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Digital puppetry

Johann Nortje
Simon Haren
Johann Nortje talks about the brave new world of digital puppetry, and the upcoming Galloping Tales show at Pick n Mix.


Johann Nortje tells us about the brave new world of digital puppetry, and the upcoming Galloping Tales show at Pick n Mix.

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Pick n Mix, a family friendly series of free shows at the Aotea Centre followed by workshops, continues with Galloping Tales.  This explores the frontier world of digital puppetry, where cartoon characters are manipulated ‘live’ by their creators in response to an audience.  Renee Liang talks to creator Johann Nortje.

What is digital puppetry?

Digital puppetry is about puppeteering digital puppets/characters in a live situation. In our case the puppets are cartoon characters in a digital animation world that we can control live on stage through the use of X-Box Kinect technology, a sort of live motion-capture situation. This reads the performers and lets us interact with a world full of possibilities.

How does improvisation work together with animation?

Liveness is a quality of theatre which can’t be replicated by film. For this reason, we’re really interested in exploring new ways to utilise ‘liveness’ in theatre to create new kinds of experiences and relationships with audiences. Improvisation is all about ‘liveness’. As performers we’re responding to the situation around us in genuine and unplanned ways, and that’s quite a thrilling experience, both for the performers and the audience. Pairing this mode of performance with animation means that we can create characters that are as real and as present as we are, who can have an actual two-way conversation with the audience and therefore a real relationship.

What's exciting about performing live on stage - and what can go wrong?

Animating and performing the cartoons live onstage is a really cool element of the show, and is part of what makes Galloping Tales that little bit different from simply watching a cartoon. Our audience are able to see the world of Gallop coming to life, while also getting to see behind-the-scenes at the same time. As with any live onstage element, there’s huge potential for the unexpected to occur, but that’s part of the joy of our show- the liveness of the animations means they are actually able to respond to the unique conditions of each audience.

Tell me about your show.  How did you develop it?

On the technology side of things our show was conceived from a fair amount of playing around with interactive technologies in theatre. The World of Gallop, its characters and their stories have come from various angles and many round table chats about how it all fits together. A lot of these characters are 15th and 16th Century drawings made from people’s dreams and nightmares. But we made them fun… by coloring them in…and brought them to life!  The kid’s side of things just felt like a good fit with the way that we are telling the stories.

What do you plan for your Pick 'n' Mix workshop?

Our workshop will involve being able to play with some of these characters with the technology, as well as some movement and physical theatre stations where we will run through being some of these characters in real life!

What are you working on next?

Galloping Tales is our main focus for this side of life at the moment. Shortly in October we will be traveling to Perth for a month to go and present Galloping Tales at the AWESOME Arts Kids Festival.


DIGITAL PUPPETRY                                

Saturday 30 August, Owens Foyer, Level 1, Aotea Centre    

Performance 10.30am
Enter the animated World of Gallop and experience digital puppetry on stage in a series of short vignettes Audience participation is wildly encouraged!

Workshop 11.30am
Explore various physical theatre techniques, as well as a dive into the world of basic cartoon animation with a touch of puppeteering.

The Artists

Johann Nortje is an interactive performance media and digital technologies experience designer.  International collaborations include projects at the New Zealand International Arts Festival, European Festival of the Arts (Rome), New York River to River Festival, the Venice Architecture and Arts Biennale, and the iLight Festival in Singapore.  Recently, with several collaborators, Johann has developed a series of Digital Puppetry projects for younger and adult audiences respectively.

Simon Haren is a founding member of the critically acclaimed Binge Culture Collective, "one of the country's most exciting, direct and original theatre companies" (NZ Herald). Simon works as both a practitioner and teacher and frequently leads theatre and improvisation workshops for professional improvisation companies as well as non-profit organisations including Just-Speak, a youth justice advocacy initiative, Active, a support group for young people with physical & intellectual disabilities and Amnesty International.

Written by

Renee Liang

12 Aug 2014

Renee is a writer who is exploring many ways of telling stories, including plays, short stories, poetry (which she also performs), and cross-genre collaborations with composers, musicians, sculptors and filmmakers.

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