20 January 2018

'The Odyssey' in Singapore

I have just returned from an inspiring two-weeks in Singapore, during which I worked on a production of Homer's "The Odyssey", which involved the students of Tanglin Trust High School drama department. Using acting, dance, music, puppetry and shadow theatre, the students pulled out all stops to pull together a beautiful modern production of this ancient Greek tale.

During my time at the school, I began by familiarising the students with paper puppetry and teaching breathing techniques and movement. This gave them a good grounding to start working with the puppets which we designed and they built during the very short time available. As we planned to use shadow puppetry in the show and were not allowed to use my usual halogen lights, due to the heat and danger to the children, we experimented with LED technology and found particularly great LED torches. I used FENIX FD45 rotary focusing lights of 900 Lumens, which has five brightness settings and was brilliant to replace my hot electrical halogen lighting for shadow puppetry. It can also be changed from spotlight to floodlight (ideal for shadow puppetry.

In December I was fortunate enough to have participate once again, for the third year running, in the Youth and Children's Festival in Hamedan, Iran. This was followed by running a few spectacular workshops at the University of Tehran.

The next tours planned are at an Arts Festival in Shanghai, China in March, followed by a South African tour in May, after which more animation will begin in our brand new studios in Melbourne, Australia. So watch this space!

PS. We are currently taking bookings for our International Schools' Tours in 2019. If you are interested to find out more, click here!

27 October 2016

Build That Wall Film

It has been over six months time since I've written a post and much has happened this year. Probably the most significant has been my transition into stop-motion animation, which is a huge learning curve, even for an experienced puppeteer.

I have been dabbling in film for quite a few years now, but even that didn't prepare me for the journey upon which I now embark. Although completely fascinating, it's daily learning new techniques, especially in the dramatic film genre and here I believe I need to acknowledge my cinematographic guru, Sidat de Silva, who's been patiently guiding me through the learning process, even though he's based in Sydney and I'm in Melbourne.

'Build That Wall' is my second short-animation film (the first was "Je Suis Punch!" featured below) and it took our group four months to complete, what turned out to be a four-minute film. That's a minute a month. Why so long? I believe the answer lies in the fact that when you are shooting stop-motion, you are working with twenty-four frames a second and this is a huge amount of still images that get put together to make your film.

Even though my animation software only shoots twelve frames per second, which we double-up to make twenty-four, it's still huge. This means on a good day, you can never really shoot more than fifteen seconds and that's a lot of shooting in an eight to ten hour day.

So my team and I began the production with a rough concept of researching "walls, barriers, borders and boundaries" a subject which has been fascinating me over the past year or two. And then came the shocking 'Trump phenomenon' and his talk about 'building a wall' which has every intelligent 'thinking' person is a state of complete shock, as to how any human being could possibly support such total incompetence and lack-of-caring for his fellow beings. I guess some people supported 'Hitler' in 1933?

As much as we tried to get media coverage in Australia, the media rejected our calls, but the Hillary campaign really liked the film and 'Humanity for Hillary' are launching it on their channels on Friday 28 October at 5pm (New York time).

So in short, the result is a four-minute film (above) and a 'Build That Wall' website, where you can view 'Behind the Scenes' and 'The Trailer' by clicking here.

20 March 2016

World Puppetry Day 2016

' Je Suis Punch!' is a film we just completed for 'World Puppetry Day 2016' as a special dedication to to the freedom of expression in our world and the two young Spanish puppeteers, Alfónso Lázaro de la Torre and Raul García Pérez, who recently spent five days in a Madrid prison and stand accused of “glorifying terrorism” for their radical ‘Punch and Judy’ street show.

On this ‘World Puppetry Day 2016’ - We, the puppeteers of the world are speaking out for free speech and freedom of expression internationally!
You can also view a one-minute short 'making of' 'Je Suis Punch! here!

For more information, see: www.thepuppetandthepower.com and www.garyfriedmanproductions.com
#Libertad Titiriteros 
Happy World Puppetry Day to all our readers and supporters!

9 February 2016

Continuation of the Spanish Saga...

Abajo Puppet Troupe

The story is finally becoming a little more clear! 

Two young Spanish puppeteers Alfónso Lázaro de la Torre and Raul García Pérez, who trained at the Pepe Otal Workshop in Barcelona, are spending their fifth day in a Madrid prison.

I was taken to visit the Workshop of the late-Pepe Otal, in Barcelona last November by my friend Toni Rumbau. It is a sacred space that has provided a venue for artists and puppeteers to explore their creativity  in the centre of Barcelona, since the great Spanish puppeteer, underground anarchist, Otal founded it in 1975.

It’s important to understand the political landscape in Madrid right now to fully comprehend why these young puppeteers were incarcerated. There is a rather radical situation between the left and right wing parties in Madrid. Right wing members of the public are fighting tooth and nail against the left-wing government, which now controls the city. So it certainly looks as if the puppeteers have become pawns in a rather complex political war.  

The politics in Madrid are tense and this puppet fiasco seems to be the type of distraction the right wing needs to shift the attention off their own behaviour.

The team were booked by the Madrid City Hall to participate in the Madrid Carnival with their rather unique version of the traditional “Don Cristobal and the Witch” - first written by the twentieth-century Spanish dramatist Federico García Lorca.

The characters include an anarchist radical Punch & Judy, not suitable for children. This was apparently made clear by the puppeteers to their audience in the streets of Madrid before their performance took place last Friday. 

The controversy began when one of the puppets held up an ‘ETA’ poster during the performance. Apparently this prop was used by the ‘police’ characters to frame the ‘witch’ - an innocent, but apparently foolish attempt to get the ‘witch’ character arrested by the ‘police’.

Some members of the audience called the local police. The reasons are unclear at present: It may have been due to differences in political ideology; a mere misunderstanding of the satyrical nature of the plot or a confusion in comprehending the script  (puppeteers used a ‘swazzle’, a voice changing device, giving the characters high pitched, and sometimes incomprehensible voices)

The Spanish judge immediately threw the puppeteers into prison, with no option of bail - just as, in the Punch & Judy show. How ironic that the exact same scenario now gets played out in real life! For the judge to take this serious action is quite ludicrous. It’s as bad as sentencing Punch to prison for killing his baby - something he has traditionally done, time and time again, for hundreds of years. 

(Our thanks to Toni Rumbau and Titeresante in Spain for the updates)

Don't forgetThere is a petition on FaceBook in Spanish, which calls for the immediately release of the two Spanish puppeteers. You can find it here!

Spanish puppeteers jailed for glorifying terrorism

Free the puppeteers campaign in Spain

Two puppeteers in Spain have reportedly been jailed, charged with “glorifying terrorism” during a children’s show in Madrid. Alfonso Lazaro de la Fuente and Raul Garcia Perez were arrested after staging a show featuring the hanging of an effigy of a judge, the stabbing of a nun with a crucifix and several police beatings, according to reports.

The two puppeteers were detained without possibility of bail Friday for using a sign saying, "Long Live Alka ETA," in a word-play reference to Spain's armed Basque group ETA and al Qaeda.

The Puppet Play of Don Cristóbal (Retablillo de Don Cristóbal) is a play for puppet theatre by the twentieth-century Spanish dramatist Federico García Lorca. It was written in 1931 and was first performed on 11 May 1935 at the Book Fair in Madrid, in a performance in which Lorca operated the puppets himself. Don Cristóbal is a kind of Punch character, who also appears in García Lorca's earlier puppet play, The Billy-Club Puppets (written in 1931).

I have only been exposed to limited information about this curious case. Let me add that this is certainly not the first time this type of arrest has taken place in Europe in recent years. As our world moves closer to the right, freedom of expression is loosing it's power and this is exactly the reason I have been covering these type of events in my documentary film, 'The Puppet and The Power' (currently still in production).

I shall certainly get in touch with sources closer to the story in Spain later today and keep readers posted as the story unfolds.

In the meanwhile, you can find more reports on this story in the media, here and here.

There is a petition on FaceBook in Spanish, which calls for the immediately release of the two Spanish puppeteers. You can find it here!

29 January 2016

Liz Swados - musician, playwright & puppetry activist dies

Rachel Stern, director/ screenwriter Elizabeth Swados, and Sigourney Weaver attend HBO's "My Depression: The Up And Down And Up Of It" Premiere during the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.
It feels very strange indeed to be writing a piece about a family legend, music composer, writer, theatre director and puppeteer who I never personally met, even though she was my cousin.

Elizabeth Swados made her mark on the New York theatre scene very early in her career, probably when she was employed by Peter Brook, to accompany the African expedition of 'Conference of the Birds' across the continent in late-1972. In 1980, Julie Taymor (of 'The Lion King' fame) designed scenery, costumes, puppets and masks for Swados’ adaptation of the Passover story in The Haggadah, which she staged and composed music to a text by future Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel. Jerusalem was an oratorio using poems by the Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai.

You can certainly read a wealth of information on the life and work of couz Liz online and there is a really great film interview with her called 'Women in Theatre' here.

But I would really like to discuss briefly my own journey and how I discovered my far-away cousin, Elizabeth Swados, the woman I never met. 

When I was a young boy of about eight, living under the shadow of Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa, I was already performing puppet shows for the neighbours and doing charity performances. One evening I remember so well, my late-Uncle Louis arriving for dinner at our home with a guest from New York. He turned out to be a mutual cousin and a well-know author of many books on the Alexander Technique and Tai Chi, which apparently he also taught to students at the New York City Ballet.

After dinner, I was asked if I would perform a short puppet piece for Edward, which I believe I did. He then informed me about our mutual thespian cousin, Liz Swados and her work. And my fascination had begun. When I found myself in New York quite a few years later, working with the late-Jim Henson who assisted me set up our 'Puppets Against Aids' trust and raise some initial funding, I did try get hold of Liz, but was never successful. Over the years I tried again on various occasions, but still never managed to make the connection. 

The Swados and Maisel family 

And now you has left us dear Couz Liz. Although I am so sorry I never got to personally connect with you, I was still a great fan from afar and will remain so during my limited visit to this physical world and I still do hope to reconnect at some point in some distant galaxy.

The New York Times wrote a great obituary for Liz, which you can find here.

9 December 2015

Long awaited update (Part Two)

Part Two of my Journey - Europe

From Istanbul, I flew to Paris to continue my exploration of 'Les Guignols de L'Info', the story behind the Canal + daily puppet satire, which I started shooting a year ago. As you are well aware, the past year's events in Paris have been crazy, starting with the Charlie Hebdo massacre. More recently Canal + was purchased by French billionaire, Vincent Bolloré, a close friend of Nicolas Sarkozy.

Since taking over, Mr Bolloré has let it be known that he wanted to abolish the nightly 'Les Guignols' because he did not like “mockery”. He began by firing the Guignols' three head writers and appointed new 'secret' writers of his own choosing. Now the show has been schedule to re-open on 14 December, but the show will now be screened during 'encrypted time', whereas over the past 26 years, since the broadcast began, it has been shown before the 8 o'clock news in 'open-time'.

Last year I interviewed Bruno Gaccio, the original co-producer of Les Guignols series and was hoping to re-interview him on the dramatic changes taken place in France, but due to the drama in Canal + impending new 'censorship laws, this was not to be. However, I did interview two others involved in the series, who were at more liberty to speak out about the recent events.
From Paris, I flew to Berlin, to continue my interviews and coverage for my film. Thereafter I travelled to Belfast and Derry to get the backstory behind a fascinating theatrical performance and documentary film on Theatre of Witness at The Derry Playhouse. 

In South Africa, two years ago, I interviewed puppeteer and director, Aja Marneweck, about her work with Theatre of Witness in Northern Ireland. Aja was involved in 'Release', a production in which five men tell their stories of war and devastation in the troubles in Belfast and Derry. After her powerful work with these men, using paper puppets to help their story, I realised that I would have to go and find out more about these men and their stories for myself. In Belfast I met Paddy McCoey, the performer/puppeteer in the show, who took me on a journey through Belfast and Derry explaining the political situation and how it related directly to their stories. 

I later flew back to Berlin to meet up with Jameel, a theatre director from Aleppo in Syria. Jameel produced three powerful series of highly courageous online hand puppet performances on You Tube, 'Top Goon', reflecting the political crisis in Syria today. 
Given the cruelty the Syrian people face in their struggle for freedom, satire and black comedy allow them to voice the collective pain and grief while expressing their ultimate determination to live.

Since the very beginning of the uprising, Masasit Mati’s show has mocked Bashar al-Assad, portraying him not as a bloody dictator, but rather as childish, often insane, a puppet figure suitable for ridicule. They have sought to strip the carefully crafted image of the dictator as a god. But Assad is not the only target. All aspects of the Syrian revolution are examined and satirised, including the political and armed opposition.

So these were just a few of the stories I discovered and filmed during my almost two-month adventure in the Middle East and Europe. I do believe the shooting is finally completed. If you would like to hear more and eventually view the film, you'll have to keep posted to this blog.

Long awaited update (Part One)

Poster from Tehran Workshops, November 2015

Part One of my Journey - Iran and Turkey

If I had to mention that this trip around the planet was the most inspiring and productive journey I have ever taken, you'd say "But you say that every time you travel, which is too often!". Well it's true in a way, but my adventure which took me to Israel, Iran, Turkey, France, Germany, England and Northern Ireland was mind-blowing to say the least. I was invited to participate in the 22nd International Theatre Festival for Young People in Hamedan in early October. What struck me the most about being in Iran, especially after the warnings I had received about the dangers of Iran by people in the west, was the hospitality and friendliness of people I came across throughout the country. During the Hamedan festival I presented workshops for actors, teachers and academics, using my time-honoured technique of paper performance. After the festival, I was invited to conduct another workshop and lecture at The Actors Centre in Tehran. ​ ​The main aim of the journey was to complete the filming of the stories for my documentary film 'The Puppet and The Power', after two-years of shooting around the world. ​

Karagöz (meaning blackeye in Turkish) and Hacivat (shortened in time from "Hacı İvaz" meaning "İvaz the Pilgrim", and also sometimes written as Hacivad) are the lead characters of the traditional Turkish shadow play, popularized during the Ottoman period and then spread to most nation states that comprised the Ottoman Empire and most prominently in Turkey and Greece.

In Bursa we first visited the Karagöz Museum and soon after met up with an old friend, Haluk Yuce, who is a Karagöz master from Ankara. I interviewed him at the famous tomb of Karagöz, across the road from the museum. He revealed some secrets of the 'black-eyed hunchback' which I had never previously discovered. The purpose for the interview and coverage of Karagöz, was that you can never really touch on the social and political aspects of traditional Middle-Eastern and European puppetry traditions, without discovering all the hidden secrets in the entire family, which extends from Petrouchka in Russia to Aragoz in the Middle East.

Earlier in Hamadan I had also interviewed another friend and Russian 'Petrouchka' master, Alexander Gref of the Vagrant Puppet Booth from Moscow. I had already filmed Alexander'sVertep performance in Charleville-Mézières, France last November. Vertep is a portable puppet theatre predominantly from Ukraine and Russia, which presents the nativity scene and other mystery plays. This year I had the privilege of shooting Alexander's performance of the popular Russian hero, 'Petrouchka' the stock character of 17th century Russian folk puppetry, which Alexander performed in the streets of Hamadan.
[To view the original Blog in Puppetry Films, click here!]

To be continued in Part Two ....

31 August 2015

Producing new online Puppetry Tutorials

A series of new tutorials and workshop films are currently in production for our new website, Puppetry Films. These films, in both the paid and free sections, are being developed by our tutors across the globe to cater to the requests by puppeteers and students who have indicated, in a recent survey that their specifixc interests include: The Fundamentals of Puppetry; Bringing a puppet to life for the first time; Glove puppetry; marionette theatre; directing for the Puppet Theatre; Puppetry for TV construction and Puppetry for TV manipulation and directing. If you are interested by any of the above topics, click here to complete the Puppetry Films survey online.

If you have not yet visited our new website, do so today. We have a new Spotlight featuring the life and work of the German shadow puppetry film animator, Lotte Reiniger here.
If you have any special requests for material that you would like to contribute or be featured, you can contact the editor here!

13 August 2015

Call for Puppets for Peace and Diversity from Iran

The International Puppet and Doll Museum first opened it's doors in Tehran, in September 2014 to mark the occasion of International Day of Peace. Peace provides equal opportunities for individuals when the prevailing cultural and social environment recognizes and respects the diversity of its people.

The museum is now calling for puppet builders and doll makers from around the world to send their puppets/dolls as peace ambassadors in an exhibit that will begin in Tehran and later tour throughout the country, bring their artists' message of peace to Iran.

The doll artists and puppet makers are invited to create puppets with the theme “Peace, Diversity, and Understanding” in a diversified cultural, linguistic, ethnic/racial, gender, physical and/or psychological, age, and social context. The doll and puppet makers may also portray in their artwork the challenges faced by the vulnerable populations such as the disabled, immigrants, refugees, the homeless, ethnic or religious minorities, the elderly, prisoners, street children and women in crisis.

The artists are required to write their peace message in English and their native language to accompany their submitting doll or puppet. The artist should include resume and specifications of the submitting piece.

Deadline for Submission: 1 October 2015.

You are kindly asked to forward this call to everyone who might be interested in participating in this project. You can find their website is here and FaceBook page here.
Contact Poupak Azimpour here!