The ballad of Peter Rinderknecht
Peter Rinderknecht remembers, as a child, waiting for the beginning of a puppet show in one of the public parks in Switzerland. He recalls vividly the luscious red velvet of the curtain, drawn across the little stage to conceal the worlds within. The red curtain was a promise, he says, of wonderful things to come.
Peter has deep, electric eyes and grey hair that recalls Einstein on a lazy Sunday morning. A graduate of the Actors Academy in Zurich, he has been performing for close to four decades, touring across the world, and specialising in shows for children.
Artists, he believes, have a great responsibility to child audiences. “We have to be good!” he exclaims, “Not boring! Otherwise they may never come back to theatre!” He is deeply dismissive of theatre that talks down to children, believing that kids are capable of catching the nuances and observations made from an older soul. “They understand in the heart,” he says, “not just in the head.”
His show ‘Portofino Ballad,’ absurd and humorous, is also deeply melancholic: it is very much about the moment when the child ‘leaves the nest’, with the parent left behind. It is a scenario born of Peter’s experiences with his own children. “It is not sad,” he insists, “it is true.”
As a performer, Peter loves getting close to the audience. He sometimes starts conversations with audience members that blossom and influence the rest of the show. His mastery of five languages has allowed him to deliver a chatty, improvisational style to an international public, though not always without a hitch. Yet it is this very, to use his phrase, ‘widerstand,’ (literally, resistance) that so fascinates Peter, and keeps him performing.
Peter’s shows tend to be solo, which is why he has developed such an attachment to working with objects and puppetry. “When you are alone on stage, you need a partner,” he says, “and the object can be that partner.” He has not trained as a puppeteer, and he has a somewhat cavalier attitude to manipulation – he is unafraid to handle the puppets roughly, even dropping them to lie on stage when it is not their time to perform.
He has a wide network of friends who build many of his props and puppets for him – including Berlin puppetmaker Ingo Meves – and he is eager to encourage their own creativity while they help him realise his. “I want to see their fantasy, not just mine.” The objects are well developed, and he considers post-show moments when children approach the stage and see the puppets and objects up close to be incredibly important in developing their love of theatre.
The most recent performances of ‘Portofino Ballad’ at the Barbican features Peter’s own daughter as the lighting technician. It has been a wonderful experience, he says, but he wonders if it will not soon be time for them, like the cuckoo and his son in the play, to part ways. Considering this both a little sad and very necessary, Peter declares himself ready to continue performing for children, “whether they are aged 6 or aged 60.”