Puppet Place A Collaborative Hub?

An Open Discussion About The Future Of Puppetry and Puppet Place







We used open space technology to hold this meeting. Open Space allows individuals at a meeting to set the agenda for conversations under the title of an overarching question. You can read the full invitation here 

We welcomed 40 people from across the creative sector in Bristol and beyond to Puppet Place. The slide shows and PDF documents below are the “verbatim” record taken of the 10 different conversations. Please do leave your thoughts on the comments board below. The space now stays open on this page. Thank you! To get to the next slide, just click.




PDF Document – Puppetry & The Funding Tick Box

International Open Space Discussion with Jeff Bragg (USA), Nancy Black (Australia)


Creative Group Meeting 25 May 2016 May 2016 (PDF)


Headlines… more questions.


We talked a bit about the issues list from meeting 1 and how to hone it. We then moved on to hearing from Emma Windsor (animator) and David McGoran (creative technologist) about their creative practices and what excites and motivates them. We then talked as a group about why we do what we do, what motivates us. We finished up talking about our first public meeting 12 July 6pm-8.30pm details here


  • Theatre is on the decline – is it time for puppetry to re-frame itself as something other than a performing artform?
  • Do its unique qualities and challenges have more in common with the animation and creative robotics sector than performing arts?
  • Artists are the “engineers of the imagination” – puppetry is uniquely valuable as a form – puppets do not allow us to get away with things. “Audience” and “Puppeteer” have to agree that the puppet is real, everyone is in on it. This is what makes it incredibly powerful as a tool for social change.
  • Is collaboration about more than pooling resources? Should it be more about creating a collective cultural knowledge and strategy?
  • What can Puppet Place offer that is different?




Creative Group Meeting 21 March 2016 (PDF)

We came up with a lot of questions. Headlines…


  • Can we use the language of business as a tool to fulfill creative potential or does it detract from the sense of pioneering joy?
  • Does the conversation between finance and creativity always have to be a battle?
  • How do we find the sweet spot between good collaborative practice and well supported solo practice and avoid the pitfalls of bad collaboration and bad solo practice?

Please do feed back your comments and thoughts on the bottom of this page. Thank you!


The evolution and principles behind this piece of work are described below.




Puppet Place was founded by Di Steeds and Jim Still in 1984. It offered resources and training in puppetry to artists in the South West and ran regular workshops in schools. In the late 1990s the organisation lost its funding and was forced to close.


In 2007, four Bristol based companies came together to reinvigorate Puppet Place: Stuff & Nonsense Theatre Company, Full Beam Visual Theatre, Green Ginger and Pickled Image. Following conversations with Di Steeds, Puppet Place was handed over to this group on the understanding that the organisation must develop to support the wider community and not just the four companies. In 2008, we moved into one half of Unit 18. Since then the community of artists directly supported by Puppet Place has grown to 40+ with Green Ginger and Pickled Image continuing to be based in the building and the wider community support through initiatives such as our Associate Artists scheme.


Since re-starting Puppet Place, the community and organisation has gone from strength to strength. We now run one of the biggest UK celebrations of all things animated on stage and screen: Bristol Festival of Puppetry (BFP). Since the first edition in 2009, this international biennial event has grown its audience from 4000+ to 10000+ at the last festival in 2015.


The Bristol Festival is a highlight of Bristol’s cultural life long may it continue. – Audience BFP13


Our pilot programme of workshops and courses starting in 2015, has been hugely successful, with courses regularly selling out and more training opportunities and public events now being programmed for 2016.


Inventive, Inspiring and eye-opening – Participant 2016


We offer direct artist support through both our resident and associate artists schemes: offering fabrication and rehearsal space, networking and skills-sharing opportunities.  We support the wider performing arts ecology of Bristol through access to our physical resources. We also support the national puppetry and animation sector through knowledge sharing and signposting activities and in response to specific requests. We are starting to work with the international sector and puppetry community, including offering our first international residency to Dafa Puppet Theatre and through our relationships with other international festivals that champion puppetry and object theatre.

In 2015, we secured a lease for the whole of Unit 18 for the next 7 years and we are now thinking about the next stage. How do we build on our successes to create a strong and vibrant future for all?


Puppet Place A Collaborative Hub?
Puppet Place has grown out of a community of artists and a recognition that collective action to address common problems and issues is a powerful and successful strategy. We now wish to take our collective thinking further, working with the puppetry community nationally and internationally to identify opportunities to thrive and expand: to create a success story for the whole sector. We think that by working collectively we can turn our physical space into a collaborative hub. We already have a few key principles to guide us in this work.


• Our Definition of Puppetry
“Bringing Life To The Inanimate” (Penny Francis – A Puppetry Reader)
Puppetry is an artform that strides across boundaries and gets under your skin. Its origins are ancient, often enshrined in religious ritual, yet its tendrils reach into the latest robotics and AI research.
We recognise these myriad forms in our work and artist support. This means we include stop-frame animation, filmed puppetry, object manipulation as well as bunraku-style, string and rod marionette, shadow puppetry, ventriloquism, glove puppetry, automata and robotics within the puppetry family.


• Transparency
We are opening up decision making about Puppet Place to our wider community including resident and associate artists, festival team, stakeholders, workshop participants and audiences etc.


• Outward Looking
No artform exists or develops in a vacuum and we are always interested in developing conversations and collaborations with those working in other sectors and countries.


We are not afraid of bold ideas and big thinking. We would rather aim for Mars and land on the Moon than never make the attempt.



We are opening up the debate about what Puppet Place should be. We are working with a Creative Group to focus our thinking. This group is drawn from our resident and associate artists, BFP team and the wider community of puppetry and animation artists that we work with. They will also act as advocates for the process. However, this is an open process and a big conversation. There will also be public meetings and online discussion. All documentation will be made available on this page and we welcome your feedback. This process will last for 6 months.



Chris Pirie, Director of Green Ginger UK, BFP Co-Producer Puppet Place Resident

Dik Downey, Co-Director of Pickled Image, Puppet Place Resident

David McGoran, Director of Rusty Squid, Puppet Place Resident

Tessa Bide, Puppeteer & Performer, Puppet Place Associate Artist

Corina Bona, Puppeteer & Puppet Maker, Smoking Puppet Cabaret Curator

Emma Williams, Director, BFP+ Curator

Emma Windsor, Animator, Puppet Place Newsletter Editor

Rod Burnett, Storybox Theatre, Punch & Judy Professor

Nic Prior, BFP Production ManagerPrint

Rachel McNally, Puppet Place Executive Producer



16 thoughts on “Puppet Place A Collaborative Hub?

  1. We will be having our first meeting of The Creative Group 21 March on World Puppetry Day. We will be talking about the value of collective action and how we will be structuring our work over the next 6 months. I will post the minutes from this meeting on this page later in the week. Happy World Puppetry Day!
    We are building Puppet Place as a Collaborative Hub with everyone. Tell us what you think needs to happen to keep puppetry a relevant and vibrant artform. Have your say here!

  2. Hi , i have a lot of experience in making processional puppets and would be interested in the collaborative hub. it would be great to get more information about how to get involved.

    Dee Moxon

    1. Hi Dee,

      Thanks for your comments. We will be posting the minutes from the first meeting of our Creative Group at the end of this week, on this page. Please do read and give your feedback and thoughts. We will also be holding 2 public meetings about this, dates tba, again on this page. It would also be great to know from you some examples of great collaboration and what has really made them work for you. Thanks Rachel

  3. Exciting stuff! Look forward to reading the minutes.
    Would love to contribute.
    Puppeteer, Puppet and Puppetry Theatre Maker

    1. Hi Alicia,
      The minutes are at the top of the page – (PDF). Would love to know your thoughts on our hit list and the language issue. What works best for you in terms of collaboration vs/ solo work?

  4. Hello Rachel, good luck to you and all the other members of the Creative Group as together you embark on this journey of discussion and discovery. The Puppet Place plays such an important and vital strategic role in helping puppetry in England to develop further and progressive intiatives like this enhance even more your organisation’s pre-eminence and vibrancy. We at Puppet Animation Scotland look forward to hearing more over the next few months.

    Best wishes


  5. An interesting article from The Guardian that investigates the changing landscape of arts education in the wake of the restructuring of the education sector, here: http://www.theguardian.com/education/2013/oct/21/alternative-art-schools-threaten-universities

    In summary, the article examines how alternative art schools set up by artists, arts organisations and even art students and recent graduates to meet a need for affordable, specialist and good quality teaching/training/learning resources…

    1. I think it sets up a really interesting model for democratising training and increasing access. I note that they have some serious backing too!

  6. Thought I’d post the interview we recently did with David McGoran (Resident Artist) about Rusty Squid and their work. It feels like many of the points that David talks about in the interview resonate with some of the issues and discussion from the Hub, including the need for inter-disciplinary work and the types of languages that we use to talk across different sectors. https://puppetplace.wordpress.com/2016/04/11/when-worlds-collide-an-interview-with-david-mcgoran-rusty-squid/

  7. I work and live in Australia, and am so impressed Rachel and everyone at Puppetplace for embarking on this discussion. It’s great. I looked at the ideas up at the top and instantly recognised my appetite and hunger for exactly that kind of discussion. Keeping it alive online is difficult, but from down here, up is the only way to go! I’m currently directing an opera with all 3D imagery (no puppets) and the questions we’re grappling about puppetry and media are the same. Later this year I’ll be doing another opera, this time with puppets and media, and next year another. All of them filled and riddled with interesting dilemmas….. The questions you raise, and the ideas people produce are hot. Keep on going!

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