“If you go to Japan or many Asian countries or European countries there’s a culture of puppet animation, so it makes those people both very good puppeteers, but it also transfers into the animation that happens in film,” says puppeteer, Rose Beauchamp.
It’s been almost 30 years since the last Out of the Suitcase Puppet Festival in Wellington, but that’s not to say that puppets have seen their demise. Rose Beauchamp who is organising this year’s event, says that New Zealand has a wealth of talented performers who continue to perform locally, but also travel to international festivals to show their work.
She is adamant that it is our short history of puppeteering and misconceptions about the craft that keep puppetry under the radar.
“Puppetry has been marginalised as it’s just for kids or ‘what a nice hobby you’ve got.’ It takes a while for those attitudes to change,” says the puppeteer who has travelled internationally with her shadow puppets.
But no matter the misconceptions Rose has maintained an interest in the magic of puppetry. “It’s like a sort of gift that you’re given and that you keep exploring,” she says.
Born in Germany, Norbert Hausberg has created at least 100 puppets, some of which are housed at Te Papa’s Discovery Centre.
It was a childhood love of puppets whilst growing up in an environment where puppetry was celebrated that ignited his passion.
His puppets are hand carved from wood and take at least two weeks to complete. Though he confesses to having heads that have yet to find partnerships with the right bodies, and vice-versa.
For Norbert, being a puppeteer has offered a great deal of freedom: “You’re completely independent—it’s just you and your suitcase [and] you can go anywhere. You can perform in small venues [or] large venues.”
Travelling with his shows has provided some magical moments, including an experience he had during a trip to India where a local puppeteer animated his grandfather puppet: “Suddenly it was this very agile Indian grandfather,” says Norbert, who after all these years is still astonished by what he saw.
Sam Duckor-Jones considers himself very new to the world of puppeteering and it was his background as a self-taught sculptor that piqued his interest in puppetry.
“Deep down my true love is animation, but I find all the computer side of things really difficult,” he says.
Sam has a very close relationship with his pianist puppet, Isaac, whose expressive face shows determined concentration, with spindly wooden arms and legs clothed in what is now, torn sheet music. It all adds to the life and character of the puppet.
It’s an indulgent occupation and one which allows the Sam to do all the things that he wished he could do himself.
“I like playing [the piano] by myself in the room, but not in front of people. But he can play in front of people and get away with it.”
Sam dons silky black, elbow-length gloves to bring his new puppet, an opera singer, to life. In this moment, Sam becomes at one with her, and she with him.
“The other thing I like about puppets is not hiding the way that they work. I want people to see that this is operated by a live human and we’re working together,” says the young puppeteer.
Out of the Suitcase Puppet Festival runs from the 1-5 October in Wellington.
Listen to Sonia Sly chat to Norbert, Sam, and Rose about the keys to bringing the world of their imaginations and characters to life.