We work with a lot of puppeteers here at Little Angel including many young puppeteers who are just starting on their puppetry career. Here we speak with emerging artist Matt Hutchinson on how he first got involved in puppetry and advice he would give others who want to learn
How did you first get involved in puppetry?
I loved playing with puppets from a very young age – couldn’t tell you why, just did and I certainly didn’t ever think of it as a possible career! I dabbled in many different theatre and art disciplines whilst growing up considering them all as a possible job, however one day I realised that puppetry combined everything I loved to do so why wasn’t I doing that? I haven’t looked back since.
Is there a pre-determined route for someone to take to become a puppeteer?
No, I don’t think so, or at least I haven’t come across one. In meeting and working with people I always find it fascinating to hear how they came about working with puppetry and puppets. As an art form, and one of the main reasons I love it, it is so multifaceted and can be very appealing to people from all different backgrounds. It has really strong links and connections to other disciplines and practices in performance, such as craft and art. People often come to puppetry as part of a journey in exploring something else, and that’s really exciting as they bring a totally different approach and perspective. For some I think it is in their genetic make-up – they are drawn to it like a magnet and just have a natural ability.
Do you think you have to train as a puppeteer before you start performing as one?
Certainly not. I think it is hard to “train” for puppetry – there is so much that I think it is necessary to understand let alone spend enough time practically mastering. It’s a hands on subject after all. I don’t think if I will ever feel “trained” – you learn new things everyday and have to work at improving your practice.
Also, being a puppeteer doesn’t mean you only perform. It is a title that allows for huge amounts of creativity and an application of a wide range of skills including making, directing etc. In a sense it can be like being a one man theatre company – you can do and may have to do everything!
What can puppetry offer to those who are traditional performers?
A great sense of fun; a greater understanding of awareness; heightened observation and greater sensitivity to things like rhythm, breath, weight etc – all these things that are sometimes overlooked and not examined but can be instrumental in changing a performance.
What was your Puppetry BA Hons course at Central School of Speech and Drama like? What were the main points of learning?
One of the best things about the CSSD Puppetry BA was the flexibility of it, for actually saying I went to Central I actually spent very little time in the building. I was off learning “on the job” on placements, productions and work experience – however I had a real sense of purpose and was encouraged and supported to improve and better my skills and practice.
I was exposed to a huge array of work and got to work with some truly amazing people. It sounds bizarre to say it, but you learn more about yourself and your passion for your craft. That is more valuable than any technical skill you can be taught .
What resources do you use when finding out about puppetry?
It’s really interesting how social media has become such a huge part of our lives. It’s a great resource to engage with and to learn about what is going on and who is up to what and the current trends. Internet resources such as YouTube are good to use too – and the nice thing is they are all free.
In saying that, I don’t think you can beat a good book, going and seeing a piece of work or talking to people.
What’s your favourite puppetry website?
The Little Angel Theatre’s, obviously! However there is a great range of websites out there. Organisations such as Puppet Centre Trust and Puppeteers UK are always really useful as directories for finding out what is going on. There are also some really brilliant blog sites, journals and forums out there as well as websites that other puppeteers/puppetry professionals use to promote their work.
What’s your top piece of advice for those wanting to get involved in puppetry?
The best advice is to get involved, there is no point sitting there waiting for something to happen. If you want to do something find an opportunity to do so – or if the opportunity doesn’t exist find a way to facilitate it yourself. Talk to people, engage with what is going on and see as much as you can. Never stop playing.
Matt trained in puppetry at Central School of Speech and Drama and now works across the arts and entertainments industries, “helping make puppetry happen”. His previous work, credits and experience include a variety of roles and positions for Mongrels (BBC), War Horse (National Theatre), The Tempest (Royal Shakespeare Company and Little Angel Theatre), The Wild Night of the Witches (Little Angel Theatre), Bagpuss (Soho Theatre), Nuzzle and Scratch (BBC – Cbeebies), Call of the Wild (Blind Summit Theatre) and work for companies such as Theatre-Rites, Birmingham Stage Company and Blunderbus Theatre Company.