CORK Puppetry Festival celebrates its fourth year in 2017, and the family-friendly festival is going international, with touring acts from Germany, Iceland, Greece, the UK and Northern Ireland joining home-grown Irish companies for a week of performances, workshops and even an academic conference.
With an attempt to break the world record for the largest number of people holding sock puppets also taking place, a drop-in festival club at the box office will be taking donations of odd socks for puppet-making workshops suitable for young and old — and the line-up of children’s shows will bring myth and magic to young audiences in a way that only the ancient craft of puppetry can.
Irish puppetry has largely centred around a few popular TV shows like Bosco, Zig and Zag and Wanderly Wagon, but in other European countries it’s a truly established art-form, with numerous large festivals on the annual calendar. Yet Cork Puppetry Festival (CPF) is the only festival in the Republic of Ireland for the art form.
CPF director Cliff Dolliver of well-known Cork Street Theatre and puppetry company Dowtcha Puppets says that putting Cork on the map as the home of puppetry in Ireland is one of the reasons the annual festival which this year will host 30 puppeteers from 12 national and international companies, was founded in the first place.
“We wanted to raise the profile of puppetry in Ireland,” he says. “To have a forum for the industry once a year, and a focus for international guests to visit, and where puppeteers can meet. If you’re interested in puppetry, then every August in Cork you know there’s going to be something good.”
Cliff, originally from Tasmania, arrived in Ireland in 1999, having worked as a theatrical set designer and puppeteer in Melbourne. He co-founded Dowtcha Puppets with musician and actor Mick Lynch, who passed away in 2015, and he says that the landscape for Irish puppetry has been evolving and growing steadily throughout his time in Ireland.
Competing for children’s attention against computer games and the ever-present lure of Netflix, is puppetry something that will only draw niche audiences? Cliff doesn’t agree.
“There’ll always be things that break through into general public interest, like, or ,” he says, “and at the moment I think there’s a yearning for live performance that’s absent from gaming, animation and TV. Ultimately, there’s an opportunity for puppetry there.”
It’s an artform with universal appeal to people of all ages, he says.
“Name a culture and they’ll have some tradition of investing life into inanimate objects; you’ll find forms of puppetry connected to story-telling and carnival traditions all over the world. It’s a really beautiful artform and so versatile: it can be funny, silly, and it’s really easy to entertain children with because kids just invest so automatically and so unquestioningly in it. It can really take your breath away; you can have some incredibly magical moments with puppetry.”
The world record for the largest number of people holding sock puppets is currently 365, and was set last year in Townsville, North Queensland. Cliff is confident that Cork can beat that record; Cork Puppetry Festival are asking for donations, so festival patrons can raid the odd sock box on their way in to buy tickets, and do a simple workshop in making their own sock puppet to take part in the attempt on the last day of the festival, Monday August the seventh, in Fitzgerald’s Park.
“We’ll wash all the donated socks, of course!” Cliff laughs. “But we thought this was a really nice way to make the festival a participative event for people of all ages.
For more information and a full programme of events, visit: www.corkpuppetryfestival.com