29th September, 2020: Workshop Tour with Handspring

29th September, 2020: Workshop Tour with Handspring

This week, we had Basil Jones and Adrian Kohler of Handspring join us from Cape Town, South Africa. They gave us a tour of their workshop, before driving back to their home studio and answering questions from students about their making and creative practice.

Handspring is a puppet company that needs no introduction; they work both locally in South Africa, and internationally with some of the most heavy-weight companies and theatres across the globe. Currently, they are working on their final four ‘songs’ before retirement, so this was a great opportunity to see some secret designs and prototype glimpses of some hugely exciting puppet productions that will be on the world stage over the next few years.

A lot of Handspring’s work places animals in the centre of a piece of work (animal as animal, not as allegory) This arose out of their first few shows, and Basil and Adrien advocate this as the strongest statement in their own work. They do, of course, also make human forms, and we were lucky enough to see both animal and human puppets across the two studios.

The first of their final projects is a collaboration with Good Chance Theatre; who announced their plans to walk a 3.5m puppet representing a Syrian refugee child across Turkey, Greece, Italy, France, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium and the UK in 2021. Handspring are building the puppet, which has seen several iterations over the research and development period.

Photo Credit: Bethan Roos, www.walkwithamal.org

Basil and Adrian generously talked us through some of the challenges that they’ve experienced throughout their process so far, including limitations they’ve discovered from the stilt-walking element to the performance.

Whilst showing us around the workshop, they also talked about how and why they work with puppets, and how politics continue to drive their practice. As a politically-orientated company, they try not to take funding from South Africa to both protect their independence, and also because they feel they should check their privilege as white males in a historically divided country. Instead, they take on projects internationally, where higher commissioning prices allows viability for the company back in South Africa.

One of the most exciting parts of the tour was being able to see early design sketches next to final pieces, such as the finished puppets for The Life and Times of Michael K  (a collaboration with The Düsseldorfer Schauspielhaus, Theater der Welt, The Baxter Theatre and Handspring Puppet Company) which will premiere in 2021. We can’t share them here (yet!), but it was great to see the intricacy in the initial drawings and how they were eventually actualised.

Our Still Curious Tuesdays sessions are enabled thanks to the generous support of Arts Council England.