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Big Grin Symposium: International Perspectives on Puppets, Popular Culture and Heritage

01 (09:30) - 02/03/2013 (17:00)

Organised by Professor Matthew Isaac Cohen (Royal Holloway, University of London) and Ms Cariad Astles (Central School of Speech and Drama)

1-2 March 2013, Centre for Creative Collaboration, Acton Street, London

The Big Grin, a celebration of the official 350th anniversary of Punch and Judy, Britain’s national puppet, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, ran across many cities and town in the UK during 2012. It has proved an opportunity to celebrate and take stock of the heritage of popular puppetry in Britain. This academic symposium follows up on the festivals, exhibitions and documentary projects of the Big Grin, in order to interrogate and debate the work and import of Big Grin and situate current efforts to revitalize and re-interpret Punch and Judy as national cultural heritage in relation to puppet heritage as defined in other cultural settings and societies.

This two-day symposium, co-sponsored by the UNIMA Research Commission, The Centre for International Theatre and Performance Research at Royal Holloway, University of London and The Centre for Research into Objects and Puppets in Performance at the Central School of Speech and Drama, will include four paper panels, with keynote speeches and film showings, including the premiere of a newly subtitled Portuguese cinematic masterpiece, Dom Roberto (a.k.a. The Puppeteer, 1962), directed by Ernesto de Sousa. Invited speakers include Kathy Foley (USA), Ida Hledikova (Slovakia) and John McCormick (Ireland).

Proposals for 20 minute presentations are invited to the following panel themes:

1. Practicing heritage. This panel will consider puppet heritage from the perspective of its practitioners – including sponsors, troupe leaders, puppeteers, musicians, puppet makers and other support personnel. What are the work routines, social and economic realities and day-to-day challenges and opportunities faced by puppet companies in today’s world? How are traditional troupes coping with competition from modern media and other non-traditional forms of entertainment? What changes are happening in puppet traditions around the world? How are new audiences being developed?

2. Managing heritage. Heritage exists not only as a practice, but also as representation. This panel will consider the politics and poetics of how puppet heritage is constructed and managed in the context of museums, publications, films, salvage ethnography, formal education, national institutions and associations and reconstructions of ‘lost’ puppet traditions. What are the culturally-specific and global issues in managing puppet heritage? What ethical questions emerge in processes of representation?

3. Playing with heritage. Puppet heritage was once bound by strict rules and regulations over the use of objects, space, time and dramaturgy, regulated by structures of training and transmission.  Today, many non-traditional practitioners have appropriated puppet heritage for various purposes, and puppeteers create new forms of post-traditional puppetry that play freely with the techniques and technologies of tradition. What are the motivations behind the creation of such tradition-based contemporary puppetry? How is this work received at both local and trans-local levels?

4. Contesting heritage. The complex politics of identity in the contemporary world place unusual stresses on the formation of puppet heritage today. Puppet heritage matters not only in local contexts of production and reception, but also in international contexts. Puppets are sold via e-bay and other internet sites, decorate restaurants, feature in tourism campaigns and tour internationally. Puppet heritages also sometimes interact in the context of cross-cultural workshops and performances. These international and global ‘flows’ open up many questions. Who owns puppet heritage? What struggles exist in defining puppet patrimony? Can puppet heritages be copyrighted by states or other parties? What happens when two countries or other bodies both claim ownership of the same puppet heritage? How are such conflicts brokered and resolved? How is puppet heritage being theorised and configured today at international levels? Should there be a means to regulate or track the circulation of heritage puppets? What role should international organisations like UNIMA play in relation to local and international puppet heritage?

The Call for Papers is now closed. Those wishing to attend the symposium as observers should contact the administrator at biggrinsymposiumgmail.com. There is no charge for the symposium.


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