Jeff Achtem talks kids shows and puppetry

Too impatient to make films, Jeff discovered puppetry as a visual language for live cartoon storytelling.

He draws on a varied background in mime (Omnibus: Montreal), clown (Michel Dallaire: Hangar des Mines, France), mask (Rene Bazinet: Montreal) and puppetry.

His first one-man show Sticks Stones Broken Bones exploded at the 2010 Edinburgh Fringe and began a busy touring schedule for the next decade across the globe, with recent notable visits Off-Broadway (New York City), Soho Theatre (London West End) and across venues in Spain, Netherlands, Singapore, France, Malaysia, Japan, Hong Kong, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait, New Zealand, Australia and South Korea.

His next one-man shows Swamp Juice and Slapdash Galaxy continued his explorations of shadow puppetry performed by a clown and earned critical praise and numerous awards and nominations of note: Critics Pick by The New York Times and a Total Theatre Award at Edinburgh Fringe.

Eager to collaborate, Jeff opened up the workshop to invite the skills of numerous designers, performers and artists in his company, Bunk Puppets.

We wanted to find out more about Jeff’s passion.

Where did your passion for puppetry come from?

I’m really interested in puppets as a storyteller because they have such a chameleon characteristic. When they’re used in non-text-based stories, they become a very engaging tool to get an audience pulled right into the world.

As people, we seem to project all types of aspects of our own experience onto a puppet character. They seem so human-like and believable that we want to have them react and come alive and be real little beings capable of thought and emotion.  It’s all a terrible lie, of course, and that’s the joy – that we’re so willing as an audience to be swindled by a puppeteer and their puppet creation.
I suppose it’s a magic trick, really, except that the intention is not “wow!”, but rather “aahh!”

 

Why do you think puppetry is an interesting medium for children’s stories?

Kids trust puppets.  

They’re open and willing members of the same fraternity. Kids bring a simpler slate of life experiences (compared to adults) to a puppet show, and that gives the show a running start.

What are the advantages of creating a show with puppets? 

Puppets seem to immediately need to be watched. You cannot look away initially. They’re popular with buskers for this reason. Puppets really will just make people stop in their tracks.

What are the disadvantages?

Well, there are those audience members that seem to have an expectation that puppets should;

a) be exactly like the Muppets

b) be very, incredibly real with 10 moving fingers and full articulated joints and moving chins etc…

and

c) be only of interest for children.

That is slowly changing as more contemporary artists explore the theatre landscape and audiences see a wider variety, but I seem to spend 98% of my time trying to reassure the parents that they will fully enjoy our shows alongside their kids.

What advice would you give somebody interested in pursuing a career in puppetry?

Keep it simple.

There is a great joy in uncovering the art and learning from elders, and then evolving your own style going forward. It seems to be common after a few years of performance experience, that more simple puppet designs and situations are more engaging. It’s not a small robot. It’s a puppet. It’s an extension of a puppeteer’s hand and you can feel their breath with every movement of the object.

By far, the most memorable scene in puppetry that I have ever witnessed was a short elderly woman reading a book. That’s all she did. As she read, we felt her following the journey of the character in the book she was “reading”. It was hilarious, hauntingly real and mesmerizing. Imagine the script for that scene; “Woman reads a chapter.”

Running for a limited season during the March/April School Holidays, Bunkasaurus is the perfect opportunity for children (and big kids alike) to join the fun of Australia’s most iconic Comedy Festival.


 

– 113 Sturt St, Southbank
March – 11 April, 2020

Peter J Snee

Peter is a British born creative, working in the live entertainment industry. He holds an honours degree in Performing Arts and has over 12 years combined work experience in producing, directing and managing artistic programs & events. Peter has traversed the UK, Europe and Australia pursuing his interest in theatre. He is inspired by great stories and passionately driven by pursuing opportunities to tell them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *