Good things are on the horizon for Spare Parts Puppet Theatre, and they’re kicking off their 2016 season with a flourish of feathery fun with associate director Michael Barlow’s production of Miss Lily’s Fabulous Feather Boa. It’s currently running at the theatre twice a day until the end of January, providing families with plenty of laughs over the summer holidays. Beyond January, Spare Parts has a jam-packed year planned, and artistic director Philip Mitchell takes us through it all.
PART 2: SPARE PARTS PUPPET THEATRE’S 2016 SEASON
You’ve got a big year planned, four of your regular main stage family shows and then also two uni projects for adult audiences – tell us a little bit more about those.
We’ve got the two partnerships with WAAPA and Curtin University. The WAAPA one comes out of the second year of delivering their puppetry unit, which is the only one in Australia. We’re going to be exploring the classic fairy tale of Little Red Riding Hood, and all the adult implications of that cautionary tale. And with Curtin, it’s our first formal partnership with them, so it’s great to be reaching those students and exposing them to puppetry before they come out into the sector.
It’s really exciting for us because it’s an opportunity for us to see and nurture new talent which often moves over east, and we don’t get to really benefit from them here in WA. So it’s really important that we’re exposing them to the option of puppetry, because I think a lot of performers don’t even consider puppetry as a viable alternative to their theatrical practice.
Part of the partnership is that we both contribute significant resources to the projects. It’s like our FirstHand training program, which is unfunded as well. Spare Parts is basically having to nurture these partnerships through our own funds, so we’re desperately searching for somebody to help us with those training programs.
With FirstHand, we offer $3000 seed grants to each performer to develop a work. We’ve just had three artist finish the FirstHand programme for this year: Humphrey Bower, Sam Longley and Yvan Karlsson. They’ve presented some fantastic work and Sam has created a work that we potentially might develop in the future as part of our program.
That’s correct. The Little Prince is going on national tour, and it’s got a week in Sydney. It’s a great opportunity for us to be profiling ourselves on the Eastern seaboard, which we’ve been doing very regularly. The last season pretty much sold out, and people were desperate to see it. It’s one of those classics that kids and adults come and see again and again, like The Velveteen Rabbit.
I think we’re starting to get some of these iconic productions that people are very happy to see over and over again, and seeing them in different circumstances. As a 5-year-old they see it very differently from four years later when they’re a 9-year-old, and likewise when they’re a teenager. And that’s what we’re finding, teenagers are turning up because they loved us so much as kids, and there’s this nostalgic fun.
And the style we’re heading towards, which is to try and reach the adult and the child in the same space and give them an equally rewarding experience. As adults, we do have the capacity to imagine and I think we can make your imagination real. And that’s what’s exciting about adults coming along with children and sharing that experience.
With The Last Great Hunt and Tim Watts‘ works being so popular, do you think that puppetry is becoming a bigger part of Perth’s theatre industry?
Tim Watts trained with us, of course, and I think the evidence is in who are the successful companies in WA, and who are getting people through the doors. I think there’s a correlation between the visual and physical experience for audiences as opposed to a more actor-based way of telling stories. I think there’s a really strong desire, and we see it throughout the Fringe Festival as well. Those shows that are a little bit more physical, and have some object theatre or puppetry in them, they’re very attractive to people. That’s a trend nationally and internationally.
I’ve just been to a puppet festival in France where thousands and thousands of people come, and you literally have this smorgasbord of puppetry from traditional hand puppets and marionettes, right through to very contemporary works very similar to what we’re doing here at Spare Parts.
She certainly is. She’s designing another Shaun Tan work, Rules of Summer. We’re off to Mandurah for two weeks to do a development with the community down there, the Peel region, and basically looking at what the rules of friendship are, and exploring the whole notion of summer and the way we become more interconnected.
We’re experimenting with a style of puppetry that we’ve never done before and I can’t really describe it to you because I don’t know what it’s going to be! We’re playing with the notion of immersion, as in using the whole auditorium and stage as the performance space, and participation, where we can start incorporating the audience as participants in the story.
And because the Rules of Summer is very sensory, we want to take the audience on this very sensory journey of active consumption. We often go to the theatre and it’s passive consumption, and we enjoy that ability to sit in the dark and be entertained and taken to all these wonderful imagined places and spaces, but this is going to be something far more experiential.
People will feel things and smell them, and hopefully taste them. It’s setting a really adventurous trend for us, and of course Ian Sinclair, who has been working on Proximity Festival and the idea of one-on-one interactive theatre, is collaborating on it. So we’re really keen to look at where the performing arts meets the visual arts and how we can create live art.
It’s a really lovely time for Spare Parts right now, we’re going into a very prosperous and healthy stage, despite what’s going on around us in the arts environment. It’s sort of underpinned by the Chamber of Commerce business award. People don’t think of not-for-profits as businesses and we’re not trying to act like a corporate business, but we are a business. And it’s lovely to have that acknowledgement that we have a degree of sustainability and that we earn our keep.
We can be a very positive contribution to our communities, and arts funding is actually really well spent. I feel that sometimes we’re pitted against health and education, and that they’re pillars of importance in our society, but I think people are hopefully learning that the arts are just as important and crucial, because if you take it away, it’s a pretty sad state of affairs.
Here’s a brief summary of the year at Spare Parts, month by month:
January: Miss Lily’s Fabulous Feather Boa shows on the main stage
February: Creative Residancy Program goes to Mandurah for further development of Shaun Tan’s Rules of Summer
March: Hachiko regional tour
April: The Little Prince shows on the main stage
May: The Little Prince tours nationally, WAAPA shows their puppetry unit production on the main stage
July: Splat! shows on the main stage
August: 5th intake of FirstHand program
September: Nobody Owns the Moon premieres on the main stage
October: Curtin University’s The Secret in the Wings shows as part of Fremantle Festival on the main stage
November: The Velveteen Rabbit shows on the main stage
Additionally, with the support of Creative Partnerships Australia’s Plus1 program, SPPT is on a mission to raise $40,000 in order to make their educational programs accessible to as many young people in Western Australia as they can. Creative Partnerships Australia will match all donations between now and April 2016, so click here to learn how you can help.