
Used discovered objects to illustrate the tale above with  no dialogue.
Developed ideas around the more adult gaze of a puppet character

Day 2: Bridewell Dance Space
Started with a warm up, relayed out the set, discovered interesting use of string systems to change between settings and give the space depth.
Devised a dance sequence, improvised a routine turing the dance into a scene between neighbors in a romantic tryst. Put puppets into dance sequence and discovered the movements in them and the removing or adding of their presence to a person.
Played with making a child puppet and improvisations around them journeying and paying in the space. Moving under fabric as a piece of changing landscape, rivers mountains, magic carpets
Mixed the child sequence in with the neighbors dance.
Lizzie devising music and sounds to accompany the dances and movements

Day 3: BOVT basement space
Warm ups, laying out the space again, finding an area that is a musical kitchen.
Devising an improvisation around a narrative: Finding our characters Sultan, Dancer, ladies of the Harem. How far does it go, if we are violent and then loose our puppet characters and experience the story as the a person being the character of the puppet and then as ourselves. We devised and developed a dance sequence and movement sequence              for the narrative. Played with different movements we could achieve with the puppets and remain in the dance.
Devised around the child character and her journey, introducing other characters, animals etc.
Played with sounds and using set elements to create theses.

Artists feedback about the three days so far:

Cori: Wonderful opportunity to be working with artist from other fields and engaging with new ways to produce material and discover character and narrative. Its been great sharing our skills and learning new ones. I am very excited by the combinations of object puppets and their flexibility in movement.

Liesel: It was so exciting to finally get started on this project. In a previous brainstorm we made some decisions about the setting and laid down some loose ideas around narrative so I was able to start the research process and give the company relevant set and props to play with from day one. By Monday they had some brilliant ideas and some lovely moments were emerging. I could easily spend all of my time on this project, somehow we seem to have struck a harmony with each other, we've got different individual skill sets that seem to be working together brilliantly. I can't wait till next weekend!!

Miranda:During the last few rehearsals we began with joints, manipulating each others bodies with ours joint to joint. It was interesting to notice the differences between Cori a puppeteer and Farish a dancer. The most noticeable differences were that Farish was expecting the body he was moving to hold its own wieght and control momentum wheras Corri was fixing feet in case they slipped and holding onto the body as though it had no control. They are moving together in a playful way, often at a slow pace but with confidence and communication. We have improvised with found objects as puppets and then continued thier stories as though we are the puppets created. We have also used the body as landscape and facilitator of the imagination. This language of physical reaction to imagined characters and shifting narratives is exciting particuarly the switching between different modes of storytelling. 

How does the physical conversation interact with the puppets? How many people do we see? 
What is the frame of the piece, who is imagining what?
What do we want to say about the story emerging? 

Lizzie:I am so excited by the style and cohesive manner of working we have developed in just two days. For me, the prospect of performing as one of the physical company alongside the music is particularly inspiring, especially as working with puppets has always been an ambition of mine. We explored several different physical techniques and I don't think anything in the room escaped being turned into a puppet at some point or other...not even us!"

Monday 5 December 2011

Surprise Interview

Chosen entirely at random through the power of Google search engine Graham Snowdon
interviewed me for the Guardian.
If you would like to know more have a read.

A working life: the puppeteer

Puppetry helped Corina Bona conquer a major phobia and revitalised her career. She talks about the job of bringing inanimate figures to life

Corina Bona is retraining me to count to 10. With my right hand buried inside the head of Treelo – a fluffy green and blue lemur from the kids' TV show Bear in the Big Blue House – I snap its mouth open and shut as we lip sync through the numbers. We get as far as three before she interrupts.

"Look at your puppet so you can see what he's really doing," she instructs me, "so that the mouth is really opening when you say the numbers."

Treelo's head, I realise, is bobbing helplessly all over the place. "It's important to understand that the top of your hand is where the eyes are and your focus is," she goes on, "so it's really key to make your thumb do the work. Otherwise, you flap the head up and the eyes lose the focus."

Prior to being salvaged from a charity shop by Bona and converted into a puppet, Treelo was once little more than a discarded old stuffed toy. The transformation is a quietly magical thing in itself, it occurs to me, given the powers of expression she has bestowed on him. But Treelo earns his keep, accompanying his new owner on the puppetry workshops she holds with autistic schoolchildren. "They recognise him and feel more comfortable with him," she says, fondly. "He's quite a friendly little chappie."

Her company, Little Ray Puppets, is based at Coexist Studios, a once- abandoned office block now repopulated by creative, community and charity workers in the achingly cool Bristol district of Stokes Croft – it even has its own Banksy mural.

She directs me to a "safe" chair in her gleefully ramshackle workspace, a narrow, plywood-walled partition cubicle shared with a longtime friend who works as a costume designer. Stop-motion animators, artists and university lecturers occupy the adjacent partitions and the air feels charged with creativity. "We've got a whole building full of people doing wonderful things," she says, clutching the armrest of her seat as it drops off.

Bona has lived and worked in Bristol for 11 years, the last five as a puppet maker, puppeteer and puppetry teacher, belying a dislocated transatlantic accent acquired from a childhood spent following her Argentinian mother and Venezuelan father – a travelling Gillette executive – around the world. "I grew up in Colombia, Mexico, the US, the UK ... I went back to Argentina when I was 15, I left when I was 18, and I've been here ever since," she says, looking weary at the thought of it all.

Peering down from the shelf beside us is a lippy-looking old dear in an elasticated checked skirt called Gran-ma. "She's ancient, the first puppet I ever made," she says fondly. At the time Bona, then working as a theatre set designer, was sharing a house with a puppeteer "who booked a theatre without really thinking about what she was gonna do next" and coralled her housemates into each planning a 15-minute segment: "That was the first time I thought, brilliant, I'm really going to go for it, I'm gonna make a puppet and do a show, it's gonna be great."

Her resulting mini-production, Scaring Gran-ma, told the story of a cat's attempts to bump off its elderly owner "because he'd heard on the radio about another cat that had inherited a lot of money and therefore assumed his owner was also rich. Which, of course, isn't true at all …"

Arguably more remarkable than its conception, was the fact Bona could perform it at all, given that, by then, she had developed a severe stage phobia that had already laid waste to her early dreams of an acting career.

How did puppetry help her overcome her fear? "It was fine," she says in wonderment, as if still bemused that the solution had not occurred to her earlier, "because no one knew it was me. The Gran-ma puppet works with you sitting beside it and wearing a black hat with a veil. I'd literally lose all inhibition and say what I wanted … Gran-ma's really terrible at flirting with young men and they seem to enjoy it. So I had the time of my life."

As it was a daytime production in a pub theatre, Bona would go downstairs between shows with the puppet and talk to people in the bar: "I think that helped me lose the fear; it was a really liberating moment," she says.

In recent years Bristol has become a hub for puppeteers, fuelled by the presence in the city of several major production companies includingGreen Ginger Stuff and Nonsense and Picked Image, as well as theBristol Festival of Puppetry, the second staging of which was in the summer. And it was through Green Ginger that Bona properly launched her career, getting herself on to a two-year course with the company as part of a training project called Toast in the Machine.

While it all seems perfectly feasible in Stokes Croft, I wonder if, in the wider world, the occupation suffers slightly in popular perception.

A case in point is the film Being John Malkovich, the story of a marionette puppeteer who discovers a portal into the Hollywood actor's mind. I tell her I find it odd that such an eccentric tale should be so many people's reference point. But then, is it fair to assume the appeal comes mainly from the power of total control over another personality?

"Massively," Bona agrees. "You can submerge yourself in a character in a way you personally can't as a performer. I can't be an old woman; you can put make-up on me, but I really don't know what it feels like. Whereas with a puppet I'm observing and putting those characteristics into it, and I can see it in front of me and it's physically easy. For me anyway, it's something I can engage with easily."

Even so, I've never been able to work out whether Being John Malkovich is glorifying or mocking puppeteers. "I would say a bit of both," she says, smiling wryly. "There is a bit of a stigma attached to marionettes. It is quite obsessive."

By marionettes, Bona means the string-operated figures that constitute puppetry's "high art" form – far removed, she readily admits, from the ones she works with. "[Marionettes] are like the opera," she admits. "To work them you have to train for years; you can't just pick up a stringed puppet and make it come alive."

Then there is bunraku, "the style we all try and do now", the Japanese physical puppet form involving three people operating a figurine in harmony. "But none of us can really be properly trained because, in Japan, it takes 30 years to become a proper bunraku person," she explains. "Normally, the puppets are about a metre tall and made of wood, pretty heavy. So often there's one person doing one hand and governing the torso, one doing the feet and the other doing the other hand and head. The beauty of it is that you get super-realistic movement."

Currently, Bona is rehearsing for her next show Little Edie, a Pickled Image production based on the 1975 documentary film, Grey Gardens, about the eccentric lives of the aunt and first cousin of Jackie Onassis, that will run at the Jacksons Lane Theatre in Highgate, London, as part of the Suspense Puppetry Festival in early November.

Before that, though, is a short tour of Norway's Lofoten Islands, undertaken as part of a funding agreement with the Nordland Visual Theatre. "They're amazing people to work with because, once you've applied, you pretty much receive the funding straight away if they like your application," she explains. "All they ask in return is that you tour there for two weeks."

Finding arts funding in the UK is hardly straightforward, though Bona says it is just one aspect of making a production: "There's all the rigmarole of whether you should apply for funding, or try to do it on a hope and a prayer … it's quite a challenge. And rehearsing for long periods is also a big challenge, physically."

Yet she has few regrets about finally putting down roots as she approaches 30. "There aren't many other places where you can be as expressive as in England," she points out. "There are so many different ways of living here. In South America I felt very restricted; if you do anything artistic there you're considered Bohemian and out of the norm. Whereas here you can be artistic and still be considered a serious business. I really value that."

To my surprise, I realise that Treelo the lemur has been lurking on my hand throughout our conversation. And I'm intrigued to know – once the show is over and the puppet is packed safely back in the box – does she ever, just occasionally, catch herself in conversation with her hand at home? There is a guilty silence. "My partner can tell you more about that," Bona mumbles. "It's not that he walks in on it, but sometimes the hand does the talking. 'Excuse me, I want this, I want that …'"

For the first time she looks genuinely embarrassed, but then she shrugs. "It's easier to say things through a different media sometimes."

Curriculum vitae

Pay: "At the moment I earn £1,000-plus a month, but it varies. Last year it was more like £600. The work, for me, that's best-paid is making puppets – around £500 for a week's work depending on complexity. Workshops are a good earner, too."

Hours: About 40 a week.

Work-life balance: "It can take over when I'm doing a show, but it doesn't feel like work most of the time because it's so much fun."

Best thing: "You can be anything or do anything. It really is limitless."

Worst thing: "I really hate having to rely on funding. I guess having been brought up in a business family, I've always thought that if things are worth it and provide a good service, they should be sustainable. But when it comes to making artistic shows, the reality is that it's always a gamble. You need to have the space and the money to experiment and make mistakes."


Corina loves Bristol's live music scene, "especially Baba Yaga's Consort, who play gypsy-folk, and crazy Mexican punks Dogface Sockets. I like mash-up music because of all the places I've lived."Corina is reading Who Runs Britain? by Robert Peston. "I'm trying to figure some things out. Before London had its riots, we had a little one here … it's interesting, being so close to it." Corina's favourite filmsare fantasy puppet-fests The NeverEnding Story and The Dark Crystal. "It's so typical, isn't it? But I've always had a love of the fantastical."

Working On Little Edie with Pickled Image

In the last six months I have been working with Pickled Image and devised and performed in their production of Little Edie. The production was developed in Norway through the support of the Norland Visual Figur Teatret http://www.figurteateret.no. It has since toured the North of Norway, London Suspense festival and BathSpa University.

Here is the review that came out after the Bristol Festival of Puppetry Premier this August.

"An Alternative View of Life"
by Arthur Duncan for remotegoat on 27/08/11
Adult' puppetry has nothing to do with sexual content;- tho' after seeing the first performance in this year's Bristol Festival of Puppetry, I imagine it could do. The humanity impersonated by these Pickled Image puppets, 'tho' they were obviously inanimate creations, demonstrated personalities and emotions, comparable with living people, merely assisted by puppeteers.

A 'newbie' to puppet theatre, I had no clear expectation of the entertainment to be offered beyond what was in the publicity. Arriving early at The Tobacco Factory Theatre, I found the bar rather quiet & presumed that puppets were not a big draw for theatregoers, who by definition surely prefer "live performers." That was the first of my delusions to evaporate that evening. The bar filled up with animated chatterers, eager to enjoy opening night of the Festival - & they weren't disappointed.

Delayed a short while, whilst every last seat was allocated, the show began with attention-grabbing sounds; other-worldly music & percussion which heralded an ongoing sound-scape of exquisite effect, frequently returning in varied forms & proving a major player throughout the performance. This marvellous attribute resulted from a happy collaboration between highly respected composer, Simon Preston & the almost legendary sound designer, Nathan Ng.

This 60 minute play was inspired by the documentary 'Grey Gardens,' featuring the extraordinary lives, in squalid seclusion, of two American women who were incidentally related to First Lady, Jackie Kennedy. The script is humorous, touching & brilliantly written by Abbie Browne with Vicky Andrews & Dik Downey who also share responsibility for its cleverly directed staging.

Cori Bona & Helen Day are actors extraordinarily committed to overcoming undeniable difficulties. The main impediment to realistic performance with a large puppet is for two puppeteers having to work very closely, while carrying the cumbersome but weirdly engaging, egotistic humanoid, which introduces itself - no; herself, as "Little Edie." 'Mother' puppet energetically spends her life in bed so is more easily managed by Helen alone, from behind the bed head, but only during sequences when Cori can animate 'Edie' unaided.

Puppet voices seem uncannily to emit from the creatures' mouths; less ventriloquism - more, aural illusion. The intuitive teamwork of the puppeteers requires extremely close coordination and instinctive movements, being prevented by their burden from seeing as well as they might prefer, especially in the darker patches of the acting area.

he story is not quite like a conventional play, being episodes from those real women's lives strung into a narrative, but it includes tragic & happier events, even some songs and a memory sequence with a miniature puppet of Edie, recalled as in younger days, anticipating her triumphant finale. The range of antics is thoroughly entertaining & the TV clip is novel too.

Jenny Reeves is credited with costume design but perhaps she also created the colourfully cluttered set with its mountain of empty cans in a corner & a standard-lamp shaded with just a red feather boa. Lighting by Tom Richmond is atmospheric & skilfully accommodates the requirements of the unusual activity on stage.

Festival producers, Rachel McNally & Chris Pirie, aided by The Tobacco Factory proprietors and staff, have re-asserted Bristol's place as a major centre of creative artistry in Europe which deserves to be appreciated & honoured by her own citizens.

The Festival combines an exhibition of models by Aardman & a presentation of works by the 'father' of modern animations, Ray Harryhausen. This is a must for adults & children keen to investigate a hitherto under-explored genre of creative entertainment.

As an example of how amusing puppets can be, "Little Edie" sets a high standard & a variety of performances by companies, some British & local, others from Scandinavia, the Netherlands and America, continues every day up to & including Sunday 4th September. Treat yourselves.

For more check out Little Edie Fan page on Facebook

Monday 25 April 2011

Puppet Centre Trust Residency 2011-2012

In January 2011 I Corina Bona, applied for a residency at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre through the PCT http://www.puppetcentre.org.uk/. Two other companies were selected for this residency at other Venues:

The Mac – Pif Paf http://www.pif-paf.co.uk/

The Farnham Maltings- Beady Eye http://kristinfredricksson.mfbiz.com/

The residency offers us a unique opportunity to be mentored and supported for a year by The Puppet Centre trust and these venues and their creative producers. We each receive £2000 seed funding in order to acquire further funding or to carry out basic R & D.


I would like to create a show that uses puppetry with dance and movement. This piece will be highly visual, have a musical score that is in part live and linked with the action. Create the world of the production through the ensemble and use them as the puppeteers. Have lighting that envelops and supports the action giving way to magical visual effects.

I have taken my inspiration from the work of:

Philippe Genty http://www.philippegenty.com/COMPAGNIE/LaCompagnie.htm

Dudapaiva http://www.dudapaiva.com/Main/home.html

The way these companies use different styles of puppetry and mix them into physical dance with an ensemble is full of intensity and opportunity.

I have involved the talented Twisted Theatre, Pickled image and hope to be able to other artist that can help make this an incredible research project that evolves into a production.

We will work over a four week period. Each week will be used to concentrate on a different aspect of the research devising, design, music and lighting.

There will be three scales of puppet all manipulated through direct contact like Westernized Bunraku. Below are the ideas that we will trail in the rehearsal room.

The theme is escape







Blowing away

Being lifted