Puppets in the community
Beth Warnock is the Community Engagement Manager at the Little Angel Theatre, one of only three building-based puppet theatres in the UK. The company performs at its theatre on Dagmar Passage, but also runs a studio on Sebbon Street where it offers programmes and workshops as well as free hire for community groups. We spoke to Beth about the work she is doing to make puppet theatre accessible for everyone.
“My job is to create opportunities at the theatre for people that wouldn’t otherwise come. For example, I’ve identified a number of potential groups from our audiences that are underrepresented; whether that’s due to financial reasons, disabilities, or people just thinking it’s not for them.
“When we engage with a new group we often offer free tickets to our shows. We might do a backstage tour and if there’s time, give them tea or a glass of wine and the opportunity to hear about the history of the theatre. Then, if the group we’re working with are interested, we can put together a bespoke programme. Last year we ran a five week course with North London Cares, where elderly people visited the theatre with a young volunteer and made puppets together. We can tailor the sessions to whichever group we’re working with.”
Little Angel Theatre opened its Sebbon Street studios in 2015 and use it to host outreach, education and creative learning programmes as well as weekly workshops for children and adults. Six years prior, the building was a community centre and the theatre is keen to rebuild its reputation as a local space for residents.
“Everything that goes on in that building is about increasing engagement in puppetry. People come to the theatre to see a show, but over at the studio it’s more about being involved,” says Beth. “One local resident uses the space to run an autism support group for children, a charity run a youth employment programme there and Packington Children’s Centre offer early year’s provision from the building. Any resident is welcome to come to us with an idea and hire the space to run a service or activity.”
What impact does puppetry have on the groups that get involved?
“Everyone that’s come has been really positive. I think creating a puppet is a nice escape, it takes someone away from reality and they get really absorbed in what they’re making. When you perform with a puppet, a lot of the attention is on that rather than on you, so it’s less of an ask than getting someone to stand up and talk about themselves. It’s really nice to see groups grow in confidence.”
For more information about the Little Angel Theatre, or their community outreach programme, visit their website.