In 2016 Puppet Animation Scotland, with support from the National Theatre of Scotland, created Testroom as a creative development opportunity for Scottish-based artists. Based in Glasgow and run by leading puppeteer Gavin Glover, Testroom offers artists of any discipline the opportunity to explore initial creatives ideas which aim to place, at their heart, elements of live puppet and object manipulation. “Experienced creatives are often surprised when they throw puppets into their theatrical mix” says Gavin Glover. The programme also challenges artists to regularly present their creative explorations to their fellow participants, using their peers as a sounding board to guide continued development and realisation on their ambitious ideas. Participants share their work in progress every year on the stage of manipulate Visual Theatre Festival at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh on Monday 4 February at 6pm, and the Tron Theatre in Glasgow on Tuesday 12 February at 8pm.
This year, four new works-in-progress by Scottish-based artists will be presented at manipulate. The first show will be presented by Good Yarns Storytelling’s Beth Hamilton-Cardus, who will be presenting Pinkie’s Den, part of the wider Turning Tides project she has been developing since the summer. After being introduced to puppetry through a Puppet Animation Scotland workshop with Mervyn Millar, she decided to apply for Testroom to develop the idea of Turning Tides: “I knew that I wanted Turning Tides to be more visual, as the strong sensory impact is key to what I’m trying to achieve in the piece (…) I’ve been lucky enough to receive an Andy Hunter Storytelling Bursary through Traditional Arts and Culture Scotland, and that’s enabled me to explore using storytelling as a means of encouraging wider understanding of autistic spectrum disorder amongst children. The idea came about because I wanted to help children at my daughter’s school to understand more about how autism affects her.”
The second show will be presented by puppeteers Sonia Gardes and Elspeth Chapman, Big Wee Bee “is the story of the small insects of a valley in the Basque Country (Spain). When Wee Bee is stepped on by a cow – again – she and her insect friends decide that they won’t put on anymore with the lack of care and respect they get every day by the bigger animals. A revolution then starts, including stinging and biting and loads of itching.” The duo, who met at a Puppet Animation Scotland workshop with Olivier Ducas, chose to tell the story through micro-cinema, to take the audience into the small-scaled world of insects. “Working on topics like environmentalism and social equality this show wants to create an interactive experience for children aged 7 to 11 which supports their empowerment through their participation in a show that represents in many ways who they are in the world and the inner power they have as our future generations.”
Physical Theatre Practitioner and Director Lewis Sherlock will be presenting Based On Metamorphosis: “I first saw the Testroom Production at manipulate a couple of years ago now and I was astounded by the inventiveness of the participants utilising puppetry, object manipulation and micro cinema to tell their stories .(…) As a mover I instantly saw a way to access height, width and depth of field which is simply restricted by the human body within solo performance. I had been dreaming of doing a version of Metamorphosis for a while and it was a unification of form and content which I couldn’t ignore.”
The last of Testroom’s four new works in progress will be Greg Sinclair, Ann Thallon and Kate Temple’s VOLCANO. Started during a short research and development residency at Summerhall in 2017, the team applied to Testroom to focus on the visual and object-related aspects of the work. They will be presenting a short snippet of VOLCANO at this year’s manipulate, “which is about barriers to making sense of sound. What we can tell you at this stage is that it will most likely feature some large papier mache volcanic rocks!”
Collaboration, exchange, and experimentation are key to the development of Testroom, with artists from various backgrounds explore the possibilities of puppetry and micro-cinema integrated in their practice, follow deadline, and give each other feedbacks. For Testroom facilitator Gavin Glover, the experience of balancing his own creative practice with facilitating other’s creative process has been a stimulating experience: “it’s helped me hone my teaching skills and broadened my imagination about what could be possible in writing for theatre and in performance.” Testroom participants also shared their highlight ahead of the festival: “So far, the highlights of the programme have been the first introductory day of puppetry, object manipulation and micro cinema – it was a day of wonderful discoveries!” Lewis Sherlock tells us, “Through Testroom I have reconnected with puppetry and also opened up to the possibilities of micro cinema and camera work within theatre, I have also really enjoyed collaborating with others who are skilled in their own right; their feedback on my work has been vital in the realisation of Based On Metamorphosis.” For Beth Hamilton-Camus, it was the possibility for feedbacks and collaboration: “I work on my own a lot so it’s useful to get feedback – ideas generated in our discussions have really helped me move the piece in a different direction but one that feels much more true to me. It’s also given me the confidence to keep my participative, semi-improvised style and to fully embrace my love of creating a strong visual impact using everyday items”