In conversation with: Tinka Slavicek

We caught up with Tinka Slavicek to talk about her background in puppetry ahead of our new course at Little Angel Theatre, Personality Puppets.

“Play is absolutely the main thing.”

When did you get the puppetry bug?

In early childhood  – my aunt was a puppeteer in Kvak Puppet Theatre and I was dedicated follower of all their magical performances. Later on, while studying pedagogy, I was lucky to have Vlasta Pokrivka, the artistic director of Kvak Puppet Theatre, as my teacher in puppetry and scene art, which lead to me becoming the member of Kvak and spending several wonderful inspiring years touring with the company.

What led you to creating your own puppets?

I started making my own puppets while working as a pre-school teacher (more than 20 years ago); puppets were my main asset. I used them with kids in all sorts of situations. Apart from making puppet improvisations for them, I also used puppets to get children to communicate their feelings, to solve conflicts, etc. I made my first solo puppet show while working for a language school in Zagreb, to help children learn English through fun and interaction with puppets.

“Sometimes the material chooses itself to become a puppet. Curiously shaped piece of wood tells you: I want to be dragon’s head.”

What is it about puppetry that you find so compelling?

Play is absolutely the main thing.  Magic, poetic surprise, surrealism. Experiencing collective creation through play and joy is the most amazing part of creating puppet theatre.

How can puppets compliment storytelling?

Puppets assist storytelling by visually telling parts of the story. We see the puppet character and we don’t need to describe it verbally. The same goes for puppet action. I like to use both, puppetry and storytelling, complementing each other. Interaction between a puppet and a storyteller / puppeteer is also great way of helping the story yarn unfold.

“let yourself play with a material while making a puppet, try out different expressions… Sometimes you get surprised by the end result, it’s almost as if the puppet decided upon their main character features.”

How do you choose the materials you work with when you are designing a puppet?

When choosing the material for a puppet I usually start from asking: what story do I want to tell?  What would be good material do go with a story? What would I like a puppet to do – what range of actions? In case of ‘Videk’s Shirt’ where the story dates from 18th century, describing life in a poor peasant family, we used linen fabric for the main character and then objects that could have been used in those times to make other puppets – wooden spoons, baskets, flour scrubbing brushes…. Sometimes the material chooses itself to become a puppet. Curiously shaped piece of wood tells you: I want to be dragon’s head. And you’ve got no other choice but to make that dragon and see what’s going to become of it.

Aside from the mechanics of puppetry, how do you create a unique a unique identity for your puppet?

A puppet is a visual interpretation of a human or an animal or an object, quite often very simplified, stylized and exaggerated. Puppets can be seen as theatrical caricatures. It’s great to be able to let yourself play with a material while making a puppet, try out different expressions, different exaggeration or simplification. Sometimes you get surprised by the end result, it’s almost as if the puppet decided upon their main character features. 🙂

Learn more about the personality of puppets with Tinka’s course Personality Puppets: Designing and Making a Human Form Fabric Puppet, 4 May–13 July 2017  

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