There's only a hedge between Howard's studio (a two-room wooden cabin) and my own, so for months I'd been hearing music, laughter, and the hustle and bustle of strange goings-on...all of it secret, until Rima Staines, Nomi Mcleod, Andy Letcher, and Howard announced a public showing of a puppet performance: How the Hoggler Got Its Name.
On a stormy afternoon and evening in December, when the winds were howling through the trees, Chagford friends and neighbors squeezed into the The Little Cabin by the Woods, and this is what they saw....
"Over the past few months," the performers wrote in their program, "we've been exploring the art of bringing inanimate objects to life. Howard has professional experience with puppets, but for the rest of us this is new territory -- and he's started us off not with properly-made puppets, but with bits of cloth! As a teacher, he believes that if you can learn to bring a simple tea-cloth to life -- for even an instant -- you've begun to develop the movement skills necessary for manipulating puppets most effectively. Today's ‘showing’ developed out of our work with Howard -- and we are using objet trouvé [found objects] as our medium.
"A 'showing' isn't a show," the program explained, "it's a work-in-progress, presented to an audience as part of a show's development. Theatre is an art form that needs an audience -- and puppets really, really need an audience before they can come fully to life. Your presence allows us to share the Hoggler's story as it exists so far, to hone the show's material, and lets our puppet characters start making their first steps out into the wider world.
"In the next stage of our show's proccess, we'll start working with proper puppets (designed by Rima and Nomi) -- but at this stage, the show's beginning, we've deliberately started in a bare-bones way, for we believe that this rough, make-shift quality is where really interesting theatre has its roots.
"Folk pageant characters called Hogglers, Hognells, Hogans, Hogners, or Hoggells were recorded throughout the SouthWest during the Tudor period, with the Chagford Hogglers organised into some kind of Guild. They came out at Christmas, apparently, and though no one now knows quite who they were, or what they did, they were probably Mummers or Guisers of some description.
"The name inspired us to create this story of our own Hoggler -- one of a rather different nature than the Hogglers glimpsed in folklore, but still very much of this place."
The Hoggler's story was devised by the members of the Company, with direction by Howard, designs by Rima and Nomi, and music by Andy. To read more about it, go here for a delightful post by artist Clive Hicks-Jenkins, who was in the audience. (Clive, his partner Peter, and their little dog Jack kindly came all the way from Wales to be with us.) And for the puppeteers' perspective, I recommend posts on the show by both Rima and Nomi.