HI-Arts Reflections: Zenwing Puppets

15 Jan 2013 in Highland, Visual Arts & Crafts

Ross-shire-based Zenwing Puppets may have started small, but with the launch of Creativity in Care this month their work takes an exciting new direction. Robert Livingston talked to Karrie Marshall about Zenwing’s links with HI~Arts.

Who are Zenwing puppets and how did you get started?

Zenwing Puppets is a rural touring puppet theatre company, based in Ross-shire. Karrie Marshall has a background in using creativity and puppetry in healthcare and adult education, and Chris King’s background is acting and performance arts. We work with other artistes who help make sets and sometimes puppeteer with us.

Our first show was in the Sligachan Hotel on the Isle of Skye in 2004. We wanted to use a penguin puppet we had made, but it had no place in the story… so he just slid back and forth in the background. Our name Zenwing came from him. We set up the puppet company as a partnership in 2005.

Chris King of Zenwing Puppets

What kind of help were you looking for from HI~Arts?

We found that many rural touring venues did not have sound or lighting systems, so we needed to buy or hire this in. Also puppets need lighting at a different level to usual stage shows.

Initially many audiences were used to paying half price for children’s shows, and adults expected to come and see a show for free if they brought their children. We could not possibly cover our costs on that basis. Expenses included the materials, licensed music, travel fuel, ferries, van hire, accommodation, and meals.

Did you get it, and what sort of difference did it make?

Yes, we were awarded the Producers Fund for three years, which enabled us to become a self-sufficient touring company, with our own PA system, lighting rig and puppets. In those first three years we produced three shows delivering 141 shows and workshops that toured the Western Isles from Lewis to Barra, Orkney, Caithness, Sutherland, Ross-shire and Skye, Inverness, Perthshire, Argyle and Bute. Along-side this we were developing our puppetry in health care work.

The shows led to other work at festivals and in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Fife. We were unable to compete with the subsidized workshop prices schools receive in the Highlands, so needed to deliver more community shows, which the Producers Fund and HIE travel assistance made possible.

We went on to produce three more shows, without funding, travelling from Shetlands to Gloucestershire. We gradually ensured ticket prices were fair, (used Aros Centre theatre as our benchmark). Delivered a further 150 shows and workshops. HI-Arts also helped us with marketing ideas and emotional and strategic support when the recession hit us. We recovered.

From our puppetry work in healthcare we set up a new social enterprise called creativity in care, which was incorporated as a community interest company on Dec 6th 2012.

How important is it to Zenwing to be part of a wider theatre network in the Highlands and Islands?

We have established good links and gained an understanding of how other theatre companies create work, which informs our own processes. We have collaborated with musicians and experimented ideas with scriptwriters. This helps us define our own work more clearly. The training, information and FST networking is also valuable.

The company’s come a long way in the past few years: where do you see it going in the future?

We are really pleased to still be here! We have grown in confidence, skill and vision. It was one of the hardest learning curves we have been on, but we love the production process. The feedback from audiences is great and we know that creating the work is an integral part of who we are.

Our plans for 2013 are:

1. to produce a puppet show that tours the Northern Countries

2. to revamp our beautiful Christmas Show.

3. We would also like to help a network of artists interested in healthcare work through the Creativity In Care work.

And what sort of help do you think you’ll need to get there?

To achieve our goals, we need the following:

• Vision – after two years in discussions, we have it!

• Time to make and produce the shows – we supply

• Skill and abilities to make and produce – we supply

• Music and set making and puppet making – we collaborate

• Bookings – we have interests in Highlands, and need to find venues in Northern Countries

Other areas that we need help with:

• Rehearsal space; Marketing; Co-director

• Fees / bookings to pay ourselves and artists involved

• Travel/ Touring assistance

The producer’s fund would be an ideal investment into this next level.

Regards the Creativity In Care work, our initial tasks are networking, whilst we deliver first our project in community care with High Life Highland. We know this also has international interest.

For more information on Zenwing Puppets visit their website at http://zenwingpuppets.com/

© Robert Livingston, 2013