Article written by Léa Ferré from Pôle emploi Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes
The art of puppetry has been recognized throughout the world over the years. The puppet, often an inert object, becomes an animated figure thanks to the movement given by the puppeteer. Puppetry is a theater of emotion, a visual theater and a demanding discipline: it combines manipulation and play. The show can be to touch people, to give them an insight into society, to make them laugh…it is a moment to tell a story and access a limitless imagination.
For a better understanding of the puppetry world, two professionals agreed to answer our questions:
Thibault Seyt, a a puppeteer, scenarist and writer who discovered the puppetry world after graduating in Performing Arts Bachelor at Bordeaux Montaigne University and at the Prague national drama school. He works now on different projects as independent or for the theatre group he created “Collectif sur le bord”.
- Could you please explain us your work as a Puppeteer?
As a puppeteer, the upstream building work is really important. We try to experiment new materials for the design and use part. We do a lot of recovery. Then, there is a big step of reflection around the medium itself. We have to think about the effect, the personality and the style we want to give to the puppet.
Personally, I work in different environment like after-school settings or in prison environment. The establishments contact me for a performance. It can be a building oriented request or more about the manipulation of the puppet. For instance, I can teach “puppetry game” for the acting practice or workshops about the design part.
Finally, there is a more « creative » part, where we meet with the group to create our shows. Our group is composed of comedians, machinists, stage directors and puppeteers. We all create together on stage; the idea is to make coeducation and to share what we know with the others.
- According to you, what are the most important skills to be a puppeteer?
I rather talk in term of qualifications than skills but I would say first is to know which materials use. The assembly work on the ready-made, the composition with the materials, and the elaboration of an image are essentials. Moreover, to have basic drawing proportions of human body and faces. Indeed, to build a puppet, we distort the real proportions. Then, the qualifications about the puppet manipulation are important: what is the passing, how to make the up the stories, how to elaborate a show according to your character and to put in in the setting…
- How do you stimulate your creativity?
I like to challenge my creativity. For instance, when we are on stage thinking about our next show, I’m thinking “Why not create a huge puppet of 4 meters high”? Then I will think about the materials, the costumes, etc. and from there the story of the show will follow. The improvisation on stage is also a source of inspiration. When we all talk together, about our different experiences and ideas, something great can come up. Finally, I love to create a story about an existing text and work on it on work base. I watch and study a lot dramaturgy. I think about the puppetry aspect of the poem, how to translate it to the stage and turn it into a show. When I manipulate, I want to look for the sense the puppet, which puppetry practice is going to be interesting and what will it tell.
- What would you say to someone who would like to become a Puppeteer?
I would say “don’t do it, run you fool” (humor). Seriously I would say, don’t think about it too much, train to administrative and think about enjoying the moment. It’s hard, it can be really complicated but when we have the chance to work with the people we love and create things, it’s great.
Artistic Director of the famous Théâtre Le Guignol in Lyon, Emma Utges, discovered puppetry through the practice of theater. After a master’s degree in theater studies at Lyon II University, Emma became a professional actress and singer with theater companies in the Lyon area such as “Le Bloc Opératoire” or “Les Transformateurs”.
- How did you get this passion for puppetry?
I discovered puppetry through Guignol. I was attracted by the fact that there are two things or more happening at the same time. There is the window of the puppet’s stage space, and the space of the puppeteers in which the movements become choreography. A puppeteer is also a stage manager, he has to manage all his props, the sets, the characters… We work together in the Castelet (3 or 4 persons). In a Castelet, we are all in the same boat, we breathe together. Seeing those two spaces cohabiting gives the magic to the show and it gives me the desire to work on it.
- What is the difference between a “classical” puppet and Guignol?
With Guignol, the puppet is a tool for research and creation and was originally a political and social satire. We use it to take a look at the world, at current events, at social facts that affect us. A puppet can say everything, which is not completely the case for a stage actor. The word is embodied by a piece of wood, whereas an actor is made of flesh and blood. The fact of being hidden by the Castelet brings a great freedom to the actor’s play. In the theater of Guignol, there is an exaggerated play. This is a caricature; they are pieces of wood that cannot change their expression but always with sincerity.
(Guignol is also represented at the international level. He has several European cousins: Pulcinella in Italy, irreverent as can be, like Punch & Judy in England or Don Cristobal in Spain. They all have this aspect of subversion, of interaction with the public. However, they do not all have the floor. Punch is very talkative. Today, we play more on the image, the visual poetry, but at the base he speaks a lot. The comics of repetition and the puppeteers seize the tradition and make it evolve.)?
- Are the Guignol shows for children only?
We try to have several readings in our shows so that parents don’t get bored, and neither do we. When we work on a family show for children aged 3 or 5 and up, we always start with a social subject. For example, in “Geekgnol”, we deal with the addiction to screens, Guignol is completely addicted and doesn’t do anything with his life anymore. The idea is really to point out the dysfunctions of our world. For the adults, we worked on the social gap that is growing between the ultra-rich and the poor. The puppet is a great tool to show the social crush and the manipulation, and to put some distance with this kind of subject. It’s never “lecturing”, it’s really about telling people “did you see that?” and putting it into visuals and words without saying “that’s wrong”, or “we should do that”. We always deal with important subjects that are close to our hearts, not yet on the virus, we already talk enough about it (humor).