Home' Scoop : Scoop 53 Spring 2010 Contents 40 scoop SPRING 2010
sssup?’ says the boy, a greg arious
six-or seven-year-old, twisting
around from his seat in the Spare
Parts Puppet Theatre.
He’s addressing the company’s
artistic director, Philip Mitchell, who’s sitting with me
amid a sea of schoolchildren.
The child grins impishly – as if gauging the impact
of his speech – before returning to the assiduous task
of pinching the boy next to him.
“What does that mean?” Philip asks. Having been
raised on such g ems of Gen Y culture, I’m happy to
translate that ‘sup’ is an abbreviation for ‘what’s up?’.
“Oh,” he laughs. “You’re so with it.”
The boy probably picked up the idiom watching
American films and TV shows; the sort where the
characters are exceptionally hip, despite wearing jeans
that hover below the buttocks.
But there will be no such empty entertainment
on display today. Spare Parts’ latest production,
The Bunyip of Berkeley’s Creek, is a slowly unfurling
fairytale that requires a measure of concentration
from its junior audience. Instead of relying solely on
dialogue, director Noriko Nishimoto uses both music
and physical theatre to convey the story.
“She’s encouraging children to be able to sit and
listen and actually pay attention to the imagery,”
Philip says. “So they see that things don’t always
have to be fast and pacy.”
Producing thoughtful, innovative theatre has
always been integral to Spare Parts. T he company
was founded in 1981 as part of an artist-in-
residence program through the then WA Institute
of Technology (now Curtin University), and will
celebrate its 30th anniversary next year.
“Our strength has been that every artistic director
believed in producing quality entertainment for
young people,” Philip says. “When
audiences come to Spare Parts, they
know they’ll experience something
In recent years, productions
like The Bugalugs Bum Thief (which
returned for its third season in
2009), The Ar rival and The Velveteen
Rabbit have proved especially
popular with audiences. Consistent
through all of them are themes with
universal appeal, attracting crowds
of grown-ups as well as children.
“We also have a vision that
we’re not replicating the Education
Department’s role,” says Philip.
“So we look at nurturing the
emotional intelligence and wellbeing of young
people – introducing them to themes of love, death,
self-confidence and identity.”
Philip points to the company’s adaptation of Tim
Winton’s Blueback as an example. “It’s about the cycles
of life and how death is just a part of that – and we
perform this to five-year-olds. So we like to create
challenging works. Being able to laugh in the theatre is
great, but being able to cry is also important. And that’s
a very challenging thing for a company to produce.”
While such subjects can be confronting, there’s
a certain magic to Spare Parts’ productions, which
softens the blow. Handcrafted puppets, enchanting
live music and imaginative sets create a world
removed from ordinary life.
“It’s about allowing trees to come out of
swimming pools and using ‘black theatre’ where
mystical things float through space,” Philip says. “It
always amazes me that kids see the most sophisticated
effects in films, but the simplest things in the theatre
make them gasp. Because we’re creating something
real and magical right in front of them.”
In addition to local performances, Spare Parts
undertakes a busy touring and workshop schedule
through regional Western Australia.
“Part of our strategy is to come in and do a
show, but then also give kids opportunities to make
their own puppet,” says Philip.
The company also visits national and international
venues, but such ventures depend largely on touring
networks and funding. Rest assured, however, while
Spare Parts continues delivering world-class puppetry,
it will always find an audience.
“We’ve never apologised for being children’s
theatre or puppetry – our board and artistic directors
have always had absolute faith in that,” says Philip.
“And that’s why we’ve endured for 30 years, and why
we’ll continue to endure in the future.”
Spare Parts Puppet Theatre, 1 Short St, Fremantle
(08) 9335 5044, sppt.asn.au.
One of Western Australia’s cultural icons, the Spare
Parts Puppet Theatre, is celebrating 30 years of
creating quality entertainment for young people
words Jessica Matthews « images Jody D’Arcy
THAT'S THE WAY TO DO IT Covering broader and deeper
issues than you'd expect, Philip Mitchell's menagerie of
marionettes are a far cry from old style Punch and Judy shows.
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