|Venue||Institut Internationale de la Marionette, 7th International Puppet Festival, Charleville-Mézières, France|
SMALLS was a series of five vignettes originally developed and performed by Michele Spooner and Peter J.Wilson. The work was devised to explore object animation and manipulation and the relationship between puppeteer and puppet. Each act was an independent cameo: a surreal and emotional, animated scene presented in images. Scenes used puppetry, mask and black theatre techniques and tightly choreographed movement to create poignant observations on the human spirit.
SMALLS followed the image-focused performance style of Handspan's work with Nigel Triffitt's, Secrets (1982), but was presented in short unrelated sequences rather than a full-length cohesive play. It was the first major company production to focus on puppetry technique and execution itself rather than using puppets and objects to deliver a dramatised concept.
In August/September 1985, Michele and Peter were enrolled in Phillipe Genty’s Masterclass program at the Institut de la Marionette in Charleville-Mézières, France and created the first parts of SMALLS at the Handspan studio as their stimulus project for the 9-week Masterclass residency in puppetry manipulation. The workshop program concluded at the 7th International Puppet Festival also hosted by the Institut, where segments of the work first premiered to audiences of puppetry peers and the general public. It was noted in the international puppetry journal ANIMATIONS 1985 Festival wrap up as beautifully observed manipulation.
Through this masterclass training program, Genty and his philosophies became a major influence in Peter and Michele's work and its directions. Peter sought opportunities outside Handspan to work with puppetry practitioners across Australia to develop new manipulation techniques and his skills in their direction. Michele created new vignette works with the company for the next decade which extended the performance and ensemble skills of company members and Handspan's repertoire.
After its opening in France, SMALLS was further developed by Handspan to include five acts accompanied by a live musician and performed by three puppeteers. The production opened in Australia in March 1986 at Anthill Theatre in South Melbourne, and was a success from the outset.
At the Adelaide Fringe Festival, the colourful critic, Peter Goers claimed:
SMALLS was performed in black theatre lighting which isolated its all-white images and visible operators to make animated pictures in an open space. Its original vignettes were:
- Smalls titled the show in visual jokes and puns, as the two performers hung their washing on two clothes lines, one a miniature version of the other.
- Extensions/Restrictions represented imprisonment and suffering in a choreographed sequence animating a simple yet striking costume of four bamboo poles strapped to the performer's limbs.
- Positive Equals celebrated optimism and tenderness as a puppet baby was gently bought to life and taken on the first steps of discovery.
- Metamorphosis transformed an abstract puppet in an evolutionary journey from amoeba to man.
- Heads Hands Who’s Who merged the puppet and the puppeteer in a nightmarish loss of identity
Critics were, almost unanimously, impressed:
At the 1986 Adelaide Fringe festival, SMALLS was awarded a Five Star rating.
Each segment grew out of Handspan's recent work for adult audiences and built on concepts and puppetry techniques discovered and explored by Peter and Michele with Genty in Europe. Positive Equals, used the Handspan, white, featureless Baby, designed by Ken Evans for Cho Cho San, which became an iconic image in company work from this time, appearing frequently in subsequent productions and events throughout the following decade. Extensions/Restrictions referenced Peter's recent puppetry direction of the spinfex sequences in The Haunted. His Head's Hands, Who's Who the most complex of the pieces, anticipated his later work, created at Skylark Theatre in Canberra, Wake Baby.
After its initial seasons in Australia in 1986, SMALLS amalgamated Michele's new vignettes Moments into its program and it became a 2-hour performance with interval. Segments from Women Alone were added in the 1990s for SMALLS tours to China and Japan.
SMALLS' optimal performance locations were well-equipped theatres but its flexibility made it tourable to school and community locations as well. In various act combinations, the work remained in Handspan's repertoire for 8 years, touring in Australia and in Asia, the first Handspan work to visit the continent.
The creation of SMALLS signaled a new era for Handspan. Its development loosened the bonds of the early Handspan membership and the company's united artistic collaboration, and opened pathways for new members and new ideas to take shape. It seasons and tours broadened Handspan's audiences and bridged the company's mainstream and young people's theatre marketplace. It was advantaged by Handspan's reputation and resonance with the company's recent successful productions Secrets and Cho Cho San, and itself confirmed the company's unique place in Australian puppetry, that built new opportunities for its continuing future.
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|Devised, designed & directed||Michele Spooner and Peter J.Wilson|
|Assistant director||Frank Italiano|
|Lighting designer||Philip Lethlean|
|Also performed by||Avril McQueen, Heather Monk, Katy Bowman|
|Sets & puppet construction||Michele Spooner|
|Stage Manager (International touring)||Paul Judd|
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|August||Showcase Handspan Theatre Studio|
|September||Institut Internationale de la Marionnette, 7th International Puppet Festival, Charleville-Mézières France.|
|October – December||Melbourne metropolitan Secondary schools touring|
|Victoria’s 150th Celebrations, closing ceremony|
|Arts Education Program, Victorian Arts Centre|
|Community Events in Melbourne and Alice Springs, NT|
|29 January – 2 February||The Rocks Theatre, Sailor’s Home Theatre, Sydney NSW|
|3 - 16 March||The Red Shed, Adelaide Fringe Festival.|
|27 May - 8 June||Anthill Theatre, Napier Street South Melbourne (Extended season)|
|31 October – 2 November||The Theatre Royal, Castlemaine Festival VIC|
|12 -14 November||VAPAC (Victorian Association of Performing Arts Centres) tour, Warrnambool, Ararat, Portland|
|2 - 21 December||Athenaeum 11, Athenaeum Theatre, Melbourne.|
|City Square, Melbourne for Fantastic Entertainment in Public Places (FEIPP) Program.|
|7 - 8 March||Main Stage, Melbourne Moomba Festival|
|Schools, community and festival appearances|
|23 January||Bi-Centennial Children’s Fair, Alexandra Gardens, Melbourne|
|Sister City Arts Festival, Tianjin, China|
|Celebrate Australia tour to Fukuoka, Yokohama, Kawagashi & Tokyo, Japan (for Spiral, Japan)|
|Total Performances||125 (1985 & 1986 only)|
|Total Audiences||13,304 (1985 & 1986 only)|
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