— Paul Kingman (@p_kingman) August 9, 2015
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Stone Puppet Festival is a brand new festival which was organised by David Leech & Richard Jones.
Having read “The Sentinel” newspaper’s review of the festival I am astounded to find that it claims that this is the first puppet festival ever for the whole of Staffordshire. If it is true then it is wonderful that people like David & Richard have seen this gap in the cultural life of Staffordshire folk and have made it happen.
We were very busy for much of the festival performing our “Alice in Wonderland” show, as we had 4 performances over 2 days. This was great, as we really enjoy performing this particular show and the audiences we had were very appreciative. However, this did mean that what with travelling, setting up, checking into the hotel room, actually performing and of course packing up at the end we did not get to see a great deal of other people’s work.
We did see a few familiar faces such as Clive Chandler, John Parkinson and Oliver Valentine (Upfront Puppet Company), and Chris Wylie (performing with Treasure Trove) which is always nice at puppetry events.
The festival was supported by the British Puppet and Model Theatre Guild and all of the performers were Guild members. This was great because a lot of the BPMTG events are held in places that are a very long way from where we live and this gave us the opportunity to meet many puppeteers who we had previously only heard exploits from via the Guild newsletters. There was a sort of cabaret on the Saturday night where amongst other things we finally got to see Joseph Peek perform, (who I think may still be the youngest guild member at 12 years old). Joseph did a fantastic performance with 3 different marionettes and was also enlisted to operate a Billy Preston marionette in the festival finale. I also understand that he performed in Professor Panic’s Circus Tent at Glastonbury this year, (as we did last year). There was also a very interesting shadow theatre performance based on Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale “The Fir Tree” which I think I had come across before but a very long time ago, (like much of his work it is very sad indeed). This evening and the finale summed up the way the British Puppet and Model Theatre Guild brings together people from all walks of life, both professional and hobby puppeteers of all levels of experience were free to perform, have a go and try new things.
We also discovered that the “Supermarionation Recreations” exhibition of Classic Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet models and marionettes was practically next door to where we were in the Crown hotel so enjoyed wandering over to have a look in between some of our performances. Later on we also found time to take a look at some wonderful marionettes and rod puppets exhibited by Ian Denny and Glen Holden. We had already seen David’s fabulous Pelham Puppet exhibition, (including the first ever pelham puppet he owned as a child) as this was in the room where we were performing.
The finale was wonderful because we had finished all our shows and could relax and enjoy other people’s performances. These included a truly delightful and well rehearsed “Lonely Goat Herd” puppetry and dance routine by local young people from Rooftop Studios and they also performed an “I’m a Believer” dance routine based on Shrek.
What impressed me in particular about these young people was the lack of embarrassment and professionalism they displayed, often performances by young people can often be marred by their unwillingness to wholeheartedly throw themselves into a performance for fear of looking uncool in front of their peers, but that was definitely not a problem with these performers’ fantastic contribution. This was followed by marionettes of The Beatles and Billy Preston re-enacting their famous final rooftop concert. These were made by David Leech and operated by himself, Joseph Peek, Richard Jones and staff from the Swan pub!
A definite strength of this new festival is that unlike some other festivals who just fly in top acts from around the country and overseas there was a concerted effort to include local people who were just beginning to learn about puppetry and give them a chance to perform in front of real audiences. This is in addition to the schools puppet making workshops who also participated in the puppet parade and also Professor Pop-up’s puppet & mask making drop-in workshop on both days of the festival.
David & Richard also did an excellent job of including the local businesses and I understand that the traders reported a boost in sales on the festival weekend. The Crown Hotel was an excellent venue with room for a whole host of shows and exhibitions at once and the historic nature of the architecture, fixtures and fittings of the building were stunning. In particular the decorative stained glass ceiling window and wooden panelling in the room we performed in were gorgeous. It was perfect for a show like “Alice in Wonderland” which is a Victorian story celebrating its 150th anniversary this year.
Please feel free to contribute your own comments on the festival by replying to this post :)