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Theatre Materials: What is theatre made of?

New book edited by Eleanor Margolies reviewed by Ray DaSilva.

This well illustrated 128 page book is a record and a development of the Theatre Materials/Material Theatres conference funded by the Centre for Excellence in Training for Theatre created by the Central School of Speech and Drama. It provides a series of work-in-progress explorations looking at ways of engaging with materials and processes.
Of particular interest to puppeteers will be the presentation by René Baker, performer, designer and director, who describes her surprising way of bringing theatre students to face the fundamentals of acting by looking at the language of objects. There is also the personal list of encounters with objects by Sean Myatt, Theatre Designer, Puppeteer, and the notes by Adrian Kohler of Handspring Puppet Company on how to represent animals with plywood and willow. The other contributions should be of varying levels of interest to astute puppeteers who look outside their own field in order to bring in something new to their art.
Anne Bogart (American director) thinks of the theatre as a gym for the soul by stimulating the mirror neurons of the audience. “When we see something happen, the same neuronal activity happens in our brains as in the brain of the person doing it.”
Alan Read demonstrated with two ‘dramatic’ examples (the instability of high alumina cement, and the potential of a spoonful of Anthrax powder) the need to study the nature of materials more seriously.
Zoe Loughlin (materials researcher) looks at the performability of materials using as examples: shape memory alloy, magnetic liquids, Aerogel (the world’s lightest material), and the properties of liquid nitrogen.
Tim Hunkin provided some down-to-earth plain speaking full of words of wisdom and commentary. His piece ‘Intuitive Engineering’ which describes his approach to creating an array of weird and wonderful moving objects starting with back-of-envelope sketches will chime nicely with the making processes of several puppeteers. “There are now fewer apprenticeships than university places. I find it easy to get help with computer problems, but really hard to find skilled people to help me make things”. He does however perceive that things are changing and that the growing scarcity of practical skills will eventually give them increased respect.
Other contributors include Jane Heather (illustrator and theatre designer), Joanna Parker (scenographer, Central School of Speech and Drama), Paul Rae (performer and lecturer, National University of Singapore), Bob Sheil (architect, the Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL), Ben Todd (Executive Director, the Arcola Theatre), Robert Butler (theatre critic), Pamela Howard (scenographer).
Jessica Bowles in the foreword hopes that the articles will stimulate further debate and points out that the next series of conferences ‘Theatre Applications’ will be held in April 2010.
The book can be obtained from
Centre for Excellence in Training for Theatre
The Central School of Speech and Drama
Embassy Theatre
Eton Avenue
London NW3 3HY
Tel: 020 7449 1571
Email: see link in RH column -->
Price £10.00 plus £2.95 p&p.
ISBN: 978-0-9539501-5-7

The London Zoo Clock by Tim Hunkin – initial drawing and finished product

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