Winter at Bumblehill

Into the woods

Well, creative projects have a way of taking longer than expected...or at least they do for me...so I'm still finishing the last bits of the Secret Something, which seem to be taking longer than all the rest of it combined. In the meantime, here are pictures of some of the other things going lately at Bumblehill....

After a long. sluggish stretch recovering from the flu that laid us low in December and part of January, Howard and I have both hit the ground running, trying to make up for lost time -- with Tilly, in her official capacity as Bumblehill Muse, cheering us on. The hound is always relieved when I'm out of bed, roaming the woods and hills with her again, which she considers an essential part of the creative process. And she's not wrong.

Frosty path

We've had a lot of frosty mornings this winter, but no proper snow again this year. Some days, mist rolls down from the moor...

Village in the mist

....and other days are bright and clear, lulling us with the hope (probably illusory) that spring is near.

Winter sky

On the best days, when the sun comes out, it's almost warm enough to work outside-- and after weeks house-bound with flu, it's worth chilly toes and fingers to be back among the trees.

Woods

Working in the woods

Working in the woods 2

The hills, staturated with rain, look like a watercolor painting before it dries -- the colors bright yet delicately rendered, slightly blurred together. Water pools among the bracken, swells the streams, and turns pathways to mud. I have new wellies (William Morris wellies!), so my feet are warm and dry, but Tilly comes home bedraggled and then sits and grooms herself like a cat.

Winter hills

Boggy ground

Winter rains

William Morris wellies

In the studio, Tilly naps as I quietly tap-tap-tap at the computer keys...

Napping Tilly

...but just beyond the hedge, in Howard's studio, there is a bustle of activity.

Puppets

Commedia dell'Arte mask

Howard and his partner (playright Peter Oswald) are launching a new company, Columbina Theatre, devoted to mask and verse drama. Their first piece, Egil, based on an old Icelandic saga, has already begun to tour -- and now they're at work on the second: a Commedia dell'Arte inspired romp called Sorry About the Poetry.

Costumes hanging on the wall in the two-room cabin that is Howard's office and theatre studio

Looking out the door of Howard's theatre studio

Jenny, my mother-in-law, pops by to do costume fittings (she's a theatrical costume designer by profession)...

Jenny Gayton adjusts Howard's costume

...and then the space is turned into a photo set to shoot publicity images for the shows.

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P1370044 copy

With the launch of the new company, plus Howard's on-going work with Hedgespoken Travelling Theatre, and teaching gigs, it's been a very busy winter (despite the flu) -- yet he's still pushing on with his solo project: the creation of a Punch & Judy show. Last summer I posted pictures when he began work on the puppet booth's frame: a complicated business, for the booth must be sturdy but also collapsible, and light to carry. Now the frame is built...

Tilly, Howard, and Mr Punch

...the mechanics of it are working. The booth will be easy to put up and take down again.

Tilly & Mr. Punch

The next step is to cover the frame with the traditional fabric of red-and-white candy stripes. This is where having a theatre seamstress in the family is invaluable, once again. Jenny sources the fabric, then comes over to drape and measure with Howard, working out the best way to constuct the tenting and attach it to the frame. In the photo below, we begin to see what the booth will look like when the striped covering is finished.

PJ4

As all this goes on, I'm beavering away on my secret project (trying not to get distracted by the goings-on next door). I do apologize for the time it's taking, and very much hope you'll find it worth the wait!

Mr. Punch


The end of summer, diving into "deep work," and Widdershins collage #1

Studio garden

Howard and I are developing the practice of taking regular Work Retreats: a few days in every month in which we hole ourselves up in our respective studios, the Internet switched off and the phone disengaged, in order to focus with greater attention than is possible during ordinary interrupted working days. Today is a holiday here in Britain, but starting tomorrow, and for the rest of the week, I'll be incommunicado in my quiet studio. Then I'll be back online again on Monday, September 5th.

Studio garden

Book & Burne-Jones coffee mug

Late summer morning

I'm working on a writing project right now, while Howard has several things on his plate, from Commedia to puppetry. Come step through the gap in the garden hedge that leads from my studio cabin to his....

The path from studio to studio

...where you'll find him at work (in the picture below) building the frame for a Punch & Judy booth.

Howard Gayton

Each day, a wide range of sounds floats over the hedge from his busy workspace to mine: sawing, singing, accordion or mandolin practice, the laughter of theatre collaborators. the distinctive raspy voice of Mr. Punch...

Punch & Judy puppets

The hound

Commedia puppets

...a steady murmur of creativity that is close enough to feel companionable, yet distant enough to preserve the peacefulness I crave as I write or paint.

Garden path

Meanwhile, the Widdershins exhibition at Green Hill has ended -- and I do remember that I promised to share my art for it here once the show had closed its doors. Below is the first of my six Widdershins collages. I've set up the other five for automatic posting each morning of the week ahead while I'm on Retreat, one per day.

This one is called Once Upon a Time....

Once Upon a Time by Terri Windling

Here it is framed in my studio before the exhibition, and on the wall at Green Hill with the other five pieces in the series:

Collages by Terri Windling

Alan Lee, and collages by Terri Windling

I hope the end of your summer is gentle, peaceful, and full of creativity. See you in a week.

Ripe plums

Studio garden

"Sometimes I need only to stand wherever I am to be blessed."  - Mary Oliver

Tilly, August 2016


That's the Way to Do It: Dame Judy & Mr. Punch

The Little Cabin by the Woods

At the back of our garden, up against the woods, is the two-room cabin where Howard has his office and a small theatre studio. My own studio is not far away, so I often hear a variety of sounds drifting over the hedge between us: it might be accordion or mandolin practice one moment, lines declaimed from Shakespeare the next...or the growls of gnomes...or the Hedgespoken team planning works of wild hedgerow theatre for their travelling stage. Lately, however, I'd been hearing the odd "swazzle" voice of the puppet Mr. Punch -- a sound which sent Tilly into fits of barking, until she finally figured out it was Howard at work.

His studio has been used for puppetry performances before, but right now it's a vibrant, bustling workshop as he puts a new Punch & Judy show together. Puppet heads are scattered across tables and shelves, puppet clothes hang from our washing line, and even Tilly is getting used to Mr. Punch and his colorful companions....

Puppets

Puppets on a wash line

Punch & Judy puppet heads

Tilly

I confess I was never a big fan of Punch & Judy or of slap-stick comedy in general before I met my husband -- whose life has been devoted to the European form of masked theatre known as Commedia dell'Arte, which is very slapstick, and very funny, and which won me over its mix of ridiculous pratfalls and sly, wry intelligence. Howard helped me to see the mythic roots of such comedy in Trickster tales and Dionysian revels, in the sacred anarchy of traditional carnaval and rural folk pageantry. Now I'm fascinated by lines of connection between the various forms of mask/puppet theatre and folk use of these arts in ritual form: in the Jack-in-Greens and Obby Osses of England, in the masked dances of North America's indigenous peoples, and in other folk rites and sacred traditions all across Europe and around the globe.

The ritualized slapstick violence of Punch & Judy is problematic today, however, for we tend to "read" the story in a literal fashion, interpreting the action as domestic abuse, when it is best understood metaphorically, as the unleashing of pure anarchy. Mr. Punch is a Trickster figure: a manifestation of Trickster's wicked delight in violating all social norms and constraints -- brazenly knocking down every authority figure (which is precisely why children love him). The challenge for performers today is to craft a story that conveys this same archetypal spirit of contrariness, freedom, and anarchy, without tacitly condoning violence, domestic or otherwise, in the real world.

(See Emma Windsor's recent post on the subject on the Puppet Place News blog.)

Judy, Mr. Punch and the Constable

If you'd like to know more about the history of Punch & Judy, I recommend "That's the Way to Do It!" on the Victoria & Albert Museum website, curated to honor the show's 350th anniversary in 2012 -- a date based on the first known puppet play in England to contain a version of Mr. Punch, recorded by Samuel Pepys in 1662.

Howard Gayton"He noted seeing it in Covent Garden," writes the V&A's curator,  "performed by the Italian puppet showman Pietro Gimonde from Bologna, otherwise known as Signor Bologna: 'Thence to see an Italian puppet play that is within the rayles there, which is very pretty, the best that ever I saw, and a great resort of gallants.'

"Bologna was one of many entertainers who came to England from the continent following the restoration of the monarchy in 1660. Unlike today’s Punch & Judy, performed with glove puppets in canvas booths with the audience outside, Bologna used marionettes -- puppets with rods to their heads and strings or wires to their limbs – and performed within a transportable wooden shed, and as such would have been quite a novelty. Pepys was so delighted by the show that he brought his wife to see it two weeks later, and in October 1662 Bologna was honoured with a royal command performance by Charles II at Whitehall, where a stage measuring 20ft by 18ft was set up for him in the Queen’s Guard Chamber. The king rewarded ‘Signor Bologna, alias Pollicinella’ with a gold chain and medal, a gift worth £25 then, or about £3,000 today. Other Italian puppeteers appeared in London, and on 10 November 1662 Pepys took his wife to see another show in a booth at Charing Cross performing: ’the Italian motion, much after the nature of what I showed her at Covent Garden.'

Mr. Punch puppet

"Pepys usually referred to the shows as Polichinello, a name relating to Punch’s roots in the Italian Commedia dell’Arte, where masked actors improvised comic knockabout plays around a number of stock characters, and Polichinello was the subversive, thuggish character whose Italian name Pulcinella or Pulliciniello may have developed from the word pulcino, or chicken, referring to the character’s beak-like mask and squeaky voice.

Howard Gayton & Geoff Beale, commedia dell'arte

"Punch’s characteristic voice comes from the use of a reed retained at the back of the Punchman’s or ‘professor’s’ mouth, calling for expert alternation of reed use when Punch is talking to other characters. In Britain the reed is called a swazzle, and in France a sifflet-pratique. Its A Punch & Judy voice swazzlemost common Italian name was pivetta, but also sometimes strega, or witch, and franceschina, after Franchescina, one of Punch’s wives in the Commedia dell’Arte who had a voice like a witch. Swazzles are made of thin metal today, but bone or ivory were formerly used, each equally tricky to master and easy to swallow.

"Mr. Punch made himself thoroughly at home in Britain during the 18th century. His wife was the shrewish Dame Joan who made his life a misery, and his hunched back and pot belly became more pronounced. The marionette Punch was the celebrity disrupting the action in puppet plays all around the country, in established puppet theatres and in fairground booths where puppets were a popular feature of all the great fairs and small country wakes throughout the century."

Punch & Judy by Thomas Rowlandson (1756 - 1827)

Marionette shows were expensive to operate, however, "and by the end of the 18th century glove puppet versions of the Punch show, performed in small portable booths became a familiar sight on city streets and country lanes instead."

Punch and Judy

"With Punch’s move from marionette stage to portable booth came new clothes and new companions. By 1825 we hear in Bernard Blackmantle’s The English Spy of his wife being called Judy instead of Joan: ‘old Punch with his Judy in amorous play,’ and of Punch’s having a Toby the dog, usually played by a real dog....

Punch & Judy by George Cruikshank (1792-1878)

"Punch & Judy shows were not just for children in the early 19th century. Aspects of the comedy such as the marital strife between Punch and Judy, and in Piccini’s show the relationship between Punch and his girlfriend Pretty Polly, obviously struck a chord with many adult members of the audience.  Punch was a well known celebrity with the satirical magazine named after him in London in 1841, children’s picture books published based on his shows, and images of him proliferating on all manner of household artefacts, from doorstops to baby’s rattles.

"As today, some censured the shows for Punch’s violent behaviour, but Punch & Judy found an ally in Charles Dickens, whose novels include several references to the shows. Dickens defended them as enjoyable fantasy that would not incite violence:

"'In my opinion the Street Punch is one of those extravagant reliefs from the realities of life which would lose its hold upon the people if it were made moral and instructive.' "

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P1320448

About the photographs in this post, Howard says:

"In the early nineties, whilst working at Norwich Puppet Theatre, I started to carve a Punch & Judy show. Then later on, towards the end of that decade, whilst working at the Little Angel Theatre in London, I carved more of the puppets. I never finished it. Last month, I went to an excellent Punch & Judy workshop at the Little Angel, run by Prof. Glynn Edwards (aided and abetted by Clive Chandler). When I got home I rooted out my unfinished Punch & Judy set. I am now finishing it off, and working on a show."

Keep an eye on his theatre Facebook page if you'd like to see how the project develops.

Punch and Judy by Percival Arthur Wise

For more information on Punch & Judy, visit the V&A's Punch & Judy pages, Punch & Judy Online, and the Punch & Judy Fellowship. For puppetry in general, see  The Curious School of Pupptry (where Howard teaches), the Puppet Place News blog, Puppeteers UK, and  The Centre for Research on Objects & Puppets in Performance. For information on the mythic roots of comedy, see Midori Snyder's "A Chorus of Clowns and Masked Comic Theater."

Glove puppets

Cabin porch 4

TillyThe art and photographs above are identified in the picture captions. (Run your cursor over the images to see them.)


Christopher LeithSuch Stuff As Dreams
Are Made On: A Tribute to Christopher Leith

by Howard Gayton
with Terri Windling

Last week, I heard the sad news that Christopher Leith, a master of puppet theatre in Britain, had died from the complications of motor neurone disease, which he developed in 2013. In addition to his many other accomplishments, Christopher was the Artistic Director at the Little Angel theatre in London, where I worked regularly in the 1990s and developed many of my own ideas about the art of puppetry due to his mentorship, and so I want to share some thoughts on the life and art of this puppet master. I'm primarily a dramatist, however, not an essayist, so in order to give readers a proper idea of Chris' remarkable work, I asked my wife, who is an essayist, to help me put this piece together.

Christopher's deep obsession with puppets went right back to his childhood. "The family didn't approve," he told Chandra Masoliver in a recent interview; "my stepfather said I was 'playing with dolls.' Retrospectively, I think I was creating a world I could control, but as I reached my teens, puppeteering changed from being a need to being a vocation." He studied theatre design at Wimbledon School of Arts in London, acting at Dartington College of Arts in Devon, and apprenticed in puppet design and manipulation under John & Lyndie Wright of London's Little Angel Theatre.

Nzua puppet by Christopher LeithIn addition to his long association with the Little Angel, Chris' work with puppets was so extensive that I can only touch on a few highlights here. He played many different roles in his work: he designed and carved puppets; he wrote, directed, and performed in numerous puppet productions; he taught and mentored younger puppeteers; and he worked in film (with Jim Henson, Lotte Reiniger, Disney Studios, and others), although theatre remained his first love. He was Resident Puppeteer for the National Theatre, and worked with many other companies, large and small, including the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Royal Opera House, English National Opera, the London Palladium and Polka Theatre. His puppets, sculptures and drawings have been exhibited at the National Theatre, the British Museum, the V&A Museum and other venues. Chris also loved music: he trained in Gregorian chant with Dr. Mary Berry, and performed regularly with the Schola Gregoriana. To learn more, go here (and scroll down the page) for a time-line of his career.

Chris Leith

Chris came into my life when I was a young puppeteer & director -- discouraged by the difficult dynamics of one of my earliest jobs in the field and considering giving up puppetry altogether. He brought me into the Little Angel team and re-ignited my love for the form. "There is a spirit in every object that has magic in it," Christopher Howard Gayton at the Little Angel Theatreliked to say. "A puppet is like a little nest where the spirits can come down, enjoy being and dance there. Puppets have no free will, a puppet comes to life when it is picked up and it dies when it is put down again...like an empty shell. Puppets exist in a state which is both alive and dead at the same moment…that’s why puppetry is the most beguiling of all the theatre arts; and the best puppeteers are the ones who let the audience dream in the strongest way."

In paying my tribute to this kind and gentle man, I'd like to describe the very first exercise he taught me, for it has stuck with me over all these years and proven to be instrumental in my personal approach to puppetry. The exercise is ridiculously simple on the surface, but has great depths of meaning and philosophy beneath:

We begin by sitting in stillness. I ask you, the student, to simply sit and look at your puppet. (Chris often used an old doll-like puppet; when I teach, I use an old bit of cloth.)

Puppets for 3 Stages of LazarusDon't touch the puppet, not yet. Centre yourself by concentrating on your breath, and then make a connection with the puppet through your eyes alone. Now use your imagination to make an energetic connection to the puppet through your lower energy centre, just below your navel -- what the Taoists call the Dan Tien. And then, when you're ready, when the moment feels right, move your hand gently to rest on the puppet. “The first moment of connection is special,” I remember Chris saying. “It is when you are giving the puppet life.”

After touching the puppet, allow the rise and fall of your breathing to transfer into it. This is what moves the puppet into motion, the sacred connection between puppet and puppeteer. “Each time you make that contact with the puppet,” Chris would remind us, “you are giving life.”

And there it is, at the heart of this simple, powerful exercise: the Creation Myth.

In the beginning, the Gods took a handful of moist clay and crafted a human form. They breathed life into it through its nostrils and gave it consciousness....

Art doesn't get much more profound than this: the creation of life. The creation of the world.

3 Stages for Lazarus, Christopher Leith

"Now," Chris would say at the end of the exercise, "center yourselves once again, and when it feels right, slowly withdraw your hand from the puppet...." For of course, the puppets we infuse with our breath and consciousness become inert again when the story is done. You’ve brought the puppet to life, allowed it to explore its world, but now that life has to be taken back. If the giving of life is a powerfully mythic moment, the ending of it is perhaps even more so. The circle has completed itself.

The power of Chris' exercise was brought home to me a couple of years ago when I used it to teach a small group of puppeteers I was working with for the first time. One of the puppeteers had suffered a miscarriage not long before, and the symbolic gesture of giving life to her puppet...and then withdrawing it...moved her deeply. I was reminded, once again, that working with puppets is not a frivolous thing, for puppets (like masks) touch our consciousness on a deep archetypal level.

Puppets by Christopher Leith (2nd photograph by Manuel Vasquez)

A willing "suspension of disbelief" is an integral part of all forms of theatre, but this is multiplied ten-fold with puppetry. Whether you are using a beautifully crafted puppet, a rough knock-about one, or simply a piece of cloth or lump of wood, the audience will see it as a real-life character if it's manipulated by a skilled puppeteer: a character conveying all the triumphs and tragedies inherent in the human condition. The Christopher Leith, 3 Stages for Lazarus rehearsal, 2015audience laughs at a puppet's foolishness, and is brought to tears by its struggles. Through the carefully crafted illusion that brings puppets to life, children are transported to a magical, mythical realm...and adults are turned into children again, submersed in the Otherworld of make believe.

Although Chris began showing symptoms of motor neurone diesease in 2013, he continued to work with puppets in whatever ways his failing strength allowed: he could no longer carve, or manipulate the puppets, but he still directed, taught, championed the art form wherever and whenever he could, and served as Patron of The Curious School of Puppetry. Guy Dartnell has been organising the effort to archive and document Chris' work. (There's a Facebook page for updates on this.) And Chris' final production, 3 Stages for Lazarus, is scheduled to debut at the Suspense Festival at the Little Angel next week.

Go here to read about the production in an article by Chandra Masoliver. And go here to see a fascinating interview filmed earlier this year by Guy Dartnell. Chris discusses puppetry, carving, his final projects, and living with motor neurone disease, interspersed with clips  from his 'Beowulf' (1971), and a glimpse of his puppetry workshop.

In the short video below (filmed four months ago), Christopher's last puppet is brought to life:

"The back of Lazarus was the last piece of carving I ever did," Chris said. "To see it coming to life in this way is magical; it’s beautiful. I started working on Lazarus in 2010, well before any signs of motor neurone disease. I heard the words ‘fixed and cannot move’ in a song; that’s how puppets are -- and are not. Lazarus is about the fragility of life."

Star Maiden puppet by Christopher Leith
Prospero:


Our revels now are ended. These our actors,

As I foretold you, were all spirits, and

Are melted into air, into thin air:

And like the baseless fabric of this vision, 

The cloud-capp'd tow'rs, the gorgeous palaces,

The solemn temples, the great globe itself,

Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,

And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,

Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff

As dreams are made on; and our little life

Is rounded with a sleep.

The Tempest Act 4, scene 1, 148–158

Chris, wherever you are now, in the circle of life and death, thank you. You'll never be forgotten.

Christopher Leith

About the author of this Guest Post: Howard Gayton is a puppeteer, a dramatist (specializing in mask theatre), and a tutor at the Curious School of Puppetry.

Picture credits: Identification of the photographs can be found in the picture captions. (Run your cursor over the images to see them.) The third photo is of Howard at the Little Angel in the 1990s; all the rest are of Christopher and his puppets, and come primarily from the 3 Stages for Lazarus Facebook page, set up by Guy Dartnell to honor Chris' work, and the V&A Museum Collections site.  All rights to the quotes, photographs & videos above reserved by their creators , the V&A, and the Christopher Leith estate.


Roll up! Roll up!

(Watch in full screen mode for best effect.)

Last night was the great unveiling of the crowdfunding campaign for Hedgespoken: a magical new project created by artists/writers/performers Rima Staines and Tom Hirons.

A few weeks ago, they called for a Vagabond Tribe of friends and neighbors to gather 'round: raggle-taggle musicians and circus magicians; gypsy dancers, moonspinners, and fortune tellers; jugglers and clowns and children and crows; a faery harpist and gentle fey folk who arrived riding ribbon-bedecked ponies.

While we ate, drank, and made merry, filmmaker Annabel Allison gentle but firmly corralled us into the footage that would be used for Tom & Rima's Indiegogo campaign: music, dance, songs and laughter to summon the Little Gods of Luck, Travel, Coin, and Story. If the magic has worked, then you shall find yourself entirely unable to resist supporting their magnificent scheme for a Mythic Arts centre on wheels.

Vagabond 1

Vagabond 2

"With its drop-down stage, fancy awning and proscenium arch," Tom & Rima say, "Hedgespoken will serve as a stage wherever it goes. Whether it’s us telling tales and making mischief with handmade puppet shows, or it’s other actors, musicians or sword-swallowers using the stage-space as part of a Hedgespoken Travelling Show, our aim is to spread a little old magic by doing what we love.

"Hedgespoken has the wherewithal to act as a mini-theatre, a cabaret stage or acoustic music venue, anywhere. Perhaps your village green, or that disused urban space, wayside or park – Hedgespoken arrives, makes magic, plants seeds of imagination, and then leaves, in the tradition of wandering bards, travelling storytellers and itinerant puppet theatres and circuses that are so much part of our heritage."

Hedgespoken painting by Rima

Vagabond 3

Howard and I participated on the beautiful day of filming near Stone Lane Gardens, during which I snapped the photos here....

Vagabond 4

Vagabond 5

Vagabond 6

Vagabond 7

Vagabond 8a

Vagabond

Vagabond 9

Vagabond 10

Vagabond 11

Vagabond 12

Vagabond 13

Vagabond 14

Vagabond 15

Vagabond 16

Vagabond 17

Truck plan, side view

Vagabond 18

To help all this become reality, please put on your best motley clothes and head over to the brand new Hedgespoken website ... where you can learn more about what makes it so special, and how to contribute to the dream.

I'm biased, I confess, because I love Rima and Tom, and also because my husband has done puppet work with them and is likely to be involved with their theatre-on-wheels in the future. But biased or not, Hedgespoken is an extraordinary project, created by extraordinarily lovely people ... so I hope that all you Mythic Art fans out there will dig deep to contribute if you're able. Or, conversely, if your pockets are empty, please give Tom & Rima your blessing and help them by spreading the word.

Even Tilly is doing her bit.

Vagabonds at home

Puppet by RimaMore photos here on the Hedgespoken blog.


Tunes for a Monday Morning

Today, three songs from the American folk singer, fiddler and banjo player Sam Amidon. He was raised in a musical clan in New England (his parents specialized in shape-note hymns), but now lives in London in old England, where he's married to the folk-fusion musician Beth Orton.

Above, Amidon takes us into the woods with a terrific version of "As I Roved Out," an Anglo-Irish song that crossed the ocean to become a staple of the American folk tradition too, albeit in a slightly different form. The song was recorded for his sixth CD, Bright Sunny South (2013), with Amidon on banjo and Chris Vatalaro on drums.

Second, a charming little video for the Appalachian folk song "Wedding Dress," made with simple puppets and stop-motion animation. The song comes from Amidon's fourth CD, All is Well (2008).

And third, "Talk to Me of Mendocino," sung by Amidon and his close friend Martha Wainwright at Le Poisson Rouge in New York City (2012).

Wainright also comes from a musical clan, being the daughter of Loudon Wainright III and the late Kate McGarrigle. (Rufus Wainwright is her brother.) This beautiful song, beautifully performed, was written by Martha Wainright's mother. Wouldn't you have loved to have been in this historic little club (it used to be The Village Gate) on this particular night?

Oh heck, here's one more:

"Magpie," a gorgeous song by Amidon's wife, Beth Orton. It's from her sixth CD, Sugaring Season (2012). This one always reminds me of Charles de Lint's tales....

And don't forget:
Myth & Moor's Winter Poetry Challenge begins tomorrow....

Poetry notebook


The Hoggler's Tale

Sunset from the porch of The Little Cabin by the Woods

Figuren Theatre

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....

Figurin Theatre

"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.

Figuren Theatre

Figuren Theatre

"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.

Figuren Theatre

"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.

Figuren Theatre

Figuren Theatre

"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."

Figuren Theatre

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.

Figuren Theatre


A taste of summer

3 year old springador

We've been deluged by rain this month in Devon, so when the sun comes out, we grab every single moment of it that we can. Here are some random pictures from a sunny Sunday afternoon here at Bumblehill...

Howard Gayton's puppets

When you live with a theatre director and puppeteer, you never know what's going to end up on the washing line.

Howard Gayton's puppets

In this case, it's a couple of Commedia dell'Arte puppets, and a complete set of costumes for Punch and Judy...

Howard Gayton's puppets

...being given a summer airing. My Pennsylvania Dutch great-aunts used to do that every summer with rugs and eiderdown quilts. Now it's puppets. My life has changed.

Foxglove, daisies and other flowers

The garden has been suffering under wind and rain, but it's an amazing year for the tall pink spires of the foxgloves, which are everywhere -- even the back patio, where they've seeded themselves right into the old stone wall.

Early summer on the patio

Patio June 2012 a

Joan Didion has said, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live." I think we also create the lives we need for the stories we want to tell, and the environments we need for our lives and stories both.

"If we marvel at the artist who has written a great book," says Katherine Paterson (in Gates of Excellence: On Reading and Writing Books for Children), "we must marvel more at those people whose lives are works of art and who don't even know it, who wouldn't believe it if they were told. However hard work good writing may be, it is easier than good living."

True words indeed...and so easy to forget as a writer, artist, or performer working under perpetual deadlines, often with little separation (physical or mental) between work life and home life. So on Sundays Howard and I try to turn the computers off, get out of the office, and concentrate on the art of good living. Some weeks we get it right, some weeks we don't...like any form of art-making, really.

Tilly, on the other hand, is a zen master in the art of good living, and in taking each day as it comes. So is Buju, the Costa-Rican-born dog who lives with poet/linguest Taiko Haessler (my good friend Midori Snyder's daughter) and her husband, artist Emilliano Lake-Herrera. I highly recommended Buju's hilarious new Tumblr blog, Adventures in Naplandia.

Now wait a minute, Tilly, that was my seat....

Tilly claims the seat

Tilly, a three year old springador