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You Have Been Watching.
Tom Espiner & Giulia Innocenti
Puppetry Dramaturgs (of Blind Summit)
Lindsay Foster, Dan McGowan, Richard Newnham, Craig Quat, Morgan Thomas & Martin Vick
Original Devising Cast
Jon Dafydd-Kidd, Denni Dennis, Ellen Groves & South Academy 1
A note from the director…
In a show in which I am the director and have played The Director (whose stupid idea was that?) it is sometimes difficult to separate reality from fiction. I could not tell you at this moment whether this is me writing these programme notes, or my onstage alter ego. What I do know is that we started this process of creating Meet Fred in 2014 when the wonderful puppetry company Blind Summit joined us to run a week of training workshops for the neurodivergent actors at our Cardiff Academy.
What I observed on those days of training became the seed of Meet Fred. For much of the week we focussed on cloth puppets, much like the Fred that you will meet today. Blind Summit practice a form of Bunraku (three man puppetry which originates from
Japan) which they have coined ‘extreme puppetry’ because of the extremes of emotion which can be explored.
The challenge over the next six months was to train our Academy actors with learning disabilities to ‘get a feel’ for this very complex form of puppetry. We learned what could and couldn’t be done with a puppet and from this sequences and characters began to emerge. We also discovered that puppet manipulation is an extremely difficult skill to master and, to be honest, it is very easy to make it very painful to watch!
In the end we invited three of the Academy actors who had shown promise during these initial sessions to join a more focussed group for two days of intensive research and development. During this time we explored a couple of scenarios which appear in the show today, but crucially the character of Fred began to emerge – a puppet who wanted to be fully integrated into society. It was not until this point that the parallels became clear between the relationship between Fred and his puppeteers and that of dependence and interdependence that exists in the daily lives of many people with a disability. The show became Meet Fred.
During this time Martin, one of our performers with Down’s Syndrome, was desperate to operate the legs of Fred. I was equally desperate for him to succeed, but there came a point when I had to accept that he was never going to achieve the necessary dexterity and understanding of breath and communication in the short time we had.
It takes Japanese Bunraku puppeteers ten years to train. We had but a few days! Hijinx believes in casting to strength. Operating the legs was both exposing Martin and doing a disservice to the production. Quite naturally, and fortuitously, Martin carved out an ideal role for himself as my put upon stage manager.
Despite what Fred might say, I can confirm that the whole project has been a truly collaborative process. Many of the concepts and much of the text have come directly from improvisations undertaken not just by the cast you see today, but all the artists involved in the research and development process, including Tom Espina and Giulia Innocenti of Blind Summit, Ellen Groves, Denni Dennis, Jon Dafydd-Kidd, Jonathan Dunn, Jessica Jones and all of the students of Hijinx Cardiff Academy. I would like to thank everyone who has contributed to the creation of Meet Fred.
We hope you enjoy it as much as we enjoyed making it.
Ben Pettitt–Wade, Director
This tour has been dedicated to the actor Martin Vick, who was part of Meet Fred's original cast and one of its devisers. Martin, a renowned clown performer who had Down’s Syndrome, died in December 2016 following a stroke. His role has been taken on by his friend and fellow Academy actor, Gareth John. We have kept the character name 'Martin', in memory of our talented, kind and much-loved friend. *At some performances, Ffion Gwyther covers this role as 'Marta'