Five puppetry premieres – FIRSTS 2014
On 10 March the FIRSTS festival will open at the Little Angel Theatre, featuring the premieres of five puppet shows by up-and-coming professional companies. As explained by Lynette Shanbury, the executive director of the Little Angel, the festival was born of the need for a venue for companies that had progressed beyond ‘scratch’ or in-development shows (as can be seen at the Little Angel’s own Hatch Festival), but were still inexperienced in the realities of professional touring. After all, one can have a tremendous show but be very much unaware of how to get people to see it.
For three months before the premiere, each company has access to mentoring from Little Angel staff. They are given advice and guidance on matters as varied and crucial as: how to book a show; how to develop a show to venue specifications; how to fill out all the multitude of paperwork any professional venue will require.
Every play is performed twice, with the companies getting one full day in the theatre space for a tech rehearsal, and then a second day for the purposes of getting publicity shots or for a bit of tweaking. After the performance the companies will be mentored for a further three months, helping them to take their shows outwards from the warm confines of the Little Angel and into the great, scary world of professional life.
This is the second of three festivals. Funding is provided by the Esmée Fairbairn foundation, whose mission statement is to improve the quality of life throughout the UK. It is their support that has helped the Little Angel block out a full two weeks of their schedule for the festival, and offer tickets for a mere £5.
Within the festival itself is a host of different visions of the world told through the medium of puppetry. There is a definite lean towards puppetry for older audiences, with only one show, 'Cat in the Cupboard', recommended for audiences under 10. Of the remaining shows, there is a tale of survival amidst the horrors of Auswchwitz ('Buttons'), a modern telling of the classic Faust story ('Faust [Redacted]'), a dark exploration of urban fantasy ('London Under') and a piece about a man struggling with a degenerative disease ('Cell').
Lynette is very excited about the upcoming festival, particularly the potential exposure for these young companies. “I was surprised at how many festival programmers we had come to the first festival,” she says, a fact she believes lead to the break-out successes of shows such as 'Tomten' by Old Saw, and 'Killing Roger' by Sparkle and Dark, both of which had their premieres at the original FIRSTS.
Beyond that, Lynette hopes that the experience, which has included frequent meetings between the different companies involved, will develop future friendships and collaborations. “We do not want competitors,” she says, “all that matters is that we have more great puppetry.”
Little Angel Theatre