Houdini's Suitcase på turne i Nordland

Les intervju med Pickled Image. Om Houdinis Suitcase. Om kunsten å lage dukketeater.
I November drar Houdini's Suitcase på turne i Nordland. Britiske Pickled Image produserte forestillingen i samarbeid med Figurteateret i Nordland vinteren 2006. Stykket hadde verdenspremiere på Figurteateret 28.april 2006.
I September kjørte Figurteaterets stab turnebilen til Charleville-Mézières i Nord-Frankrike - verdens største mønstring av figurteater. Med i bilen var scenografi og lysrigg til Pickled Image's Houdinis Suitcase, som ble vist under festivalen. Nå er det Nordlands tur til å se forestillingen

Intervju med Pickled Image. Om Houdinis Suitcase. Om kunsten å lage dukketeater:  



An interview with Dik Downey from Pickled Image
Interviewed by Preben Faye-Schjøll
In this interview Pickled Images’ Dik Downey (DD) gives us a glimps into the art of Pickled Image and the process of making a puppet show. Pickled Image core members are Vicky Andrews and Dik Downey, both living and working in Bristol, England. This interview was conceived shortly after the premiere of Pickled Images’ production Houdinis’ Suitcase, a production produced at the Nordland Visual Theatre, Norway during the spring of 2006.
In Houdinis’ Suitcase we meet the old man Joshka Malouth, earlier the assistant to the great  Henry Houdini. Waiting for the train to take him on what seems to be his last journey to infinity, his memories of his past comes to life. Houdinis’ Suitcase will be touring this autumn in Nordland County of Northern-Norway, before attending the World Puppet Theater Festival in Charleville-Mezieres this october.    
Could you tell us something about your past as puppeteer and puppet artist.
DD: I came to puppetry in a very roundabout way; I originally started performing as a street entertainer, performing on the streets of Spain and France as a fire-eater, juggler and clown. Eventually I was working for a small circus /theatre company in Wales where I met Green Ginger’s Terry Lee, who was performing his one man shows. Over a period of time I was persuaded to become involved in Green Ginger, originally as a technician and then as a performer/puppeteer in shows like ‘Slaphead, Demon Barber’, ‘Frank Einstein’ and ‘The P.R.A.T’s’.
How did you become Pickled Image?
DD: In October 2000 Vicky and I decided to form a puppet design company, initially just to design and make puppets for other companies. We did not start out with the intention of performing until we were invited to create a short piece for ‘Le Petit Bazaar Erotik” for Tof, a puppet company in Brussels. ‘Le Petit Bazaar Erotik’ was a touring erotic puppet festival featuring 8 of the leading puppet companies from France and Belgium, such as Turak, Velo Theatre,  Manarf, Cuisine… Once we had created our first show it just seemed natural to continue performing live theatre. We were also involved with filming puppets with The Wright Stuff Theatre of Puppets, in Yorkshire UK. Where we made educational videos for teenagers dealing with difficult subjects such as drugs, teenage pregnancy and careers. We also devised puppet workshops to teach puppetry to different ages of students. From junior school children to MA students studying computer animation.
Where and how did you learn your craft?
DD: Neither Vicky or myself have had any formal training in puppetry or performance. We have learnt our skills as we have gone along. Each new show has demanded new skills that we have had to develop through practice and trial and error.
Could you  tell us a little about the process of making a puppet show? First of all, how to get the idea for the story and plot?
DD: The Ideas for new work can come from any source, for example with Houdini’s Suitcase we had been discussing the effects of memories with old age as we both noticed that as our grandparents aged they seemed to relate more stories of their youth, often repeating the ones that touched them the most.
How did you get the idea for the puppets?
DD: Both Vicky and I are avid drawers and we will initially create puppet characters on paper. These drawings are then developed into 3D puppets.
And the making of the puppets and setting, colour, materials?
DD: We often make our puppets from latex rubber. The process is started by making the character in clay and then taking a plaster cast from the clay, after which we will take a latex copy which we will paint, add eyes and hair and then make a body and costume it. We will also use other materials if we think they will be more suitable for the puppet, like foam or wood.
What is the function of the music?
DD: Music is very important to our performances, as we believe that the right soundtrack can only benefit the images we show. Our performances have a cinematic quality to them and we try to create a soundscape that is complimentary to the narrative. We often use old recordings that we have discovered in charity shops in the bargain bins. We also work with composers to create unique musical scores for our performances; we give them a comprehensive storyboard of the intended show and highlight the specific moods and emotions of the scenes. We also make a tape of music we have sourced that inspires us and will have a flavour of the style we want for our show. A great place to find strange, beautiful and obscure music is on BBC3 Late Junction, which is on late in the evenings and has fantastic records played. 
Could you say something of the different steps of the collaboration period and  the rehearsal period?
DD: Our collaboration with the NVT was a very unique experience for us, normally we are under enormous pressure when we build a new show as we are also involved in the day to day running of Pickled Image, so there is lots of distractions and important business decisions to be made. However the 6 weeks we had to make Houdini’s Suitcase in Stamsund gave us the time and space to concentrate solely on the show. The process of making Houdini started with designing the storyboard of the show and drawing a cast of characters who would appear. We then made these characters into puppets, which were carved from foam and then coated in toilet paper and PVA glue. Once we had made the puppets we handed them over to our costume maker, Mama Nygren who copied the style of costumes from our drawings. We also made a mask of the main character that was an old man; this was made from clay on top of a plaster life cast of my head. We then took a latex copy of this head to create the mask. After we had the puppets ready we started to buy things for the scenery. As the show was set at a railway station we knew we wanted lots of suitcases and trunks. We scoured Bristol and brought as many as we could. Everything was then shipped to Stamsund, where we joined it a few weeks later. The next period consisted of two weeks set building and adapting the trunks and suitcases to contain the puppets we had made. After these two weeks we spent another four weeks rehearsing the show with our director Emma Lloyd. Our composer joined us for the last two weeks to fine tune all our sound requirements.
What is your typical audience in England and elsewhere?
DD: There really isn’t a typical audience anywhere, but in England puppet theatre is still viewed as children’s entertainment. This makes it quite challenging to make something that will change people’s perceptions of puppetry. I guess the thing in common with audiences who come to see our work is that they are adventurous and are willing to try something new and different.
Why doing a show about an old man?
DD: Both Vicky and I have been witness to watching people we love getting very old and how important it is to understand and value the lives they have lived.
You told me once that one of the themes or maybe the main theme of Houdinis’ Suitcase  is “breath”. Could you elaborate that?
DD: As we wrote the story for Houdini’s Suitcase we discovered that breath was a recurring theme. The different elements of the old man’s life all had distinct emotions to them and a lot of these emotions involved different ways of breathing i.e. Fear, passion, and relief. As the show progressed so did the use of breath within the performance, it is even in the music that Simon Preston composed for the show.
Do the English have a special relation to 20th century, World war 1, Henry Houdin and the golden days of circus?
DD: I don’t know if it’s particularly a national obsession, but these are things that have really struck a cord with both Vicky and myself. We have had a long desire to stage some of these things in a show. Originally we toyed with the idea of making a show about the WW1 specifically boy soldiers, young men under the age of enlistment who lied about their age to fight for their country only to discover the horrors that it entailed.
I think suitcases, vintage clothes,  old things are typical for (English) puppet performances. Why? Are old things just inspiring? Or has it something with the puppet theatres ability to describe time, age, death?  Is it the yarn for estrangement? 
DD: I have no idea! Really it’s just that old object have a history and a story within them. You understand that many people have handled these objects over many years; these objects have travelled and after all the years have remained intact and usable. To me they are more beautiful than newer versions, which are more sterile and lack the history. As a child  (and as an adult) I was drawn to my dad’s dusty old workshop where he did amateur carpentry, electronics and general tinkering of broken things. It was a haven for an imaginative kid who loved to bang nails into anything he could and poke around in things I shouldn’t have.
I think  that puppetry is good at describing and creating nostalgia, lost ages, memories. Do you think that puppetry could describe people, milieus, topics, and issues from our own time?
DD: I’m sure it is, look at the success of  ‘Team America’(1). I know that this is a film, but you couldn’t get more topical and up to date as that. On the other hand puppets look much better in shadowy, dark worlds as it’s more forgiving for the look of the puppets and easier to hide the puppeteers.
Puppet artist looking for ideas for making a show - where should they look?
DD: Who knows? Anywhere and everywhere. Art, books, dreams, what’s in the newspaper, a conversation overheard on the bus. Your guess is as good as mine!
Could puppetry concern larger audiences? Adults?
DD: Certainly, it can and it does. There are shows out there specifically for adults, they may be few and far between, but if you look hard enough you will find them.
And your next show – what will it be about? What are your artistic goals for the future? 
DD: This is a hard one to answer, as we still haven’t started to tour the latest show. Also Houdini’s Suitcase will be a hard show to follow as it is a very personal and emotional piece and we do not want to follow it with something that isn’t as strong and powerful, or maybe we’ll do some Punch and Judy!
  • (1)     Team America: World police (2004) is a movie about an international police force of marionetts dedicated to maintaining global stability. The team chases a power hungry dictator and arms dealer's out to destroy the world. See more here.  www.teamamerica.com
Photo below: Emma, Dik and Vicky. First time in Lofoten, during the storm "Narve" - No electricity, no water, no heating. Lovely!
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