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Theatre Designers join forces to create a giant phoenix for Nottingham Puppet Festival

Ruby the phoenix was made on a schools project for the city’s first ever festival of puppets and puppetry

The finished phoenix bird, Ruby
Ruby, the phoenix bird puppet

A student and an alumna from our BA (Hons) Theatre Design course have recently joined forces to help create a giant phoenix bird puppet which was showcased at Nottingham Puppet Festival last month.

Jess Kemp graduated from the course in the early 1990s and co- runs Curious Nottingham, an arts and crafts studio in the city’s blossoming Sneinton Market development, part of the Creative Quarter.

The creation was commissioned by City Arts Nottingham, a registered charity who have now been collaborating with creative communities across Nottingham for forty years. Early in 2018 Jess embarked on an interactive project with 26 school children from art clubs in the city’s Old Basford and Cantrell Schools to develop a vibrant parade at the Nottingham Puppet Festival, featuring a giant phoenix bird called Ruby.

In response to a call out from City Arts for NTU volunteers to help with the project, Year Two student Laura Pentrell began working with Jess for a day every week from January through to March.

Year Two Theatre Design student Laura Pentrell
Year Two Theatre Design student Laura Pentrell

The frame and mechanics of the giant bird were developed through a collaboration with London puppeteer Tony Mason; Jess and Laura then worked to interpret the creative look of the phoenix with delicate painted silk, feathers and fabrics. In addition, they developed a whole range of smaller bright bird puppets on poles, and created flags and costumes to feature in a carnival-inspired parade. Laura joined Jess on regular school visits where they involved the children in creative activities to help them prepare for the grand finale at the Puppet Festival in March.

Of the experience Laura said: “I’ve really enjoyed the whole process of developing this project and it’s great to have been involved in it all the way through. As well as learning more about puppetry as an art form, it has been fantastic to get experience of working on a creative community project and to get so involved with the school pupils.”

Theatre Design alumna Jess Kemp
Theatre Design alumna Jess Kemp

Jess said: “Laura has really gone the extra mile with this project and it has been so valuable having her input. The children immediately gravitated towards her and she has done some great work with them. When we first unveiled the finished Ruby bird to the children, they were thrilled to see their decorative work come to life on the bird and were intrigued by the scale and engineering of the puppet. They also had a great time rehearsing with their flags and smaller bird puppets, exploring their movement and choreographing their part in the parade."

She added: "Everyone who has been involved in the festival parade has thrown themselves into its preparations wholeheartedly and this was paid back tenfold on the final day.  It was a brilliant project and we’re still smiling!"

Find out more about Nottingham Puppet Festival, which took place from March 22 - 25 2018.

Published on 2 April 2018
  • Category: Culture; School of Art & Design