The Last Great Hunt are back to steal our hearts with the help of a few puppies puppets in their new work, New Owner. Created by the duo that gave us It’s Dark Outside, Arielle Gray and Tim Watts, New Owner takes us through a dog’s life from a dog’s perspective. The show will premiere at PICA as part of AWESOME International Arts Festival, which kicks off in October for the school holidays, but Arielle Gray tells us why New Owner is made for everybody.
This is your first show you’ve made with a younger audience in mind, but it seems like many of your shows are young at heart, even when they’re tackling more grown-up subjects. What makes your approach with this one different to cater to a young audience?
To be honest, whenever we make a show, we just want to make something that audiences will enjoy and be moved by, no matter their age. The last thing we want to do is talk down to a younger audience so we have tried not to censor ourselves while making the story (although there are obviously no swears or nudity). I think the difference with this show is that the main character is a puppy, and we are telling the story from his perspective, so there is an innate innocence that comes with that. The things that happen in the human world happen in the background, so there are subtle extra details that the more experienced audience members might pick up on.
Puppets are so great because they can tell stories that are unlimited by human bodies (like the story of a dog for instance). Sure, we could dress up like a dog and tell a story that way, but there is something about a puppet that allows people’s imaginations to engage. We have already had so many comments from pictures we have posted about the wonderful puppet that Chloe Flockart has made; people saying ‘oh the puppy looks so much like my dog’ or ‘my neighbours dog’ – people are so willing to believe it is real. There is something really special about that. Also we can manipulate a puppet so easily; make it fly, swim, run in slow motion or on the top of buildings – the possibilities are endless.
Could you tell us a little bit about your experience in residence at Kinosaki International Arts Center as part of the show’s development – how long were you there, what was it like, what discoveries did you make?
Kinosaki Onsen is a tiny tourist town in Japan, famous for its seven onsens (public baths/hot springs). Tim and I completed a residency there for three and a half weeks and did two public work-in-progress showings. It was a wonderful experience living where you were working and being in a place with the focus of making a show. We took a draft of our set over there and a bunch of possible puppets and props – which was a good thing because the town was so small we could definitely not get any supplies there! We really discovered the visual style of the show while we were in Kinosaki and managed to produce about half an hour of content which we showed to a local audience of 80 people (not bad for a town of 400). It was a little difficult to get feedback on the work because of the language barrier and the politeness of the Japanese, but we did get a sense of what was working and what wasn’t so that was really helpful.
What’s it like collaborating with your partner? You’ve each got separate projects going at any given time, but when you’re working on something together, do you have an official ‘clock out’ time where you step away from the work, or is it pretty much always ongoing?
Well, look a ‘clock out’ time is a really good idea but that often falls by the wayside when you are working towards the premiere of a new show. We’ll get home, make dinner and Tim will do animation and I will fix things, adjust puppets, make random props or costumes, there is just so much to do. It’s not like that all the time though; when it’s not crunch time there are rules.
You’ve travelled the world with your work and you always seem to make a great impression on audiences, but have you had any unusual reactions or surprises out on the road?
There are always very slight differences in audiences but they generally respond to shows in similar ways. For instance, I would say Korean and Japanese audiences are more polite (less verbal response during the show) but talking to people after the show, the reactions are the same – there is something wonderful about the universality of humans in that way. There have been a couple of hilarious stories. Like when we were doing Minnie and Mona Play Dead at the Edinburgh Fringe we had a guy afterwards who told us that he got a bloody nose during the show and he didn’t have any tissues with him, but he was enjoying it so much that he didn’t want to leave so he took off his sock and used that to stem the flow.
What, aside from the focus on a young audience, is unique about this show for you? Have you felt like you’ve pushed yourselves further with any particular aspects of the project, or tried something a little bit different?
We have been trying to work from the dog’s perspective for the show, so as a result have been playing with framing. A lot of the time you see the human characters just through their feet and legs so you only see their head when they crouch down, sit or bend. We have also tried to have the animation styles reflect the dog’s experience so when he is in a domestic situation it is quite simple animation and when he — spoiler alert — discovers more of the world we start to add more details and breadth to the images.
What do you think kids (and grown-ups) will love most about the show?
The dogs. 100%
They are just so lovable.
New Owner premieres October 1 and runs at PICA until October 16 as part of the 2016 AWESOME International Arts Festival. For more information about the show and ticket booking, visit the TLGH website here. For more information about AWESOME Arts, visit the festival website here.