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Spooky Folk - a modular approach to creating a puppet show

Spooky Folk
As puppetry performance is increasingly in demand in more varied venues and events, puppeteers are having to respond to the need to be able to adapt their work to suit different performance environments and different demands from those who book their work. Some are finding that having a show which is modular – comprised of various pieces that can be assembled depending on what is requested by those who book the show – can be a way of creating work which is more flexible, potentially more attractive to bookers, and easier to tour with.
Nutmeg Puppet Company has been producing puppetry for 36 years. At the end of 2013, Artistic Director Meg Amsden found that a puppet film she had made was too long to be accepted for a festival, and decided to create a new show that would be more flexible. Her idea was to create a show comprised of individual pieces that could be shown on their own or together in groups – depending on what was requested from those who wished to book the show – and then could have a second life as a series of short puppet films.
After many years of fund-raising for her work, Meg found that she was feeling burnt out – funding was harder to come by as the economic climate took its toll, and the physical demands of touring a traditional show were becoming too much. She needed a new project that suited her physical capability – but also which would be financially viable.
Meg has played accordion at folk sessions for 30 years and sings with a long-established women’s acapella group. Some of the songs were perfect subjects for short shows – and she used some in her new production. Meg says, “The first song I worked on for Spooky Folk, Michael and the Raven, was a reworking of a dance production I made in 1977. I then looked for other songs that had similarly gothic themes. Each song tells a different womans story or aspect of a womans experience. It has indeed been an interesting process - a bit different from the way Ive worked before, though I have worked to scores in the past, and the last project I did in 2013 (Famous Five Birds) involved puppets, music and film. I was involved in independent/underground film-making before I ever became a puppeteer, so its like returning to my roots.

Further explaining how the new show came about, Meg says, “The process has been to find a singer and a song, find the best tune for it, or commission someone to write a new one and record it. I then storyboarded the song and made a background film that includes the song in the soundtrack. Next, I revisited the storyboard and made the puppets. I worked the piece up to performance level and performed in a variety of spaces using a portable screen and back projecting the film. I then performed and filmed the puppets against a white screen using the sound-track as a guide. And then the film-magic comes in in the editing...!”

So far, Meg has collaborated with Independant film maker Debra Hyatt, singers and musicians, Nico Brown, Vernon Rose (a veteran folk singer who was once a puppeteer himself), Nicolette Vine, Jenny Nutbeem, Amanda Potter, flautist Ted Potter and sound recordist Ben Waters.

Meg says of the interaction between her shadow puppets and animation in Spooky Folk, “The film aspect is mainly in the backgrounds - live footage of natural landscapes and so on - with live shadow puppets superimposed. There isnt much animation in the first three, but the next one Im working on is going to be more a mix of animation (animating the puppets as opposed to performing with them) and live puppetry”.

Click here for more information about Nutmeg Puppet Co.

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