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It’s the beginning of the year which means 1 of the most exciting theatre festivals will make its way to the capital. The London International Mime Festival has been amazing onlookers for 4 decades, bringing the world’s of circus, puppetry, mask, visual and physical theatre to life. Making his return to the festival, Stephen Mottram has distinguished himself as one of the world’s leading puppeteers, pushing the boundaries with his exciting shows and creations. Read on to find out more about his work…

You’ll be performing 2 pieces at LIMF this year; The Parachute and Watch the Ball. How are you feeling ahead of the festival?

Great to be back in LIMF – This is more or less the first time The Parachute will be seen by UK audiences, so naturally I’m hoping it goes well and that people find it magical.

The Parachute is a piece looking at the themes of age and love. What drew you to create a piece on those themes?

Well I wanted to base the show on universal themes which everyone can identify with, but include more subtle details which are available for a more analytical viewer.  The story is told by characters which only exist as patterns of movement which I perform with ping pong balls. Nevertheless, I think they manage to convey some of the emotion about life past and future which I feel myself as a 60 year old man with teenage children soon to leave home.

Watch the Ball is an explorative piece showcasing your skill set as a leading puppeteer. What can audiences expect to see?

Both The Parachute and Watch the Ball try to make audiences enjoy conflicts of perception. They show easily recognised patterns of movement which the brain of the spectator interprets as human behaviour – but at the same time the audience is constantly reminded that they are being manipulated to see things which don’t exist. It’s a game between the performer and the public – a sort of confrontation with how our brains work…

Both shows will feature musical compositions from celebrated musician Sebastian Castagna. How are compositions created?

Sebastian has a wonderful ability to make musical environments for movement theatre. He decided early on to make an instrumental piece for The Parachute, divided into segments, almost like a suite of dances. I made movement sequences in Oxford, and as they took form, I filmed them and sent them to Sebastian, who composed to them, including the general timings of the action on the films. Then, when the whole show was put together, we modified the timings in the music and the performance to tighten up the relationship between the two elements.

Your interest for puppetry began whilst studying Photography and Woodcarving at Nordens Folkhögskola at BiskopsArnö in Sweden. What was it about the course and art form that captured your imagination?

In the beginning I was more interested in making string puppets as magical objects. It took me several years to realise they could be used to do something for an audience. It feels as if things have gone full circle because now the puppets have almost disappeared and the performance is everything. Even photography has had to adapt in this new project. As things have turned out, The Parachute is practically impossible to photograph – it is meaningless without movement.

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You call your puppets ‘Animata’. Could you explain why?

In the 1980’s, when Animata was formed, only a handful of puppeteers were presenting work for adult audiences and the word ‘Animata’ didn’t have the same connotations of entertainment for young children as ‘Puppet’ did back then. I was using automata and string puppets together with contemporary music and I thought the new word was more descriptive of what I was up to.

You’ve performed at LIMF previously, what is it about the festival that has drawn you to take part again?

I have always liked the way LIMF doesn’t categorise everything. It is a home for movement based theatre of excitingly different types.

Will you be watching any other performers?

I hope so, but I’ll be on stage myself during many of the shows, so we’ll see.

What advice would you give to aspiring puppeteers?

Enjoy the journey.

Questions by Lucy Basaba.

Stephen Mottram’s The Parachute and Watch the Ball will be apart of this year’s London International Festival from Monday 16th-Wednesday 18th January and Monday 23rd-Wednesday 25th January at Jackson’s Lane Theatre. For more information on the show, visit here…

To find out more about Stephen Mottram, visit here…

Written by Theatrefullstop