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June & Goblins

June was a helluva a month.

We were privileged enough to get rehearsal space down London from the wonderful people at The Little Angel Theatre. We had a new idea for our next children’s show and aside from puppet making we needed rehearsal rooms and the opportunity to perform to a test audience.

We worked solid for five days. We went from a skeleton of a play to a full script, something we had way more time for with ‘Caliban in the Rock Pool’. Aside from line learning the most difficult part was the final day: we had the final puppets, the costume, the tent, the script – time to rehearse.

On Friday the 8th of June we presented ‘Goblins!’ to our test audience. This play follows Professor Elanor J Cottingly who has set out to prove faeries and goblins exist once and for all. With nothing but her tent, maps, and her precious thesis book she prepares for the eagerly awaited faerie migration. Suddenly an entire faerie court invade her tent, her camping chair, and the Queen takes her thesis book as her new cushion. Professor Elanor J Cottingly must now compete in the three challenges set by the Queen so she can get her thesis book back!

Overall, we’re all proud of our work. For a research and development period it went well, and we got some excellent feedback from our test audience. We’re incredibly thankful for The Little Anel Theatre, that week in London was a terrific learning experience for all of us. Not that they need promoting look them up online or offline, they do some incredible children’s theatre.

Before we share promotional photos and all that we have one final hurdle: clothes for our puppets. This is a family show after all which means our Queen, Sir Alban (the Queen’s Champion), and the mischievous goblin need some clothes. We were also encouraged to figure out a brighter way of presenting the faerie court so I’m bracing myself for lots of crepe and sugar paper.

With the summer coming up we’re putting our thinking caps on for the next academic year (we want to hit up more schools with our workshops), future projects (Avalon and other things), and getting to perform our work across the Midlands and beyond.

So on with July, and August, and the whatever summer we have left. You’ll hear from us soon.

Here be goblins.

June Adventures

2018 is the year Bootleg Puppets MAKES THINGS!

While we’ve taken a minor break from Avalon, our first puppet show for adults, this June we’re lucky enough to spend a working week with the Little Angel Theatre. We’ll be stationed in one of their rehearsal rooms working on our next children’s show – Goblins!

In this show you’ll follow an esteemed professor of faeology who has been sent away on a research mission for her university to research faeries, goblins, and other fantastical creatures. After the Professor sets up her tent and begins to settle in for the night goblins and a faerie court invade her tent, the Queen of the troupe stealing her research papers as a cushion. The Professor must defeat the faerie courts champion to get her research back or else the University will never believe her.

We met the Artistic Director of the Little Angel Theatre at the artists meet and greet in the Tunbridge Wells Puppet Festival and we’re incredibly grateful to be given this opportunity to build our set and puppets, rehearse, and show off our new play by the end of the week.

Stay tuned for more goblin fun!

Avalon, R&D, and Metaphors

About a month ago, we began in earnest the second development stage of our new show, Avalon. We’ve been making this show for a while now but in a very real way, we are now actually making the show. The more than a year of batting around ideas and concepts, developing puppet designs, writing script treatments and then first and second drafts of said script is all work, for sure. That is especially true when you are doing (as we have been) that work around other projects and gigs and the things one does to pay the rent. We spent April, however, Making The Work.

Probably, that last idea did not need to be capitalised, but having spent the better part of a month either in a rehearsal room or at my computer re-drafting the script, it has begun to feel like the kind of process that demands to be capitalised when you write it down. I am only exaggerating a little bit when I tell you that we spent almost all of our waking hours that were not otherwise committed to keeping ourselves afloat thinking about Avalon; about its characters (both human and puppet) it’s story beats and visual style, it’s identity as piece of art. We started looking at it from a lofty height and very quickly we descended to the lowest, most granular levels we could, so that we could understand the things we had already made, and break them. Then we put them back together.

That’s how pretty much every creative process I have been a part of has gone; you make something, let’s say you write a script, and then you give that script to actors and they read it, and then they perform it, and in the hearing of it aloud you discover all of the failings it has. You discover that certain lines are clunky and hard for an actual human being to say out loud. You discover places where the characters sound fine, but not like themselves. You discover that the big speech that you loved when you wrote it is easily three times as long as it should be. Then, when you’ve learned those things, you tear it all apart and re-build it, and in doing that you make it better. Then you do it again, and again, until you can’t make it any better.

Knowing that this is how it is going to go, that this is always how it goes, makes it a lot easier. It’s almost tired now to say that ‘writing is re-writing’, but it’s also true that almost nothing is done after one attempt. Even still, it can be startling how many great deficiencies in an early draft can be utterly invisible until another artist looks at or starts to play with something. I knew going into our rehearsals that though we had a full draft of a script, it was far from finished. Something was wrong with it, probably several things, but I could not put my fingers on precisely what that was. By the end of the first day we had figured out 1) that the script was *far* too long, and needed trimming, 2) that one of the three principal characters was falling very flat and that her vocation, which had become her defining trait, was making it difficult to flesh her out and 3) that the various relationships needed developing. So, we tore it all apart and re-built it, and focused down on the first half (and eventually first third) of the script so that we could edit and re-edit the text until we got the opening into a place we were happy with and could then continue to build from.

Two days later, and I had a new first half, and it was clearly a much better section. By the end of the month we had what felt to me to be a much improved ‘act one’ (side note: Avalon is a one-act play, intended to run at about an hour with no interval once we are done. That does not, however, stop me thinking about its structure in three ‘acts’). The metaphor of tearing things apart and re-building them is something that has always seemed to be an obvious and sensible one to me for describing the creative process. It takes on a different dimension however, when making a show full of puppets.

After the first few days or working solely on the script, we got the first prototype puppets in our hands. And we knew that we would have to be problem solving the objects and the text in tandem, in order to make this work. So, we played with the puppets and found out what wasn’t working for us, and then latterly, rather than metaphorically, dismantled and rebuilt them – sometimes dramatically, sometimes by simply making minor modifications. We trimmed control rods, cut new access points, and even stitched together a whole new puppet for the lady of the lake. Making scripted puppet work is an odd process, at least for me. The script is necessarily impacted by the puppets and their capabilities, character, and designs as much as the puppets are impacted by the script. So, we iterated on both things, back and forth, to try and bring them into harmony.

And finally, at the end of the period, we shared what we had made with an audience of friends and strangers. The feedback from that sharing was excellent, and the value of being able to have conversations with that audience afterwards was certainly valuable. We have learned so much about Avalon, and pushed it forward so far but there is of course plenty of work left to do: the rest of the script to re-build, more puppets to build, and more rehearsals to do. We need some time to reflect on what we’ve learned so far, and how best to take the next steps, but I am very excited about what is to come for this project. We hope you all are too.

-Tim

Time For An Update!

This Saturday marks two weeks since we sent off an Arts Council Application to request funding for our research and development period for our first adult puppet show ‘Avalon’.

Quick fire questions!

What’s ‘Avalon’? – Our first adult puppet show, suitable for those aged 15 and up. We’ve used the King Arthur myths as a basis to look at British identity, memory and time, and what’s really real and whether that matters when we’re old and grey.

What’s research and development? – Lovingly known as ‘r&d’ research and development is a mix of rehearsals and editing. We have a script of ‘Avalon’ that has only had three sets of eyes over it, so we want to have actors mess around with the text, help us find out what works, and what needs improving. As a puppet company we also need to figure out what our puppets need to do (in the text and how they physically work.)

What’s the Arts Council? – Arts Council England is a brilliant organisation that help artists (stand alone, companies, groups, museums, troupes, libraries, etc.) financially. Anyone who needs their assistance need to fill out an application form which isn’t nearly as easy as it sounds. Find out more about them here.

The waiting time for applications requesting less that £15k is six weeks, we are approaching week two.

A lot of what we do behind the scenes is admin (as detailed in our previous blog post) and this is perhaps our biggest admin task to date. At least for now.

We have a couple of meetings coming up and a lot of planning to do in case the Arts Council say no. We have a lot of things nailed down for our r&d period: rehearsal space provided by the wonderful Old Joint Stock Theatre and Bar (as part of their Open Doors project), rehearsal space with the brilliant folk over at Coventry University, and we have Bootleg’s company funds to go towards puppet construction. But we want to do more, which is why we’ve asked for funding – the big thing is paying people for their time.

We have everything crossed but we’re fully prepared to make a plan B. Maybe even plans through C – J.

So watch this space, here be dragons.

The Joys of Admin

You know when you’re younger and grown up’s ask “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and kids give you an answer like “Firefighter” or “Doctor” or “Rock Star” because those are jobs they’ve seen (or think they’ve seen) or jobs they (think) they understand. Well, I feel like working with Bootleg Puppets would be a great lesson for anyone who ever says they want to be an artist.

People say that if you ever want to get used to rejection, become an actor. Having done bits of acting at University I know this feeling. But that’s a little different to Bootleg Puppets. Here we’re all actors, puppeteers, directors, writers. Sure, some more than others. Tim is the only one writing the Arthur script but I know that if anyone had a problem with a phrasing of a line or scene we’d work on it collaboratively. We all have different skills which is essential for companies like us.

Which leads me onto my skill: admin.

No child ever wants to be an administrator. And sure, I get a kick out of it, in every application form, cover letter, budget sheet, etc. I get to talk about:

  1. Why Bootleg Puppets is great.
  2. Why our show is great.

And

  1. Why you need us at your festival.

Anyone who’s spent long periods of time applying for spaces at University or Job Hunting will know that there’s a structure to it all. First paragraph is the introduction, second is the content of the show, third is why the show would fit at the festival, fourth is the budget and acknowledgement of the hard times the arts scene has taken, etc.

It’s a skill. It’s a damn good skill to have for a company like us. If you talk to any kids who want to be artists prepare them, in the most child friendly way, for the administrative tasks ahead!

The only down side of course, is that it’s not the most photogenic of tasks. We couldn’t post on Facebook about this because it would just a picture of me look stressed at a word document. Plus it’s not exactly cricket to talk about events we’re applying for before our application has been accepted.

But fun admin things are happening. Promise!

Goblins

About a month or so ago the four of us (myself, Tim, Becky, and Tom) gathered in a café and began plotting the script for our next children’s show.

WHAT – I hear you cry – BUT YOU HAVEN’T EVEN FINISHED THE ARTHUR SCRIPT YET?

I hear your cries, dear reader, and you’ll be happy to know that Bootleg Puppets has two strands. We love working with children and families, all of us had incredibly positive creative experiences in our formative years and would love to provide something similar for young people now.

We also want to create puppet theatre for adults, the public pretty much started getting excited about puppet theatre for 12 years + since War Horse which (as brilliant as that show is) is frustrating.

Anyone can enjoy puppet theatre, is has no age limit.

Our adult show that we’re working on is based around the Arthurian Legends (think Big Fish / Pan’s Labyrinth in narrative structure, but more Bootleg). Read more about it here.

But our next children’s show which, if I’m honest, we might not get cracking on until 2018, involves Goblins. And faeries. And a Professor of Faeology.

We first started looking at the structure of Caliban in the Rock Pool. You have a protagonist who talks/interacts with the audience. Things go wrong. They try to make it right. Things go right. The end. The one thing that we did differently with Caliban is that the protagonist, played by Tim, took on the role of the story teller as in literally telling the story of the Crab King, and as the Wizard within the actual story.

With our next kids show, working title: Goblins, our Professor of Faeology isn’t necessarily telling a story. She’s been sent away from her University to conduct very important research, which is where (of course) things begin to go wrong. Personally, I’m rather excited as I get to be the non-puppeteering lead, and Tim will get to get his teeth into some puppeteering!

At the moment though it feels like we’re spinning plates. We’re working on our adult show, and the subsequent funding and admin surrounding that, we’re trying to get more gigs performing Caliban, we’re trying to get workshops sorted, and we’ve got this on the backburner to start in 2018.

It feels good to be busy.

Typing… Typing… Typing

Hi, Daisy Edwards (managing director, social media god, and performer) here!

If you haven’t been following our Facebook or Twitter (maybe get on that) you won’t know that we’re working on our first adult puppet show. And by ‘we’ I mean Tim, our writer. Thus far our writing process, for both Caliban in the Rock Pool and this show, have been Tim burrowing away, typing furiously until we get a brilliant first draft.

So, what’s the show about? Well, we’re taking the Arthurian Legends and tangling them up with the memories, or misremembering’s, of an elderly man in a care home. We reckon it’ll be suitable for those aged 15+. We get to use swear words. It’s really different to our previous stuff. Assuming everything goes right we’d get to perform it a few times around Birmingham, maybe do a Midlands tour, maybe do a UK tour! But in order to do all that, and more, we need that vital thing: money!

We want to approach the Arts Council for funding. I’ve had a few conversations with Midlands based creatives (shout out to Bohdan Piasecki, Noctium, and Paul O’Donnell) over the past 6 months or so. One thing I can say, if you’re ever in a situation and you’re worried about asking for advice – DON’T BE! I know that’s a lot easier said than done but the advice from these guys has been incredibly valuable. If you ever need advice do a quick Facebook or Google search for the creative companies in your area, offer to buy them a hot drink, and ask them questions. That’s one of the great things about creating theatre and art, you get to share it with all sorts of people.

We’re still in the very early stages of contacting the Arts Council, I’ve requested a meeting with the Theatre Relationship Manager. So, assuming everything goes well, I get to have a productive phone call or coffee with someone really important to the application process. We’ve never done this before which is rather exciting.

But in order for this all to work, for us to get the money from the Arts Council, for us to audition and pay actors to take part in the research and development process, to host a small scratch night, to perform the whole thing across the country, we need a complete script. That’s one of the reasons these blog posts have been a little sparse, who would have time to write a blog post when you’ve got an hour long puppet play to write?

The answer: me.

You’ll be hearing from me in the future, on a more regular basis. If you’re not following us on our Facebook and Twitter profiles get on it, once the script is complete prepare yourselves for a very excited team photo!

King Arthur, Puppets, and Narrative

Yesterday, there was a meeting. Tomorrow, there will be another meeting and between the meetings and the company development and performances we are attempting to make a new show.

It’s all a bit wonderful, being this busy.

But I am perhaps getting ahead of myself! We have not yet properly announced the show that we have bubbling away in the background, so perhaps I should introduce you to it. You may have seen or heard rumblings on our Twitter or Facebook accounts but for those who haven’t, or are all a bit confused about it here’s the deal:

We are currently in the process of writing a new, one-act puppet play. It’s about King Arthur – sort of. It’s also about identity and story-telling and memory. Unlike our last show, it is aimed at older audiences, and is going to run close to an hour than the 20 minutes or so that our outdoors work has typically lasted. Frankly, we are all very excited. We’ve been chatting about this, doing the concepting work and plot development for several months now and very soon I’ll be sitting down to hash out the first draft of the actual play script and that day can’t come soon enough. We’ve all had this story zipping around in our heads for a long time now, and for my part at least, punching out the actual dialogue will be the first time it really starts to take shape as an actual play, and not just a neat idea we’ve had.

Yesterday’s meeting was one of the more exciting ones in a while. I’ve lately been working on the ‘treatment’ for the script – a document that describes what happens in the play, scene by scene, in detail. It’s kind of an extended synopsis of the show and lets us draft and re-draft the plot very quickly without having to write or re-write pages and pages of dialogue. Once the treatment is finalised I’ll then get to work doing the first full draft of the script. Yesterday I and our Technical Director Tom sat down with the current draft of the treatment and worked through what we needed or would like to be doing with our puppets in each scene so I could finalise the treatment.

Much like Caliban in the Rock pool, this new play will be a show with both human and puppet performers in it, so figuring out which moments need or want puppetry, and where to make those moments spectacular or understated has proven quite the challenge to hash out, but I think we’re finally getting there. I’m really looking forward to having more to show you all about this show over the coming months including, hopefully, an actual title!

These blog posts too will hopefully be more frequent over the coming months as we push forward with this new show, and continue to pursue new opportunities for Caliban. I can’t wait to see what’s ahead of us!

-Tim Scotson, Artistic Director

Caliban at Shoot Festival

A couple of weeks back we had the pleasure of bringing Caliban in the Rock Pool to Coventry to be a part of the cities Shoot Festival. A day long arts festival celebrating local talent from around the area it was crammed with a really diverse range of forms including theatre, comedy and music. We started the day off at 12:15 and then spent the rest of our day trying to see as much of the festival as we could, and chatting to other performers and audience members between shows. The whole event took place at the Shopfront Theatre in Coventry’s city centre and was an absolute delight to be a part of. I’ve popped a gallery of some of my favourite pictures from the event down below. You can learn more about Shoot Festival, which was in its third year this year, at their website here.