Puppet Designer and Director of The Wrong Crowd Rachael Canning speaks to Theatrefullstop about new show ‘Kite’, to be performed at London International Festival 2016!

KiteThe genre of visual theatre may seem quite vague and confusing. The term refers to a form of theatre that uses techniques other than speech to communicate a story. This can be anything from mime, to physical theatre, art installations to puppetry. The Wrong Crowd proudly bear the torch for visual theatre, integrating visually stunning puppets with an inventive narrative. Ahead of The Wrong Crowd’s London International Mime Festival debut of their show, Kite, Theatrefullstop were able to speak to the theatre company’s co-director and puppet designer and director, Rachael Canning about the festival’s importance in the theatre world, Kite‘s central themes and other artists she is looking forward to watching at this year’s festival.

(There is also a contribution to this interview from Movement Director Eddie Kay).

Hi Rachael, The Wrong Crowd will be performing their new piece, Kite at this year’s London International Mime Festival. How are you feeling ahead of the event?

Excited and a little bit scared. Kite is something completely new for us and we are doing it from scratch! So super exciting but super scary. I’m looking forward to getting into tech and seeing all the visuals and music come together. There are so many components and no words so we need to be clear with the story telling and I hope audiences are excited and moved by it.

Could you explain what Kite is about?

R: It’s about a young girl who is recently bereaved after loosing her Mother, who she loved very dearly. The girl now has to live with her grandmother who she doesn’t particularly get on with and so she decides to run away. To combat loneliness she makes and befriends a kite. It’s a simple story but with, we hope, many layers. The girl is desperate to get away from her current situation, her loneliness and sadness and grief. She wants to get away and go back home to her old life. The kite she befriends helps her learn to love her new home London by taking her on an adventure through the capital. She realises she has got a future beyond her Mother’s death, and a new family.

E: Kite is a magical adventure. It’s a guide book for the lost that will lead to a special place where they can find others like them, take a deep breath, and let go.

When two broken hearts are forced together after a very precious link has been taken from them, they find it hard to accept words of comfort when all they want is to be alone.

It’s about trying to find your way through the murky labyrinth between having someone wonderful taken from you and letting that someone go.

Described by The Wrong Crowd, Kite is a love song to the wind, freedom and play. Are these the central themes of the piece?

Yes, it’s about all those things but it’s also about differences. The grandma and the girl are sort of the ‘odd couple’ who don’t get on or understand each other at first. They are both dealing with loss and Kite is really about losing someone you love, about how you deal with loss. Through a night out with a magical kite the girl discovers what she still has. Different people experience grief differently, and definitely at different speeds. Some people want to escape, and some want to bury it down and not talk. We see these different stages of grief from both the girl and grandma. Kite explores family and dealing with loss and realising how to help yourself through talking with the people who care.

What inspired the creation of Kite?

It was through working with indoor kites on another project I was working on – Kes – a ballet, where we used kites as birds. And I just loved working with the kites so much, I researched them and found all these brilliant videos of them being used in big American sports halls to power ballads which were cheesy but I just loved them and knew we had to make a Wrong Crowd show with them. So after some research and development we realised it could totally work to use an indoor kite in a theatre show. We then started building a story around the kite and like Mary Poppins or The Snowman the Kite is the help, it comes to help in a situation of crisis. The Red Balloon was also a massive influence as well and just this idea of a friend coming to help but the beautiful notion that the friend is an inanimate object.

The Wrong Crowd is noted for its inventiveness and its successful integration of puppetry, pushing the boundaries of what theatre can be in our day and age. How as a puppet designer do you create pieces for each show?

I try and keep it simple. I love things morphing out of other things and constant reinvention. Trying to not be restricted and keeping different puppet styles open. In Kite we are using sort of traditional Bunraku puppets as small versions of actual people but also the kite is a puppet. It’s just a process of breathing life into objects and seeing what works out.

What inspired you to want to become a puppet designer and director?

I started as a theatre designer and through that started to do more and more puppetry. And through my design I love set and costume being very active and incorporating movement so through that really but I also think it sort of fell into it a bit as well.

The London International Mime Festival is celebrated for showcasing an international line up of circus performers, physical theatre artists and visual theatre performers that perhaps wouldn’t be readily accessible throughout the year. How important are festivals like this in the theatre world?

Very! It supports different aspects of theatre and its great for hard of hearing audiences and bringing family audiences together. It supports this idea that theatre is universal which is vital and what The Wrong Crowd are about. I like how the shows are abstract and it incorporates all these different types of work and its brilliant how many international companies it brings together and showcases.

Will you be watching any fellow artists at this year’s festival? If so, what shows are you looking forward to watching?

I’m looking forward to watching the Jakop Ahlbom Company’s ‘Horror’ because I do like a bit of gothic horror and I hope it does scare me a bit! and David Espinosa’s ‘Mi Gran Obra’ I’m really interested in how that will work and also Compagnie Yoann Bourgeois and just how the hell they rehearsed using a tilting floor, exciting!

What advice would you give to aspiring puppet designers?

Don’t do it! No I’m joking! I’d say see as much stuff as possible of lots of different styles and also remember a puppet doesn’t have to be an absolute replica of an existing thing or person. Get excited about different materials and how they can move and don’t be afraid of changing ideas even mid-way through. You will never know until you test things out. Have a rehearsal version and get the puppet in the room as soon as you can in the process because it informs so much and will give you loads more inspiration. The more you use a puppet from an early stage in making a show the better. Don’t get bogged down with mechanisms and keep it simple and concentrate on character.

Questions by Lucy Basaba.

The Wrong Crowd will present Kite at the Soho Theatre from Tuesday 26th January until Saturday 6th February 2016 as part of this year’s London International Mime Festival. For more information on the production, visit here…

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