Rough Magic Theatre’s New Edward Lear Picture Book

Edward Lear Books at Bentham Christmas ShoppingSome time ago I was lucky enough to receive a visit from Meg Amsden  of Nutmeg Puppet Company (who was chair of BrUNIMA at the time).

Meg is a good friend of Ali Clough of Pioneer Projects who, like myself, is a resident of High Bentham and I had invited her to come and see my new Shadow Suitcase show “Edward Lear’s Nonsense” while she was up here visiting Ali.  Meg was also keen to see our Liquorice toy theatre and Hansel & Gretel set/characters and to hear more about Harry Oudekerk’s Vischmarkt Papierentheater Festival in the Netherlands: a festival that we recently attended.  You can see lots of previous blog posts about the making of the Hansel & Gretel show if you search through (click HERE for earliest H&G post).

Meg made lots of lovely comments on the Edward Lear show and also suggested that the puppets could be used to make an accompanying picture book that I could sell.  This idea has been at the back of my mind as a project for “when I get round to it” and finally at the end of last year I did it.

book cover

I made about 10 books of Edward Lear’s poem “The New Vestments” and scanned the shadow puppets to create the illustrations for the book.  I did not use the name of the poem for the title of the show because “vestments” is an old fashioned and confusing word that we tend not to use much these days.  The idea was that I would be able to sell the books to people when I am performing the show but I decided to try selling them at one of Bentham’s late night Christmas Shopping events (organised by We Are Bentham ).  I brought the shadow theatre along with me just for display purposes to explain where the illustrations had come from.  I am happy to say that for this trial run I sold every single copy and my display copy as well!  Thank-you Bentham folks!

If you would like to book my “Edward Lear’s Nonsense” shadow puppet show or “Hansel & Gretel” Toy theatre show don’t hesitate to get in touch.  CLICK HERE to contact me.



Suitcase Theatre to Pram Theatre?

Christmas Entertainment for "Santa's Late Night Shopping Evening", outside the "Coach House", High Bentham

Christmas Entertainment for “Santa’s Late Night Shopping Evening”, outside the “Coach House”, High Bentham

The Shadow Suitcase Theatre that I created way back in 2004/2005 proved extremely popular, pretty much, from the word go.  It is unusual and quirky and has the advantage of enabling the performer (me) to go and find an audience rather than the other way round.

The one-man-band aspect of singing and stamping, with jingle bells attached to my leg, also seemed to be very popular with audiences too.

The first show I created for it, “Jabberwocky!”, also proved to be a happy choice as it is a great favourite for a lot of people.  One of the obvious advantages of the poem/story is that it’s fairly short and, as such, would not clutter up the interior of the suitcase with more puppets than could be managed at once.

After a while, it became obvious that I needed a new show to go in the theatre so that I’d have something fresh to offer to festivals who might want to invite me back.  I created this second show, “Edward Lear’s Nonsense”, shortly after starting this blog, so you can see the details of my thought processes for creating this show if you search in my earlier posts.

My good blog readers kindly helped me to indentify that another musical poem would be preferable to a spoken version because less people have singing in their puppet shows.

There were far more characters, & therefore puppets, in “The NewVestments” (the Edward Lear poem of choice for the show) and I was still stuck with a suitcase of exactly the same size to store the puppets in.  Luckily, I came up with the idea of fitting the puppets between a concertina of card to help keep them in order whilst performing.

I had come up with a number of ideas for this show that wouldn’t have worked with this suitcase theatre because the suitcase was too deep (or my arms too short).  Thus, I have had in the back of my mind the idea of creating an all new, all singing, all dancing, super-duper suitcase shadow theatre using a more conventionally shaped suitcase, with a “landscape” or “wide screen TV” style shadow screen.

A number of audience members have also, over the years, told me that they would have liked to watch something slightly longer as they were enjoying it so much.  I always saw that as a plus because it is better for an audience to want more than to be bored.  Last year, I had comments from the “Edward Lear’s Nonsense” audiences saying they would have liked to see the puppets on the screen for longer or that they would have liked them to be bigger so that they could take in all of the detail.  I think the children had no problems as they can take things in very quickly and have good eyes for small detail (it tended to be adults that would make these remarks).

As I said earlier, if I made the puppets and the screen larger so that the audience could see them better I would immediately encounter a practical problem with how to store big puppets in a small space, (a space that I have to carry strapped to my body – so weight is also an issue).  If the theatre is made large enough to store large puppets then it would no longer be possible to use it in the way my current theatre is, (strapped on like an ice-cream vendors tray).

This led me to thinking; I’d not have to worry about carrying all the weight around if I were to swap to something like a trolley on wheels or some kind of pram-base.  I could store my mini P.A. system in the shopping tray in the bottom.  I could also try to work out something  more rain-proof than my current set-up.  If it was actually an old style pram, they come with rain hoods already on them – I could perhaps use the original fittings to shower-proof my shows.  The interior of a pram would also contain more room to store bigger puppets.

Thinking of ideal case scenarios as I was perusing vintage prams on Ebay, I noticed that a lot of them had a removable carry cot with handles.  What would stop me from having not only a new, slightly larger, shower proof shadow theatre, but also a portable toy theatre that could be attached or slotted into the pram base as well?

So this is my latest project idea: to create a new portable shadow/toy theatre using a pram base that will enable me to make the puppets slightly larger and, theoretically, to make the shows slightly longer if I want to.  It will also mean that it will be slightly less hard work for me (wheeling something rather than carrying something strapped to my body).

I do have a pram base already as they are so useful in street theatre for large processional puppets, lanterns and percussion rigs etc.  I will have a look at that first to see what potential it has.  Also, on March the 16th in Bentham, there will be the B.E.S.T.(Bentham Environmentally Sustainable Town) annual “Give & Take Day” which is extremely popular and a good way of reducing waste going to landfill. I shall be keeping an eagle eye out there for unwanted prams too.

Currently, I am just investigating possibilities.  I am, as yet, unclear whether I want the theatre to actually look like a vintage pram or whether it’s just the practicalities of the pram that will be useful and not its appearance.  If any of my lovely readers have any ideas about good places to look for unwanted prams (bearing in mind our High Bentham location) or ideas for adapting prams into theatres that they’d like to share, please leave a comment.