“The themes tend to be thornier and we have a lot of risk-taking work,” says Dawn Taylor of Manipulate Festival.
When Dawn took on her leadership role at Puppet Animation Scotland last August, she had no idea if the company’s annual puppetry festival would even go ahead in 2021.
Yet, in the midst of a second lockdown, Manipulate Festival has launched as a digital offering, giving people everywhere the chance to discover more about the art form of puppetry.
Now in its 14th year, the festival presents boundary-pushing performances by artists specialising in puppetry for an adult audience.
“We are a live performance organisation and we worked in a way that created this whole programme without any performance in person,” explains Dawn. “It’s still been challenging but I think that’s just symptomatic of the year we find ourselves in – it’s a wheel of change.”
Growing up in Perth, Dawn attended Our Lady’s Primary School and St Columba’s High School. She moved to Glasgow to attend university when she was 17.
“I’ve kept a strong emotional connection to Perth and my mum is still there, too,” she adds.
Prior to becoming artistic director and CEO of Puppet Animation Scotland, she worked for Edinburgh International Festival.
It has been a steep learning curve, but she believes this year’s programme is still as diverse and interesting as ever with works from across Scotland, the UK and the world.
“All the artists we are working with this year are people who wanted to experiment with what it means to present something online and how it changes the work,” says Dawn.
While a lot of people might think of puppetry as something primarily for children, Dawn reveals: “there’s an amazing, rich and diverse world of adult puppetry out there.
“In a lot of European countries it’s one of the biggest art forms. The themes tend to be a bit thornier and we have quite a lot of risk-taking work – a bit edgy.”
She believes the 2021 digital festival is an ideal way for people who aren’t sure about visual puppetry or theatre to try it out and see what they think, with festival passes allowing people access to all content.
Outdoor art project Restless Worlds – which was due to take place in Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow – has been postponed while tier 4 restrictions remain in Scotland. It will be rescheduled for later in the year.
Dawn says of the festival programme: “There’s a lot of really interesting collaborations as well. For example, The End of TV by Chicago-based company Manual Cinema is a full-length performance. They work with shadow puppetry and projection and they make a film live on stage.
“So, you watch them creating it and then there’s a screen on-stage where you see the final product.
“Another thing I am really excited about is, for the first time, we have a showcase called animated women, which is an international celebration of women working in animation from Scotland and across the world.
“There’s a great range of work showcasing the female creatives out there in what is still quite a male-dominated sector.”
Once the festival is over, Dawn says attention will turn to Puppet Animation Festival, which is normally held in spring for children and families. She is also aware that artists need to continue to be supported in order to survive the restrictions imposed by the pandemic.
Value of culture
“People have taken on jobs as delivery drivers and supermarket workers and lots are on Universal Credit. It’s very real,” she explains.
“Culture brings us together and allows us escapism and reflection and a bit of a mirror back at ourselves.
“It is a way for us to engage with our society and who we are as people. The value of that is most evident when it is gone.”
Manipulate Festival runs until February 7.