Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Aargh!: The Alexander Winfield Story #London Part 1

Alexander Winfield is a Bermudian-born puppeteer and theatre maker who worked as a freelance puppeteer for six years in Canada. He recently made the move to London to complete an MA at the Central School of Speech and Drama and continues to perform at festivals, theatres, and puppet slams around Europe. With Cryptid Theatre he recently helped host the first Pirate Puppet Cabaret at the Battersea Barge. He has a fondness for dreams, nightmares, the surreal and the stranger corners of human life.

Marsian: I'm so glad our mutual friend Andrew Young from the Puppet Vision Blog put us in touch and told us about your Pirate Puppet Cabaret!

Alexander Winfield:  Andrew is definitely one to watch.

M: How did you go from Bermuda to London?

AW: Via a long, twisting road. I lived and worked as a puppeteer in Toronto for several years, before heading to the UK to take an MA in theatre studies at the Central School of Speech and Drama. Intrigued by the explosion in puppet theatre that spreading across Europe at the moment, I decided to stick around.

M: How did you enter the world of puppetry what was it like to start hosting puppet cabarets?  What other cities have you performed at puppet slams in?
AW: I’ve always had a fascination for puppets. I remember putting on impromptu puppet shows with my brother, using our bunk bed as a stage.

M: How Bromantic..
AW: I re-entered the world of puppetry as an adult shortly after seeing some Hun Lakhon Lek - a form of Thai Puppetry – enacting the story of the Ramayana.  It was absurdly entertaining.  I then made several short films that featured puppetry, including Christ in Wood, which featured a wooden Christ coming to life and being a general nuisance.  

M: Yes, we have a contingent of Bible-puppeteers in the States, but your puppet flick sounds way cooler.
AW: That all got me thinking about puppetry again, and eventually I was inspired to start working with puppets by any means necessary. I didn’t really care for the hows of it – I started with street shows performed in a stage made of burlap. I was very poor at the time, and could afford little else. I was finally making money off my art, a fine thing, and that was the start.

M: I love burlap to riches stories! So after you got street cred, then you got kidnapped by pirates?
AW: The Pirate Puppet Cabaret was the first puppet slam I helped produce.  It was a lot of work!  There are many puppeteers in London, though they tend to be a scattered and insular breed, like all puppeteers. As a newcomer to the city, and unattached to any larger organizations or theatres whose name might be recognized, it was a challenge to get puppeteers to perform with little unknown me.  Keeping the event profit-share, ensuring the puppeteers aren’t working for free, helped a lot.

M: Have you performed at other puppet slams?
AW: As for when I’ve performed at Puppet Slams, I don’t know I’ve performed at many outside of London (they seem to be, still, somewhat rare creatures). I’ve performed my own shows at festivals and theatres in Montreal, Toronto, Waterloo (Ontario), London (UK), Oxford (UK), Charleville-Mezieres (France), Tolouse (France) and Hamilton (Bermuda) among others.

M: Damn!  And you after all that, you hosted the Pirate Puppet Cabaret.
AW: My slam was undoubtedly smaller than most other slams I’ve seen, not surprising as it was the first I hosted. The space was quite unique – the Battersea Barge, a barge outfitted as a bar/restaurant, at dock on the southern banks of the Thames. To access it you had to walk through about a half mile of alleyways and lamp-lit construction sites. That provided much of our atmosphere.

“At no other slam I’ve attended were the acts interrupted by the actions of waves against the barge. Our sea-legs were sorely tested.”

M: And how did the pirates get involved?
AW: I’ve always been interested in pirates as icons. Scabbish and unruly, the pirate ship was one of the first functioning democracies in western society, with captains elected by popular vote. Ruthless and violent, they were also known as ‘free men’, men (and women) who had made a break with society and large, and sailed under their own flags. These seeming contradictions have a particular resonance now, when there is much talk of society growing colder and harder, and where there seem to be no free seas left to sail in.

M: Tell me about it! No, really, tell me about some of the acts..
AW: What we had was very strong – an excellent, atmospheric piece carved out of lights and cardboard, a puppet strip-tease, and a commentary on humankind by demonic puppets. The cardboard piece was by Max McBride, a San Francisco artist and puppeteer whose specialty is making miracles out of ‘mundane’ materials. The strip tease was by Aya Nakamura, a member of Rouge 28 theatre, whose work can be seen at www.ayanakamura.com

M: Join us for part 2 of our very special interview with Andrew Winfield...

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