This feature was written for Animations Online
In the final interview in a series of three ahead of a Puppet Centre masterclass on directing for puppetry, Joy Haynes of Norwich Puppet Theatre discusses what being a director means.
How would you describe the role of the director in a theatre production?
The director is the central focus for developing the concept, and for bringing the team and all the elements together, and for disseminating ideas beyond that to outreach, education and marketing.
Does the buck for a show’s success or failure ultimately stop with you?
It’s my responsibility to ensure the collaboration is working and that everyone is happy. I don’t lead from the top, we develop things as a group. The job is heavy for a director but I allow others to take responsibility too.
When does the director’s job begin and end?
It depends. On some shows I’ve been involved all the way through but I can also be hands-off. Personally I like to keep developing things.
What made you first decide to work with puppetry as director? Did it feel like a radical or a natural thing to do?
It was natural. I was a puppeteer, then I started my own company and with that I started developing aspects of performances from the beginning. It’s not entirely unique to puppetry but puppeteers do often get to do everything, which can be challenging but it’s also quite liberating and empowering to be able to do your own work. As a performer I got interested in making and design, and I could do that as well as perform. In other types of theatre you may just be seen as a performer, the roles are more defined.
What kinds of stories appeal to you as a director of puppetry? And what kind of puppetry?
When I started out I was fascinated by the rich content of myths and fairy tales, with stories that can be adapted. Recently I’ve been moving away from more linear narratives to pieces that are much more visual – my current project is a sensory one that’s closer to installation art.
Do you direct the puppets/objects or the people who manipulate them, who then in turn direct the puppets? Or both?
I think I direct the people, exploring the relationship between them and the puppet, how their body and voice supports it. There are so many different levels of performance available in puppetry – from the performer being seen to them disappearing from sight. That spectrum is one of the things that’s fascinating about puppetry.
What the challenges that are unique to directing puppetry?
It can be a challenge to find puppeteers who are body aware. They are trained to shift their focus onto the puppet but can forget their body. Puppetry can also be quite technical at times and quite cluttered.
How involved are you as a director in the visual design of a production?
I like to be very involved! In devised work all the elements move together and there needs to be communication between them. I’ve recently found working with designers really interesting. I usually like at least a week of research and development very early on, where ideas can be explored before decisions are made.
Is scale something that interests you?
Yes! I like things that are really big and really small. Taking something out of its usual scale is what puppetry does really well.
Which of the productions you’ve directed are you most proud of and why?
I really enjoyed collaborating with the Polka Theatre on a production of ‘The Princess and the Pea’ where we were using handheld slide projectors from the 1960s. And I’m excited by our current project – ‘Three Colours of Light’, which opens in early June.
It’s an immersive piece that the audience walks into, featuring a dancer and a puppeteer. There’s a strong soundscape and no words. There’s a screen above the audience’s heads and behind them, and surround sound. I’m getting more confident with technology and find what’s available so interesting.
We’ve had two phases of research and development, which has included working with children and their parents both in schools and in the theatre. So we’ve had a strong awareness of our audience from early on.
Are there any puppetry productions that you’re excited about this year?
Wild Works are working in Norwich at the moment, developing a piece that will be performed in 2014, which I’m really excited about. So far this year I really liked ‘Les Hommes Vides’, where the puppeteers so completely realise the characters and are anti-technology, and ‘Schicklgruber… Alias Adolf Hitler’. I saw both during the Manipulate festival. I also found ‘Above Me the Wide Blue Sky’, a piece of visual theatre at the Young Vic, very moving.