Case Study

“I pushed my boundaries of what I was able to do as a puppeteer”

Date published: 7 Mar 2022

Posted by: Alison Denholm

Izzy wearing a giant bird-like puppet, with Phil Pearson

You may be curious to know how City Arts got involved in co-producing The Jingah Project, a fantastic theatrical collaboration led by Chloé Charody Creations, around the theme of environmental responsibility. The answer is puppets of course!

The project was originally conceived as the centrepiece for 2020’s Nottingham Puppet Festival, but the pandemic put paid to that. Fortunately, exciting partnerships had already been formed and funding had been secured. The Jingah Project was still happening, albeit in a new guise.

The links we had in Nottingham, as well as our national knowledge of puppetry and outdoor arts were put to good use. Our long-time partners, Mandinga Arts, were commissioned to create the central character of the show, a giant puppet bird called Patrick Poppywopple. The lead puppeteer bringing Patrick to life was Izzy Hollis, a regular of the City Arts puppetry community.

Izzy’s co-star was puppeteer and performer, Philip Pearson, an old friend of The Jingah Project’s co-creator, Duncan Townsend. When Duncan was initially developing the character of Patrick, he had Phil in mind right from the beginning as Patrick’s voice, even though they hadn’t been in touch for many years.

Giant bird-like puppet with two actors

Phil and Izzy hadn’t met before the first rehearsal, so they had to build their way of working together quickly, guided by both technical and creative aspects of the show. Initially, the idea had been for both performers to be in the body of the giant puppet. When Patrick evolved into a one-person puppet, it was suggested that Phil could voice him off-stage. However, it soon became clear that Phil should perform onstage with Patrick, so they could mimic each other’s movements and perform as one entity. Phil reflected:

The rapport between me, Izzy and the Patrick Poppywopple team was really special. To build that rapport in just two weeks is a really big achievement.

Izzy agreed:

It was really lovely how we all worked together. I also enjoyed the opportunity to work with the Mandinga Arts team, led by Charles Beauchamp. Getting involved with something so big was great, especially with all the circus elements in there too. It’s left me feeling so inspired since doing the show, it was a great team to be part of.

Giant bird-like puppet appears to bit child's hand

As well as being on stage at The Squire Performing Arts Centre for the final performances of The Jingah Project, Patrick Poppywopple was also seen out and about at a number of street festivals and events. From a pop-up show at Sneinton Market, to Nottinghamshire Pride 2021 – the first parade to go ahead locally since the start of the pandemic.  

Patrick had originally been conceived as a street puppet, so this was an ideal opportunity to test him out and see how audiences reacted. Izzy shared her thoughts:

Pride was a great experience and it was good to have a proper walkabout. From a movement perspective, I knew what I was capable of. I tried out running with it at Pride, and that gave us a chance to test things like Patrick’s legs.

Giant bird-like puppet in Nottinghamshire Pride Parade

Phil agreed:

I really enjoyed the street theatre elements of the project, they were almost my favourite in many ways. At lot of the work I do outside as a puppeteer and performer interacts with the public, and those events were really fun.

The Jingah Project posed some interesting new challenges and ways of working for both performers. Phil had to focus entirely on his performance with Patrick rather than the audience, and for Izzy, it was a new experience to work with a choreographer. Phil told us:

It took a while to be at peace with not looking at the audience and having to look at Patrick, focusing completely on his bill as a giant bird. That took a lot to get my head around.

Izzy shared:

I’ve never had to do choreography in a puppet before and I was proud we were able to do it. I pushed my boundaries of what I was able to do as Patrick’s puppeteer – including standing on one leg in the swimming scene, and getting his head between his legs!

Getting more experience in big puppets was great and I’m now working at Chester Zoo with puppets of a similar size – I’m a lion! It was great connecting with so many really good artists as part of The Jingah Project and see what everyone is doing now.

Phil agrees:

It’s been a while since I’d done theatre on that scale, so I’m feeling a bit more confident. I’d never used puppetry in that way before either, so that was good too.

And what’s next for Patrick Poppywopple? Well, he’s safe and well and currently taking a rest in the City Arts basement, all ready for his next big adventure…

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